Internal conflict in Burma
||This article needs attention from an expert in Burma (Myanmar). (December 2012)|
|Internal conflict in Burma|
Union government (1948–1962)
Military governments (1962–2011)
KIO (since 1961)PRC
|Commanders and leaders|
|Thein Sein (since 2011)||
Thein Pe Myint (1948–52)
|Casualties and losses|
|Unknown||:Over 700 killed (June 2011 – September 2012)|
210,000 killed (1948-2006)
The internal conflict in Burma is one of the world's longest-running civil wars and began shortly after the country's attainment of independence from the United Kingdom (UK) in 1948; successive central governments of Burma (or Myanmar) have fought a myriad of ethnic and political rebellions.
Some of the earliest insurgencies were instigated by Burmese-dominated "multi-colored" left-wing groups and the Karen National Union (KNU); the KNU fought to create an independent Karen state from a large section of Lower Burma (or Outer Myanmar). Other ethnic rebellions started in the early 1960s after the central government refused to consider a federal government structure. By the early 1980s, politically oriented armed insurgencies had largely withered away, while ethnic-based insurgencies continued. After the Cold War, even though great powers favored peaceful settlements, some ethnic armed groups in Burma which were rich natural resources are still fighting with government forces. Both natural resources and identity issue made more difficult to make negotiation between some ethnic groups and government  Ethnic rebel groups have made peace negotiation with successive military government since 1962. However, there were no political results. The conflicts between central government and ethnic minorities who live in resource rich area of mountainous borderline has been intertwined with the division of natural resources. Under the current Burmese government, a three phase peace process has being implemented by the government, signed by various factions. According to the Myanmar Peace Monitor, 3 out of 17 ethnic armed groups are still fighting with the government.
In April 2015, a Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement was finalised between representatives from 16 ethnic armed organizations, the army and the government.
- 1 Background of Conflicts in Burma
- 2 Civil wars under parliamentary rule (1948-1962)
- 3 Civil wars in Cold War (1962–1988)
- 4 1988 Uprising
- 5 Civil wars in Post Cold War (1988–present)
- 6 Main fronts
- 7 Human rights violation and crimes against humanity
- 8 The United Nations and International Responses
- 9 Foreign support
- 10 National Reconciliation by Cease fire Agreements
- 11 National Reconciliation by Road Map
- 12 National Reconciliation under New Constitution
- 13 Different Oppositions' Different Approaches
- 14 See also
- 15 References
- 16 Further reading
- 17 External links
Background of Conflicts in Burma
Soon after Burma gained independence in 1948, insurgency broke out in Burma, in part because of grievances over the perceived exclusion of ethnic minority groups in the governing of the country post-independence. Insurgencies spread and intensified, especially in the early 1960s following the military coup. Burmese internal conflict is considered as divided into three parts: civil wars under parliamentary rule (1948-1962), civil wars under military rule in Cold War (1962-1988), civil wars military rule after Cold War (1988–present). All of three periods of short history favored military rule in Burma.
Civil wars under parliamentary rule (1948-1962)
The Communist and Karen ethnic group fought the Burmese government since Burma gained its independence from England. Both groups were strong and large rebel groups and could control all entire Burma except the capital city of Burma. Before Burma gained its independence, the Communist group was one of the divisions which fought for independence. It had many strongholds and became a large rebel group after Burma gained its independence. On the other hand, the Karen ethnic group, which was second largest majority of Burma, was favored by English during its colonial era. Therefore, it became a large rebel group after it turned to rebels. Unfull-fledged parliamentary government had fought civil wars with very large rebel groups and the role of military was the higher and higher in government. Nobody could refuse that the fate of Burma depended on its military capability in those period because central government faced the two largest rebel groups.
