Internal conflict in Myanmar

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Internal conflict in Myanmar
Burma en.png
Map of Myanmar and its administrative divisions
Date 4 January 1948 – present
(67 years, 10 months and 3 weeks)
Location Myanmar (Burma)



Myanmar Republic of the Union of Myanmar

Former combatants:
Union of Myanmar (1948–1962)

Military governments (1962–2011)

DKBA (1994–2010)

Anti-government factions:
KNU (since 1949)

KIO (since 1961)

MNDAA (since 1989)
NDAA (since 1989)
SSAN (since 1971)
SSAS (since 1996)
UWSP (since 1988)

ABSDF (since 1988)
DKBA-5 (since 2010)
Arakan Army (since 2009)
...and others

Supported by:
 United States[2]

Taiwan Republic of China (1950–1961)[4]
Commanders and leaders

Myanmar Thein Sein
(President of Myanmar)
Myanmar Min Aung Hlaing
Myanmar Wai Lwin
(Minister of Defence)
MyanmarMyanmar Police Emblem.png Swe Thet Myint
(Chief of Police)

Saw Mutu Say Poe
Naw Zipporah Sein
Lanyaw Zawng Hra
Yang Mao-liang
Sai Leun
Yawd Serk
Wei Hsueh-kang
U Than Khe
Bo Nat Khann Mway
Twan Mrat Naing


492,000[note 1][5]
Myanmar Police Emblem.png 93,000[6]


  • 4,000+ (1951)[3]

6,000 (1951)[3]
Taiwan 14,000 (1950)[4]
Unknown numbers of various other factions


Casualties and losses
Unknown Unknown

130,000-250,000 killed in total[19][20]

600,000-1,000,000 displaced (2012)[21]

The Internal conflict in Myanmar (also known as Burma) refers to a series of civil conflicts within Myanmar that began after the country became independent from the United Kingdom in 1948. The conflict has been described as one of the world's "longest running civil wars".[22]


After independence from the United Kingdom in 1948, left-wing insurgent groups such as the armed wing of the Communist Party of Burma, and rebel groups such as the Karen National Union (KNU) were founded, due to the discontent towards the newly formed post-independence government. The communists and ethnic minority groups believed that they were being unfairly excluded from running the country, and thus grew discontent towards the ruling parliament. In the early 1960s, after the central government refused to consider becoming a federal government, more ethnic minority groups began forming armed insurgent groups to fight for self-rule and self-determination. By the early 1980s, politically motivated armed insurgencies had largely disappeared, while ethnic-based insurgencies continued. Many insurgent groups have had peace negotiations and truces with successive military governments since 1962; however, most of these negotiations failed, or were temporary.[23]


The conflict is generally divided into three parts: insurgencies during the post-independence period under parliamentary rule (1948–1962), insurgencies during post-coup military rule in the Cold War (1962–1988), and insurgencies in the post Cold War era, under military rule and the Union Solidarity and Development Party (1988–present).

Post-independence conflict (1948–1962)[edit]

Before the coup d'état of 1962, the two largest anti-government factions in Myanmar were the communists, led by the Communist Party of Burma (CPB), and ethnic Karen insurgents, led by the Karen National Union (KNU). Both groups have fought the government (then administered by the United Kingdom) prior to independence, and have also fought Japanese forces during their occupation of Myanmar in World War II.[24]

During this period, the KNU favoured an independent state, administered by the Karen people. The proposed state would be forged out of Karen State (present day Kayin State) and Karenni State (present day Kayah State), in Outer Myanmar (Lower Burma). However, since the coup, the KNU have instead pushed for a federal system with fair Karen representation.

Post-coup conflict (1962–1988)[edit]

Insurgents of the CPB walk back to their bases after failed peace talks. (1963)

After three successive parliamentary governments ruled Myanmar, the military, led by General Ne Win, conducted a coup d'état which ousted the previous government. Widespread accusations of severe human rights violations and abuses immediately followed, and the cabinet of the parliamentary government and insurgent leaders were arrested and detained without trial.[16] It was also around this time that other ethnic minority groups began forming larger rebel factions, such as the Kachin Independence Army; this was in response to the new government's refusal to adopt a federal government structure.

