Internal conflict in Myanmar

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Internal conflict in Myanmar
Date 4 January 1948 – present
(67 years, 9 months and 1 day)
Location Myanmar (Burma)


  • Insurgency since 1948
  • Sporadic ethnic uprisings in certain states
  • Civil war in Shan and Kachin States
  • Military dissolves official rule
  • Numerous truces and ceasefires signed by various groups
  • Regime changes to form the Union Solidarity and Development Party

Myanmar Republic of the Union of Myanmar (since 2011)

Former combatants:
Union of Myanmar (1948–1962)

Military governments (1962–2011)

DKBA (1994–2010)

Anti-government factions:
KNU (since 1949)

DKBA (since 2010)
MNDAA (since 1989)
NDAA (since 1989)
SSA (since 1988)

UWSP (since 1988)

KIO (since 1961)

ABSDF (since 1980s)
Arakan Army (since 2009)

Supported by:
Taiwan (1948–1980s)
 Thailand [2]
 United States[3]

China China[4]
Commanders and leaders

Myanmar Thein Sein (since 2011)

Naw Zipporah Sein
Yang Mao-liang
Wei Hsueh-kang
Bo Nat Khann Mway (DKBA, since 2010)
Johnny and Luther Htoo (God's Army)
Twan Mrat Naing (Arakan Army)



43,000 (1951)[4]
200,000 (1989)[6]
289,000 (1995)[7]

350,000 - 450,000 (2002)[8]


  • 4,000+ (1951)[4]

1,500-2,000 (1998)[10]
30,000[citation needed]
Karenni Army: 800-1,500[9]
Arakan Army: 400-600[12]
6,000 (1951)[4]
14,000 (1949)
Unknown numbers of various other factions Total:
60,000-70,000 (1988)[13]
50,000 (1998)[14]

15,000 (2002)[15]
Casualties and losses


  • 2,500 killed in Kachin State (2012)[16][17]

210,000 killed in total (2006)[18]

600,000-1,000,000 displaced (2002)[19]

The internal conflict in Myanmar (also known as Burma) is one of the world's longest ongoing civil wars and began shortly after the country's attainment of independence from the United Kingdom in 1948.[20] Successive central governments of Myanmar (or Burma) 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, despite major powers favoring peaceful settlements, some ethnic armed groups in Myanmar are still fighting against government forces. Both the lure of natural resources and ethnic conflict made it more difficult to negotiate between some ethnic groups and the government.[21] Ethnic rebel groups have made peace negotiations with successive military governments since 1962; however, this did not result in political changes. The conflict between the central government and ethnic minorities who live in the resource rich area of the mountainous borderline between Myanmar and Thailand has been intertwined with the division of natural resources.[dubious ][22] 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.[23]

In April 2015, a draft Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement was finalized between representatives from 16 ethnic armed organizations, the army and the government.[24]


Soon after Myanmar (then called Burma) gained independence in 1948, insurgency broke out, in part because of grievances over the perceived exclusion of ethnic minority groups in the governing of the post-independence country.[25] Insurgencies spread and intensified, especially in the early 1960s following the 1962 Burmese coup d'état. The conflict is widely considered to be divided into three parts: insurgencies under parliamentary rule (1948-1962), insurgencies under military rule during the Cold War (1962-1988), and insurgencies under military in the post Cold War era (1988–present).[dubious ]

Conflict under parliamentary rule (1948-1962)[edit]

The two largest rebel groups, the communists and ethnic Karen rebels, have fought the Burmese government since Burma gained its independence from the United Kingdom. Both groups were large, powerful rebel groups and were capable of controlling large parts of Burma. Before Myanmar gained its independence, the communists were one of the factions that fought for independence. It had many strongholds before Burmese independence, and grew significantly after. The Karen people, which was the second largest ethnic group in Myanmar, were favored by the British during the colonial era. Some ethnic Karen people favored an independent Karen state, forged out of a large part of Outer Myanmar (Lower Burma). Because of their size, ethnic Karen rebel groups became a major rebel force in post-independence Myanmar; resulting in the increase of military reliance in Myanmar.[citation needed]

Conflict during the Cold War (1962–1988)[edit]

After three successive parliamentary governments ruled Myanmar, the military conducted a coup d'état, ousting the previous government, and bringing General Ne Win into power. Widespread human rights violations in conflict zones followed. The cabinet of the parliamentary government and ethnic leaders were arrested and detained in prisons.[13] Ethnic rebellions started in the early 1960s after the central government refused to consider a federal government structure. By the early 1980s, nearly all politically motivated insurgencies had ended, but ethnic-based insurgencies continued. Ne Win held peace talks with political parties and ethnic rebel groups in 1972, but rejected the proposal to readopt a multiparty system. After the talks had failed, private property was confiscated, and the Burmese Socialist Programmed Party (BSPP) was founded in 1974. Under General Ne Win's 26 year rule, Myanmar became isolated as a hermit kingdom, and became 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.[14]