Civil wars in Cold War (1962–1988)
Then, by the time of three successive parliamentary government ruled in Burma in, there was military coup d'état and general Ne Win became the country's leader, followed by widespread human rights violations in frontier areas. The cabinet of parliamentary government and ethnic leaders were arrested and detained in prisons. Other ethnic rebellions started in the early 1960s after the central government refused to consider a federal government structure. By the early 1980s, politically oriented armed insurgencies were ended and ethnic-based insurgencies continued. General Ne Win made peace talk with political parties and ethnic rebel groups in 1972, but he unilaterally reject to form multiparty system again. Then, he confiscated private economy and formed Burmese Socialist Programmed Party (BSPP)in 1974. Under General Ne Win's 26 years of ruling, Burma became isolation and one of the (LDC) Least Development Countries in the world. When students protests broke out and spread throughout Burma in 1988, (BSPP) was ousted and military coup took over Burma again.
On 8 August 1988, student demonstrations that included ochre-robed monks, young children, housewives and doctors spread throughout Burma, as the country's citizens protested against the regime. The uprising ended on 18 September 1988 after a military coup was enacted by the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC). Authorities in Myanmar stated that around 350 people were killed during the uprising and a high number of deaths have been attributed to the military. According to the Economist, 3000 or more people were killed in the public uprising in Burma in 1988. As a result of the uprising the new government agreed to sign separate peace treaties with certain insurgent groups.
During the 1988 uprising, Aung San Suu Kyi emerged as a national icon. The military junta arranged an election in 1990 and Aung San Suu Kyi's party the National League for Democracy (NLD) won. However, the military junta refused to recognise the results and instead placed Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest.
Civil wars in Post Cold War (1988–present)
During the public uprising in 1988, Aung San Su Kyi became a national icon for her leading role in opposition groups. The second generation of military junta held elections in 1990 and her party, The National League for Democracy (NLD) won with a landslide victory. However, the military junta refused to honor the election results and Aung San Su Kyi was placed under house arrest for the next 15 years. On the other hand, ethnics’ rebel groups were out of support from both of the wings (left and right). They were severely fought by government forces and lose their main bases in 1990s. In 2007, hundred thousands of monks defied the government, but were severely crushed down by government. In 2010, government introduced its new Constitution and Aung San Su Kyi, and thousands of political prisoners, were released.
In November 2005, the military junta began transferring the government away from Yangon to a location near Kyatpyay, just outside Pyinmana, for the purpose of designating a new capital city. On Armed Forces Day (27 March 2006), the capital was officially named Naypyidaw Myodaw ("Royal City of the Seat of Kings"), but is commonly called Naypyidaw.
Since 2006, a Burmese army offensive has been enacted against the KNU in Karen State, and has resulted in the displacement of a high number of people. One estimate has identified approximately half a million people who have been displaced within eastern Burma due to armed conflict and the forcible relocation of villages.
In August 2007, approximately 160,000 Burmese refugees fled to the Thai boundary provinces of Chiang Mai and Ratchaburi and refugee camps have been established; the camps are mostly located near the Burma–Thailand border. Approximately 62 percent of the refugee population consists of Karen people. Humanitarian organizations have been formed to assist and support the refugees. Now, United Nations estimated around 120,000 refugees remain in the refugees camps located on the Thai-Burma border. In 2011, the Burmese army initiated a military operation called "Zwe Man Hein" (ဇွဲမန်ဟိန်း) to combat the rebel groups in Shan State. During the operation, the Burmese army captured the territory of the National Democratic Alliance Army and Shan State Army (North), with the Shan State Army involved in most of the violent conflict. The offensive was a response from the Burmese army, as the rebel groups refused to accept Burma's 'One Nation One Army' policy. During six decades of civil war, both Burmese Army and ethnic rebels groups used thousands of children soldiers. Even though, Burmese government and seven non-state armed groups signed with UNICEF in 2012, International Labor Organization guessed it is still on going problem. According to ILO, Burmese Army discharged of hundreds of child soldiers since 2012, it still received about 340 cases of recruitment of child soldiers in 2013 and 2014.