Ne Win held peace talks with opposition parties and rebel factions immediately after the coup and in 1972, but both times failed due to the government rejecting the proposal to readopt a multi-party system. After negotiations failed, rebel soldiers and insurgents walked back to their bases, with headlines across Myanmar reading "They Go Back" (သူတို့ပြန်ကြလေပြီ). Private property was confiscated by the government, and the Burmese Socialist Programme Party (BSPP) was founded in 1974. Under General Ne Win's 26 year dictatorship, Myanmar became an isolated hermit kingdom, and one of the least developed countries in the world. When student protests broke out in the capital and spread throughout Myanmar in 1988, the BSPP was ousted and a military junta took over.[17]

1988 Uprising[edit]

Main article: 1988 Uprising

On 8 August 1988, nationwide student demonstrations spread throughout Myanmar, as the country's citizens protested against the socialist regime.[25] 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 claimed that around 350 people were killed[26][27] during the uprising and a high number of deaths have been attributed to the military.[28][29][30] According to the Economist, over 3,000 people were killed in the public uprising.[31] As a result of the uprising, the new government agreed to sign separate peace treaties with certain insurgent groups. Because the 1988 uprising was mostly politically motivated, ethnic rebel groups did not receive much support from ruling or opposition political parties in Myanmar. The Tatmadaw severely weakened ethnic rebel groups, destroying most of their bases and strongholds in the 1990s.

Post-Cold War conflict (1988–present)[edit]

From 2006 until 2015, the Tatmadaw conducted an immense offensive against the Karen National Union in Karen State, which resulted in the displacement of hundreds of thousands of civilians. One estimate claimed that approximately half a million people have been displaced within eastern Myanmar due to armed conflict and forcible relocation of villages.[32][33]

In August 2007, approximately 160,000 Burmese refugees fled to the Thai border provinces of Chiang Mai and Ratchaburi, and refugee camps were established (mostly near the Myanmar–Thailand border). Approximately 62% of the refugee population consists of people of the Karen ethnic group. Humanitarian organisations have been formed to assist and support the refugees.[citation needed]

In 2011, the Tatmadaw (Myanmar Armed Forces) launched a military offensive named "Operation Perseverance" (ဇွဲမန်ဟိန်း) against insurgents in Shan State.[34] During the offensive, the Tatmadaw captured territory from the National Democratic Alliance Army and Shan State Army (North), with the Shan State Army being involved in most of the battles. The offensive was in response to rebel factions refusing to accept Myanmar's "One Nation, One Army" policy.[35][36][37][38][39][40]

In 2007, hundreds of thousands of monks defied the government's rule, but were severely cracked down upon. In 2010, the government introduced a new constitution, and Aung San Su Kyi and thousands of other political prisoners were released.

On 19 November 2014, Myanmar soldiers attacked the Kachin Independence Army's headquarters near the city of Laiza, killing at least 22 KIA insurgents.[41]

Main fronts[edit]

Kachin State[edit]

Main article: Kachin conflict

The Kachin ethnic group of Kachin State in Northern Myanmar have fought a political struggle against the government since independence from the United Kingdom. Kachin soldiers previously formed a significant part of the Myanmar military; however, after General Ne Win regime's seized power after the 1962 Burmese coup d'état, many Kachin soldiers split from the military and reorganized with Kachin insurgents to form the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), under the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO). Religious tensions have also been a source of conflict, as Kachin people have historically been predominantly Christian, while Burmese people have been predominantly Buddhist.[42]

Ceasefire agreements have been signed by the KIA and the government several times; most notably a ceasefire signed in 1994, that lasted for 17 years until June 2011, when government forces attacked KIA positions along the Taping River, east of Bhamo, Kachin State.[43]

In 2012 alone, fighting between the KIA and the government resulted in around 2,500 casualties; 211 of whom were government forces. The violence has also resulted in the displacement of nearly 100,000 civilians, and the complete or partial abandonment of 364 villages.[44][45][46][47]

Kayah State (Karenni State)[edit]

The largest insurgent force in Kayah State (formerly known as Karenni State) is the Karenni Army, whose goal for the past few decades has been to obtain independence and self determination for the Karenni people.[48]

