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Southeast Asia, explained

CIA's David Petraeus poised to visit Burma

From thwarting North Korean missile shipments to sitting down with Burma's regime
Burma myanmar petraeus 2012 02 10Enlarge
CIA Director David Petraeus (KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images)

And the latest high-profile US official plannign to visit regime officials in Burma is ... the CIA's own David Petraeus.

This is yet another stunning turnaround in U.S.-Burma relations following Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's December trip.

According to the New York Times, Petraeus is likely planning a trip that will, in one academic's words, "set up channels that wouldn’t have been possible for Secretary Clinton."

The US is still prodding Burma's army to resolve its numerous civil wars with ethnic groups -- conflicts that have produced evidence of the army's practices of forced labor and shelling civilians -- but America is also compelled to lure Burma away from China's heavy influence.

Less than a year ago, the US was openly condemning Burma's ties to North Korea and even used an American destroyer to back down a Burma-bound North Korean ship believed to be laden with missile parts.

US intelligence keeps a close eye on such relations: according to veteran Burma watcher Bertil Lintner, the vessel was "all the way tracked by US surveillance planes and satellites."

And it was the Iraq War invasion, in which Petraeus led coalition forces, that scared Burma's regime so badly that, according to speculation, it helped motivate the rebuilding of a new capital far away from the more easily invadable former capital of Rangoon.

As Burma historian Thant Myint-U told me not long ago, America's "tightening sanctions, covert funding of opposition groups and the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan" meant that a "US-backed overthrow didn’t sound too ludicrous to the generals in charge.”

Petraeus is a man Burma's intelligence officials have had reason to fear in recent years. His trip is highly significant though I doubt the public will be privy to many of the new "channels" he could potentially set up.

http://www.globalpost.com/globalpost-blogs/southeast-asia/cia-burma

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