The Kachin ethnic group of Northern Burma have fought a political struggle against the central government for regional autonomy since 1961. Ceasefires agreements have been signed by the Kachin Independence Army and the government, but fighting has always resumed. There were two negotiations between Kachin rebels and government in 1962 and 1994. Burmese military government refused multi-party system in 1962 and the agreement was abolished. After cease fire agreement with second generation of military government in 1994, there was 17 years of peace between Kachin rebels and government. In 2012 fighting between the KIA and the government claimed at least 2500 lives. The abundance of natural resources in Kachin state increase the duration of war because If resources are located inside the actual conflict zone and the duration of conflict is doubled. According to Pa¨ivi Lujala, the location of resources is crucial to their impact on conflict duration  In compare with Myanmar population, the Kachin population is 1 million out of 55 million of Myanmar population. However, the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) has around 4000 troops. Most of Kachin people are Christians while most of Burmese are Buddhists  There were large scale of people displacement in Kachin state because of wars between government troops and KIA. Around 100,000 were displaced between 1960s and 1990s. Nowadays, there were around 67,000 internally displaced since the wars have broken out in 2011 Before the end of the Cold War, successful rebel groups in the developing world were typically financed by one of the great powers. Since the Cold War ended, insurgent groups have been forced to find other ways to bankroll themselves; many have turned to the natural resource sector. In post-cold war period, other ethnic rebel groups were weak for the lack of supporting from great powers, Kachin rebels have strong army for its richest natural resource. On the other hand, it is the most difficult state to make peace between government and rebel group. Natural resources in Kachin state increases the duration of war between armed forces. According to Ross, natural resources heighten the danger that a civil war will break out, and once it breaks out, that conflict will be more difficult to resolve. Additionally, it is not only natural resource case, but also identity issue, therefore, it is harder to compromise between two parties. According to Licklider, wars concerned with identity issue are more intense and harder to negotiate because it provokes deeper levels of commitment 
The aim of the Karenni Army is to secure the independence of the Karenni State (Kayah State). According to a pro-Karenni Army website, the group's grievances include: "Exploitation and rapid depletion of the natural resources, forced sale of agricultural products, extortion, forced labour, forced relocation of whole villages and crops, destruction of houses, planting of mines around crops and villages, torture, rape, extra-judicial killings, burning of villages, expropriation of food supplies and livestock, arrest without charge, false accusations and exploitation of the poor."  The Karenni Army is currently led by General Bee Htoo and consists of between 800 and 1,500 soldiers.
The Karen people is one of Burma's largest ethnic minority populations and it has 7% out of 55 millions of Burmese population. Karen ethnic group has struggled for independence since 1949 after the Army Chief of Staff, General Smith Dun, a Karen, was fired and replaced by Ne Win, a Burmese nationalist. The initial aim of the KNU (Karen National Union) was independence, but since 1976 the people has called for a federal system rather than an independent Karen state. However, all were refused by successive Burmese government. Early 1995, the headquarter and main bases of Karen ethnic rebels were lost and 3500 to 4000 men remained under arms. Thai government gave up the old policy of encouraging ethnic minority rebels and on the other hand, it favored Burmese government for its energy needs. According to a 30-year gas supply deal between two governments, Thai government would supply natural gas to its growing cities and industrial sectors and on the other hand, Burmese government would gain $400 million annually.