The group has claimed that their grievances towards the government include the exploitation and rapid depletion of the natural resources, forced sale of agricultural products, extortion and corruption within local authorities, forced labor, forced relocation of whole villages and farms, destruction of houses, planting of mines in civilian areas, torture, rape, extra-judicial killings, burning of villages, expropriation of food supplies and livestock, arrest without charge, and exploitation of the poor. The Karenni Army is currently led by General Bee Htoo,[48] and consists of between 800 and 1,500 soldiers.[8]

Kayin State (Karen State)[edit]

Main article: Karen conflict

The Karen people are the second largest ethnic minority group in Myanmar, consisting of 7% of the country's total population. The Karen people have struggled for independence and representation since 1949, after the Army Chief of Staff, General Smith Dun, a Karen, was fired and replaced by Ne Win, a Burmese nationalist who would go on to become the dictator of Myanmar from 1962 until his ousting in 1988.[49]

The initial aim of the largest Karen opposition group, the Karen National Union (KNU), and its armed wing, the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA), was to obtain independence for Kayin State (also known as Karen State) and the Karen people, but since 1976 they have instead called for a federal system with Karen representation. However, nearly all the demands and suggestions by the KNU have been ignored or denied by successive military governments. By early 1995, the main headquarters and operating bases of the KNU had mostly been destroyed or lost, with 3,500 to 4,000 insurgents still currently active; operating in the jungles of Kayin State. Up until that year, the government of Thailand had been supporting insurgents across its border, but soon stopped its support due to a new major economic deal with Myanmar.[50]

The government of Myanmar has also been accused of using "scorched earth" tactics against Karen civilians in the past, including (but not limited to) burning down entire villages, planting land mines, using civilians as slave labour, using civilians as minesweepers, and the rape and murder of Karen women.[51] 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.[52]

Rakhine State (Arakan State)[edit]

Insurgents of the Rohingya ethnic minority have been fighting government forces in Rakhine State (also known as Arakan State) since 1947, with ongoing religious prejudice between the predominantly Muslim Rohingyas and Buddhist Burmese fueling the conflict. The political rights of the Rohingya people have been an underlying issue in the conflict; spontaneous bouts of violence such as the 2012 Rakhine State riots have periodically occurred as a result. Despite being a majority ethnic group in the three northern most townships of Rakhine State, Rohingya people are often targets of religiously motivated attacks, as there are no laws in Myanmar protecting the Rohingya people because they They have are not recognized by the government as one of the official ethnic groups in Myanmar. Because of this, they also do not and cannot apply for citizenshup in Myanmar.[citation needed]

The Arakan Army, founded in 2009, is currently the largest insurgent group in Rakhine State, with 1,500-2,500 fighters active in the region.[53]

Shan State[edit]

The Shan people first began to have hostilities towards the government after the newly formed parliamentary government failed to fulfill their promises made in negotiations in the 1947 Panglong Agreement. The agreement guaranteed the rights of self-determination, and political and economic equality. The agreement was made between the ethnic Shan and Burmese leader General Aung San and Shan leaders, whom he convinced to join him in gaining independence from the United Kingdom. The agreement also gave the Chin, Kachin, and Shan State the option to separate from Myanmar after a decade if the state's leaders were unhappy with the Burmese government. However, this was not honored by the government.[4]

In 1950, around 14,000 Kuomintang soldiers fleeing from communist forces in China crossed the border into Shan State. The Kuomintang planned to use the region east of the Salween river as a base from which to launch offensives into China. In response, the government sent a large number of soldiers into Shan State, which inadvertently resulted in the formation of several local armed groups in fear of government attacks. By March 1953, Kuomintang soldiers, allegedly with assistance from the United States, were on the verge of occupying nearly the entire Shan State, and within a day's march of the state capital, Taunggyi. However, Kuomintang forces were driven back by the Burmese military after a large scale offensive, back across the Salween river. A small Kuomintang presence was still in eastern Shan State even after their defeat. The last of Kuomintang forces retreated from Myanmar and walked across the border into Thailand in 1961.[4]

During the Burmese military presence in Shan State, locals were allegedly mistreated, tortured, unlawfully arrested, robbed, killed and raped by military personnel. As a result, on 21 May 1958, the Shan people began to arm themselves against Burmese soldiers. The resistance movement, led by Sao Noi and Saw Yanna, fought for the independence and freedom of Shan State and its people. Today, the strongest resistance group in Shan State is the Shan State Army - South (SSA-S) led by Yawd Serk. The SSA-S maintains bases along the Myanmar-Thailand border. The SSA-S signed a ceasefire agreement with the government on 2 December 2011.