1988 Uprising[edit]

Main article: 1988 Uprising

On 8 August 1988, student demonstrations that included ochre-robed monks, young children, housewives and doctors spread throughout Myanmar, as the country's citizens protested against the regime.[26] 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[27][28] during the uprising and a high number of deaths have been attributed to the military.[29][30][31] According to the Economist, over 3,000 people were killed in the public uprising.[32] 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 recognize the results and instead placed Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest.

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

During the uprising in 1988, Aung San Su Kyi became a national icon for her leading role in opposition groups. The second term of the 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. Meanwhile, ethnic rebel groups did not receive support from parties of either part of the political spectrum (left and right). Government forces severely weakened ethnic rebel groups, destroying most rebel groups' bases in the 1990s. In 2007, hundreds of thousands of monks defied the government, but were severely cracked down by government. In 2010, the government introduced its new constitution, and Aung San Su Kyi and thousands of other 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.[citation needed]

Since 2006, a Burmese army offensive has been enacted against the KNU in the 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 Myanmar due to the armed conflict and the forcible relocation of villages.[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 organizations have been formed to assist and support the refugees.[citation needed] The United Nations estimates around 120,000 refugees remain in refugee camps located on the Myanmar-Thailand border.[34] In 2011, the Burmese army initiated a military operation called "Zwe Man Hein" (ဇွဲမန်ဟိန်း) to combat the rebel groups in Shan State.[35] 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.[36][37][38][39][40][41] 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.[42]

On 19 November 2014, Myanmar soldiers attacked a Kachin Independence Army headquarters near Laiza, killing at least 22 rebels.[43]

Main fronts[edit]

Kachin State[edit]

Main article: Kachin conflict

The Kachin ethnic group of Northern Burma have fought a political struggle for regional autonomy against the central government since 1961. Ceasefire 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. The Burmese military government refused to implement a multi-party system in 1962 and the agreement was abolished. After a ceasefire agreement with a second military government in 1994, there were 17 years of peace between the Kachin rebels and the government. In 2012 fighting between the KIA and the government claimed at least 2,500 lives.[17][44]

The Kachin population only makes up less than 2% of the population of Myanmar. Despite this however, the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) has around 4,000 personnel. Most Kachin people are Christians, while most Burmese are Buddhists, leading to a religious divide between the two peoples. [45] As a result of the conflict between the KIA and the central government, over 100,000 people were displaced between the 1960s and 1990s in Kachin State. Presently, around 67,000 people are internally displaced, ever since renewed fighting in 2011.[46]

Before the end of the Cold War, many rebel organizations were financed by foreign powers. Presently, insurgent groups have been forced to find other ways to bankroll themselves; many have turned to illegal trade of natural resources.[47] The Kachin Independence Army has been able to maintain a strong army by exploiting the natural resources on territory it controls. This has led to complications in negotiations between the KIA and the central government, as to who rightfully owns the resources.[48] Additionally, ethnic and religious divides have made the conflict between the two more difficult to resolve, because of the commitment of the KIA to gain some level of autonomy or independence.[49]

Kayah State (Karenni State)[edit]

For the past few decades, the goal of the Karenni Army is to obtain independence for Kayah State, formerly known as Karreni State.[50] 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." [50] The Karenni Army is currently led by General Bee Htoo[50] and consists of between 800 and 1,500 soldiers.[9]

Kayin State[edit]

Main article: Karen Conflict

The Karen people is one of Burma's largest ethnic minorities, consisting of around 7% of Myanmar's total population. The Karen people have 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.[51] The initial aim of the Karen National Union (KNU) was independence for Kayin State (also known as Karen State), but since 1976 the people have called for a federal system with Karen representation, rather than an independent Karen state. However, all demands and negotiations have been refused by successive governments of Myanmar. By early 1995, the headquarter and main operating bases of the KNU were lost, with 3,500 to 4,000 men remaining under arms. Up until that year, the government of Thailand had been supporting rebels across its border, but soon stopped its support due to new economic deals with Myanmar. A 30 year gas supply deal was made between the two governments, which helped supply natural gas to Thailand's major cities, and add $400 million to Myanmar's annual budget.[52]

Rakhine State[edit]