Human rights violation and crimes against humanity
Over 100 ethnic groups have being live in Burma and they have different languages and dialects. Different geographical locations made such diversities. According to Chizom Ekeh and Martin Smith, such rich diversity forced Burma political violence, tension between and within ethnic groups, ethnic and religious discrimination and persecution, and violation of human rights  Civilians living in ethnic areas are the worst affected by the country’s 60-year-old war, constituting the majority of its victims. The UNGS Special Rapporteur said that between 1996 and 2006 the war generated an estimated 1 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) many of whom were drawn from ethnic nationalities. Two third of Burmese population was Burman majority and 80% of minority nationalities were Christians. Moreover, the about one-third of ethnic nationalities who live mainly in the resource-rich border areas have been forcibly removed from their homes by the military-backed government as it confiscates land for development projects and resource exploitation. Burma's government has fought countless battles with ethnic minority groups and the conflict has resulted in a high number of both deaths and refugees; refugees have fled to Western Thailand and have mainly settled around the Tak Province. It was like Japanese invasion of Burma in WWII, Burmese military government has pursued a "scorched earth" policy in the region, and has attempted to depopulate Karen communities and repopulate these areas with the Bamar people. Many villagers in Karen state have been forced to work as porters for several months; they are deliberately starved, and regularly beaten, raped, or murdered. When the Burmese soldiers entered a village, they shot the villagers who try to escape. Some of villagers have been accused of helping the local ethnic rebels and then have been killed. In certain areas, the villagers have been forced to leave their villages and have been moved to camps on the border line. According to UNHCR, there are over 230,000 IDPs remain displaced in south-east of Myanmar. Moreover, it is estimated that 128,000 refugees live in temporary sheltering areas on the Thai-Burma border  The clashes between majority Buddhists and Rohingya Muslim left at least 89 dead and about 90,000 displaced. According to UNICEF, the living condition of Rohinga refugees camps in Rakhine state are wholly inadequate access to basic services  In the past, the persecution of Burmese Indians and other ethnic groups after the military coup headed by General Ne Win in 1962 led to the expulsion or emigration of 300,000 people. More than 200,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled to Bangladesh over the last 20 years to escape persecution  Therefore, the United Nation describes Rohingya from Burma as "among the world's least wanted" and "one of the world's most persecuted minorities.". Recently, Al-Qaeda leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri threaten to Burma that the terror network has expanded its jihad to India, Bangladesh and Burma and the security was increased in Rangoon, the capital of Burma  In past half century, successive Myanmar (Burma) military leaders usually raises up nationalism to attempt to control the natural resources from ethnic minorities and such resources competition suffers the most marginalize unrecognized minority group. According to Simpson, resource competition in Burma forms two groups: those who gain social advantages (Barman majority military elites groups) and those who are marginalized and unrecognized group (Muslim Rohinga group).
The United Nations and International Responses
Under military rule over Burma, the United Nations General Assembly has called on Burmese military government to respect human rights for more than dozen times . According to the General Assembly resolution in November 2009, Burmese military juntas was condemned for the systematic violations of human rights and urged the regime to take urgent measures to end violations of international human rights and humanitarian laws. According to research of Harvard University’s International Human Rights Clinic (IHRC), three Burmese generals including current home affair minister committed war crimes and crimes against humanity in south-east of Burma under previous military regime. Specific government tactics used against the Karen include (but are not limited to) burning down entire villages, planting land mines in the Karen state, using civilians as slave laborers, using civilians as minesweepers, and rape and killing of Karen women. According to a report by legal firm DLA Piper, whose report was presented to the United Nations Security Council, these tactics against the Karen have been identified as ethnic cleansing.
An internal conflict commenced in the Rakhine State in 1947 and, as of 2012, this conflict continues. The political rights of the Rohingya has been the underlying issue in this conflict and violence, such as the 2012 Rakhine State riots, has periodically occurred. The Rohingya, who number about 800,000 in the three northernmost Rakine townships, have been legally discriminated against in Myanmar for decades.
The Shan leaders started to fight back against the central Burmese government after the government failed to fulfill the 1947 Panglong Agreement. The agreement basically guaranteed the rights of self-determination, equality and financial management. The agreement was between the Shan and Burmese leader (Gen. Aung San) who convinced the Shan leaders to join him in gaining independence from the British Colony. Moreover, the Shan, Kachin and Chin states could separate from the mainland of Burma after 10 years if the ethnic state leaders were not happy with the Burmese government.