The government and SSA agreed in principle to the following 11 points on 16 January 2012:[citation needed][needs update]

  1. To allow SSA headquarters in Homain sub-township and Mong Hat sub-township
  2. To negotiate and arrange the resettlement of SSA troops and their families in the locations mentioned in the first point
  3. The appointment by the SSA of village heads in the region, which would work with government official for township administration;
  4. Government soldiers in Homain sub-township and Mong Hat sub-township will give help to the SSA
  5. Both sides will discuss and negotiate to arrange for the security of SSA leaders
  6. Government troops and the SSA would negotiate to designate areas where they could enter border areas;
  7. Each side agreed to inform the other side in advance if one side wants to enter the other's control area with weapons
  8. 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
  9. 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
  10. To co-operate with the union government for regional development
  11. To co-operate with the government in making plan for battling drug trafficking

Political discontent[edit]

Some rebel factions, such as the Karen National Union, have fought for independence from Myanmar since 1949. Other rebel factions have fought for regional autonomy, or a federal style government, in which every province would receive some level of provincial government. Past ceasefire agreements and treaties have failed to recognise rebel demands for political freedom and/or self-determination, resulting in most, but not all, of the ceasefires being temporary.[23][54]

During the 1988 uprising, Aung San Suu Kyi emerged as a national symbol for democracy, after leading the largest opposition party, the National League for Democracy (NLD). The military junta arranged an election in 1990 and Aung San Suu Kyi's party, the National League for Democracy (NLD) won a majority of the vote. However, the military junta refused to recognise the results and instead placed Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest for 15 years.

Aung Sun Su Kyi has been silenced by the Myanmar government in the past, put under house arrest, and has been struggling to run for president for many years. In November 2014, the NLD, attempted to make amendments to the constitution, in response to a clause that made Aung San Suu Kyi ineligible to run for president. These amendments however, were rejected.[55]

Human rights violations[edit]

The government of Myanmar has been accused of using "scorched earth" tactics against civilians, most notably on Karen civilians. The accusations included burning down entire villages, planting landmines, using civilians as slave labour, using civilians as minesweepers, and the rape and murder of Karen women.[56] 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.[57]

Both sides have been accused of using landmines, which have caused hundreds of accidental civilian injuries and deaths. The Karen National Union (KNU) has been accused of planting landmines in rural areas, most of which have not been disarmed. The KNU claim that landmines are vital to repelling government forces, because it "discourages them from attacking civilians". However, a majority of those who fall victim to KNU planted landmines are local villagers, rather than government soldiers.[58] Victims of landmines must travel to the Thai-Myanmar border to seek treatment, as local hospitals and facilities lack proper equipment and funding.[59]

Both sides have also been accused of using thousands of child soldiers, despite the fact that the government of Myanmar and seven insurgent groups signed an agreement with UNICEF in 2012, promising not to exploit children for military and political gains. The International Labor Organization (ILO) has accused both sides of continuing to use child soldiers despite the agreement. According to the ILO, the Tatmadaw have discharged hundreds of child soldiers since 2012; however, they estimated that at least 340 child soldiers had been recruited by the Tatmadaw between 2013 and 2014.[60] The most notable case of the use child soldiers in Myanmar was of Johnny and Luther Htoo, the leaders of God's Army, a former rebel faction. At the time of their formation of God's Army, they were both only 10 years old.[61]

Refugee crisis[edit]

Mae La Camp, Tak, Thailand, one of the largest of nine UNHCR camps in Thailand where over 700,000 refugees, asylum seekers, and stateless persons have fled.[62]

The conflict has resulted in a large number of both civilian deaths and refugees, with many refugees fleeing to Western Thailand, around Tak Province. The UN estimates that between 1996 and 2006, around 1 million people were displaced inside Myanmar, and that over 230,000 people remain displaced in Southeast Myanmar, and 128,000 refugees live in temporary shelters on the Thai-Myanmar border.[63][64] Civilians have also been removed from their homes by the central government, and their land confiscated, in order for development projects and the extraction of natural resources.[63][65] Civilians have also been removed from their homes by the central government, and their land confiscated, in order for development projects and resource exploitation.[65][66]

According to Refugee International, there are currently about 75,000 Rohingya refugees in Myanmar.[67] UNICEF has reported that living conditions in Rohingya refugee camps in Rakhine State are "wholly inadequate" and lacks access to basic services.[68] Historically, the persecution of Burmese Indians and other ethnic minority groups in Myanmar after the 1962 coup has led to the expulsion of nearly 300,000 people.[69] More than 200,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled to Bangladesh over the last 20 years to escape persecution.[70] The Rohingya people have been described by the United Nations as "among the world's least wanted" and "one of the world's most persecuted minorities."[71] Al-Qaeda leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri has also threatened Myanmar with terrorist attacks, after their "terror network" expanded into India, Bangladesh and Myanmar.[72]

International Responses[edit]

United Nations United Nations: In November 2009, the UN General Assembly, condemned Myanmar's government and previous military juntas for the systematic violations of human rights, and urged the current government to take urgent measures to end violations of international human rights and humanitarian laws.[73] This was partially honoured after the 2011 constitution and government reforms. According to research from Harvard University’s International Human Rights Clinic (IHRC), three government officials, including the incumbent Minister of Domestic Affairs of Myanmar, have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity in Southeast Myanmar under previous military regime.[74]

Foreign support[edit]

Many rebel factions have been supported by other states in the past: the Karen people received support from the United Kingdom; along the shared border, Bangladesh (then East Pakistan) assisted Rohingya Muslims, with other states in the Middle East also supporting them; the People's Republic of China assisted the Communist Party of Burma (CPB) (later the United Wa State Army), the Naga and Kachin Independence Army; the United States supported the Kuomintang; and Thailand assisted a wide variety of rebel groups by creating buffer states or zones.[75] A renowned Australian criminal, Dave Everett also fought alongside and trained Karen rebel factions, sympathising with them to the point of committing armed robbery to fund his weapon smuggling operation in Myanmar.[76]

Thai involvement[edit]

Thailand has been a major contributor of supplies and arms since the conflict began. Thai leaders have a deep distrust for Myanmar, who have historically invaded Thailand in past centuries. Weapons and ammunition from Thailand have allowed insurgent groups to remain active in the ongoing conflict with the Tatmadaw.[1]

Thailand's support was evident during the 1999 Burmese Embassy Siege. While the United Nations, together with the United States and Myanmar 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".[77]

Ceasefire negotiations[edit]

Under the new constitutional reforms in 2011, state level and union level ceasefire agreements were made with many rebel factions. 14 out of 17 of the largest rebel factions signed a ceasefire agreement with the new reformed government. According to the Myanmar Peace Monitoring group, clashes between Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO), its allies, and the government, has displaced hundreds of thousands of people, and create another severe humanitarian crisis in Kachin and northern Shan State.[78] All of the 14 signatories wanted negotiations in accordance with the Pang Long Agreement of 1948, which granted self-determination, a federal system of government (meaning regionol autonomy), religious freedom, and ethnic minority rights. However, the new constitution, only had a few clauses dedicated to minority rights, and therefore, the government discussed with rebel factions using the new constitution for reference, rather than the Pang Long Agreement. There was no inclusive plan or body that represented all the factions, and as a result, in resent, the KNU backed out of the conference and complained the lack of independence for each party within the ethnic bloc.[54] However, most of the negotiations between the State Peace Deal Commission and rebel factions were formal and peaceful.[79]

In April 2015, a draft Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement was finalised between representatives from fifteen different insurgent groups (all part of the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team or NCCT), and the Government of Myanmar.[80]

In October 2015, after two years of negotiations, the government of Myanmar announced that it will finalise and sign a ceasefire agreement with eight insurgent groups, including the Karen National Union. However, only 8 out of the 15 original signatories signed the ceasefire agreement on 15 October 2015, after seven of members of the NCCT backed out of negotiations in September 2015. The signing was witnessed by observers and delegates from the United Nations, the United Kingdom, Norway, Japan, and the United States.[32][33]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Includes an additional 72,000 reserves.


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Further reading[edit]

  • Kipgen, Nehginpao. "Democracy Movement in Myanmar: Problems and Challenges." New Delhi: Ruby Press & Co., 2014. Print.

External links[edit]