The Shan started to fight back after the Burmese sent thousands of troops into Shan State because of an invasion by Chinese Nationalist the KMT in 1950. Driven out by the Chinese Communist forces, Nationalist KMT armies planned to use the region east of the Salween river as a base from which to regain their homeland. In March 1953, the KMT forces, with US assistance, were on the verge of taking the entire Shan State, and within a day's march of the state capital Taunggyi. The Burmese army drove back the invaders east across the Salween, but much of the KMT army and their progeny have remained in the eastern Shan State under various guises to the present day.
During the Burmese military presence in Shan state, the local Shan people were mis-treated, tortured, arrested, robbed, killed and raped by the Burmese military. As a result, on 21 May 1958, the Shan people started to arm and fight back against the Burmese military presence. The resistance movement led by Sao Noi or Saw Yanna fought for the freedom of Shan State. Today, the strongest resistance group in Shan State is the Shan State Army (SSA) lead by Sao Yawd Serk. The SSA has their main bases along the Shan-Thai border. The SSA signed a ceasefire agreement with the Thein Sein's government on 2 Dec 2011. The government and SSA agreed in principle to the following 11 points on 16 January 2012:
- To allow SSA headquarters in Homain sub-township and Mong Hat sub-township
- To negotiate and arrange the resettlement of SSA troops and their families in the locations mentioned in the first point
- The appointment by the SSA of village heads in the region, which would work with government official for township administration;
- Government soldiers in Homain sub-township and Mong Hat sub-township will give help to the SSA
- Both sides will discuss and negotiate to arrange for the security of SSA leaders
- Government troops and the SSA would negotiate to designate areas where they could enter border areas;
- Each side agreed to inform the other side in advance if one side wants to enter the other's control area with weapons
- To open liaison offices between the government and the SSA-S in Taunggyi, Kholam, Kengtung, Mong Hsat and Tachileik and trading offices in Muse and Nanhkam
- Government ministers will arrange for SSA-S members to run businesses and companies in accord with existing policies, by providing aid and the required technology
- To cooperate with the union government for regional development
- To cooperate with the government in making plan for battling drug trafficking
Points will also be discussed in the coming second union-level meeting.[needs update]
Burma's insurgencies have been supported or used by foreign states: the Karen received support from the United Kingdom (UK); along the shared border, Bangladesh (and then East Pakistan) assisted the Muslim Rohingyas, with additional Middle Eastern backing; the People's Republic of China assisted the Communist Party of Burma (CPB) (later the United Wa State Army), and the Naga and Kachin Independence Army ; the United States (U.S.) supported the Kuomintang; and Thailand assisted a wide variety of rebel groups by essentially creating buffer states or zones. A renown Australian Criminal, Dave Everett also fought alongside and trained the Karen, sympathizing with them to the point of committing armed robbery in order to fund his weapon smuggling operation to Burma.
Thailand has been the major contributor of supplies and arms since the crisis began. Thai leaders have a deep distrust for the Burmese, who have frequently invaded Thailand in past centuries. Weapons and ammunition from Thailand have allowed insurgent groups to remain active in the ongoing war with the Burmese army.
Thailand's support was evident during the 1999 Burmese Embassy Siege. While the United Nations, together with the United States (US) and Burmese governments, referred to the siege as an 'act of terrorism', the Thai government responded differently, stating: "the captors are students working for democracy, not terrorists".
National Reconciliation by Cease fire Agreements
Most ethnic groups became armed struggle after first military coup in 1962 and successive military governments used four cuts counter insurgency policy in ethnic areas. The "four cuts" policy involved cut communications among rebel armed groups as well as local people, cut off people and trade route in designated territories, search and destruction of any possible supply in the areas On the other hand, the military government forced ethnics groups to sign ceasefire agreements with ethnic rebels groups while government troops were trying to root out their main bases in 1990s. In meanwhile, ethnic minorities political parties which won seats in 1990 elections and formed the second largest pro-democracy block after NLD were severely oppressed in cities. By the end of the century, there were 20 armed opposition groups ceased fire with governments  However, government made political dialogues with neither cease fire groups nor winning political parties. Therefore, some ethnic groups didn't cease fire with government and continued armed struggle. The ethnic populations were the most suffered from a result of long-standing hostilities with the central government. They have been treated as enemies of the state and second class citizens.
National Reconciliation by Road Map
From 1993 to 2008, military government tried to approve a draft constitution by holding National Convention from 1993 to 2008 without approval of winning parties and armed ethnic groups. In 2008, government introduced its new constitution which included highly military role in government and parliament by holding skeptical referendum aftermath of widespread of destructions caused by cyclone Nargis Even though, the new constitution didn't show the first step to liberalization, it was a survival strategy for military government because it had many power sharing incentives among military elites  Burmese military transformed into civilian government in 2010. In the new government, President Thein Sein who was former members of military general, bicameral parliament which had 25% of reserved seats for active members of military armed forces, no amendment couldn't be approved in the constitution without the consent of 75% of parliamentary members, and all presidents needed to have military experience 
National Reconciliation under New Constitution
Under new government, there were state level, union level cease fire agreement with combatant groups. 14 out of 17 combatants groups made cease fire agreement with new government. According to Myanmar Peace Monitoring Web Page, the current clashes between Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), and allies (AA, ABSDF, TNLA) caused hundred thousands of internally displaced person (IDP) and there were severe humanitarian crisis in Kachin and northern Shan states All minorities ethnic groups wanted negotiations in accordance with Pang long Agreement (1948) which granted self-determination, federalism and ethnic equality. However, under new constitution, there was only a few role of minority rights and therefore government discussed with armed ethnic group on the sideline of constitution. On the other hand, there was no inclusive plan or body that represents all armed groups. In resent armed ethnic conference, KNU walked out from the conference and complained the lack of independence for each party within the ethnic bloc. However, most of the cease fire agreement between the State Peace Deal Commission and armed groups were formal communication process.
Different Oppositions' Different Approaches
Different oppositions have different approaches in the political arena of Burma. While Aung Sun Su Kyi, leader of NLD Party and a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, was struggling to run for president, different ethnic groups were struggling for a federalist state. By the end of 2014, National League For Democracy (NLD), the main opposition party, tried to make amendment in constitution because Burmese government refused to amend a constitutional provision that makes Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi ineligible to run for president. In the mean time, different ethnics armed groups tried to make peace talk with government, however, fighting has broken out in Karen state Shan state and in Kachin state. Even thought, ethnically, geographically, and religiously differences among ethnics groups have been the root of internal conflict of Burma, there was no description for national reconciliation process by constitution. Both fair distribution of power share and wealth have been the main ambition for minorities of Burma. Different ethnic groups want fair resources share in accordance with 1947 constitution  However, for the subnational level, Myanmar’s 2008 Constitution sets state and region governments’ authority to legislate and tax some limited areas of natural resource governance, such as salt and less-valuable forest products. Article 37 of Myanmar’s 2008 Constitution states the Union:(a) is the ultimate owner of all lands and all natural resources above and below the ground, above and beneath the water and in the atmosphere in the Union;(b) shall enact necessary law to supervise extraction and utilization of state-owned natural resources by economic forces. Different actors and resources, and varieties of political economy in different regions make the Myanmar situation more complex. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the military government (SLORC/SPDC) reached ceasefire agreements with several large ethnic armed groups. During the ceasefire period, increased extraction of natural resources was reported in the ceasefire areas, particularly mining and logging in Kachin, Shan and Kayin States. Nowadays, stakeholders from government and some ethnic armed groups said they agreed "in principle" while they discussed the issue of natural resource in peace talk. However, it was still sensitive issue for both sides.
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