Internal conflict has been ongoing in Rakhine State ever since 1947, with ongoing racial prejudice towards Rohingyas. The political rights of the Rohingya people have been an underlying issue in the conflict; bouts of violence such as the 2012 Rakhine State riots have periodically occurred as a result. The Rohingya people, who number about 800,000 in the three northernmost Rakhine townships, have been legally discriminated against in Myanmar for decades. They have also not been recognized by the government as one of the ethnic groups in Myanmar, and thus do not have citizenship.[citation needed]

Shan State[edit]

Shan leaders began fighting the central government after the government failed to fulfill promises and negotiations made in the 1947 Panglong Agreement. The agreement guaranteed the rights of self-determination, equality and financial management. The agreement was between the ethnic Shan and Burmese leader (General Aung San), who convinced the Shan leaders to join him in gaining independence from the United Kingdom. The agreement also gave the Shan, Kachin, and Chin states the option to separate from Myanmar after 10 years if the state leaders were not happy with the Burmese government. This however, was not honored.[53]

Shan rebel factions first began appearing after the Burmese government sent thousands of troops into Shan State, in response to a large number of Kuomintang soldiers fleeing from communist forces in China in 1950. The Kuomintang had planned to use the region east of the Salween river as a base from which to launch offensives into China. In 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.[53] However, the Burmese army repelled Kuomintang forces east, across the Salween. A small Kuomintang presence was still in eastern Shan State after their defeat.[53]

During the Burmese military presence in Shan state, the local Shan people 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 and attack the 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 (SSA) led by Sao Yawd Serk. The SSA maintains 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:[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 cooperate with the union government for regional development
  11. To cooperate with the government in making plan for battling drug trafficking

Human rights violations[edit]

Over 100 different ethnic groups live in Myanmar; this diversity has led to tension between and within ethnic groups, especially ethnic and religious discrimination and persecution.[54] The UN estimates that between 1996 and 2006, around 1 million people were displaced.[55] Civilians have also been removed from their homes by the central government, and their land confiscated, in order for development projects and resource exploitation.[56]

The Government of Myanmar 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 Tak Province. There have been reports of villagers in Karen state being forced to work as porters for several months, and being deliberately starved, regularly beaten, raped, and murdered. There have also been accusations that Tatmadaw soldiers have shot innocent villagers who attempted to flee military offensives, and those who were suspected of supporting local rebel factions. According to the UNHCR, it is estimated that over 230,000 people remain displaced in Southeast Myanmar, and 128,000 refugees live in temporary sheltering areas on the Thai-Myanmar border.[57]

According to Refugee International, there are currently about 75,000 Rohingya refugees in Myanmar.[58] UNICEF has reported that living conditions in Rohingya refugee camps in Rakhine State are "wholly inadequate" and lacks access to basic services.[59] Historically, the persecution of Burmese Indians and other ethnic minority groups in Myanmar after the 1962 coup has lead to the expulsion of nearly 300,000 people.[60] More than 200,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled to Bangladesh over the last 20 years to escape persecution.[61] 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."[62] Al-Qaeda leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri has also threatened Myanmar with terrorist attacks, after their "terror network" expanded into India, Bangladesh and Myanmar.[63]

International Responses[edit]

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.[64] This was partially honored after the 2011 constitution and government reforms. According to research from Harvard University’s International Human Rights Clinic (IHRC), three Burmese generals, including the current Domestic Affairs minister, have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity in Southeast Myanmar under previous military regime.[65] The government of Myanmar has been accused of using "scorched earth" tactics against the Karen people in the past, including (but are limited to) burning down entire villages, planting land mines, using civilians as slave labor, using civilians as minesweepers, and the rape and murder of Karen women.[66] 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.[67]

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.[1] A renowned Australian criminal, Dave Everett also fought alongside and trained Karen rebel factions, sympathizing with them to the point of committing armed robbery in order to fund his weapon smuggling operation in Myanmar.[68]

Thai involvement[edit]

Thailand has been a major contributor of supplies and arms since the conflict began.[citation needed] Thai leaders have a deep distrust for Myanmar, who have historically invaded Thailand in past centuries.[2] Weapons and ammunition from Thailand have allowed insurgent groups to remain active in the ongoing conflict with the Tatmadaw.[2]

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".[69]

Ceasefire agreements under the new constitution (2011)[edit]

After the government and 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 Organization (KIO), it's allies (AA, ABSDF, TNLA) and the government has displaced hundreds of thousands of people, and caused a severe humanitarian crisis in Kachin and northern Shan State.[70] All of the 14 signatories wanted negotiations in accordance with the Pang Long Agreement of 1948, which granted self-determination, federalism and ethnic equality. However, under the new constitution, there was only a few clauses dedicated to minority rights, and therefore, the government discussed with the rebel factions with reference to the constitution. There was no inclusive plan or body that represented all the factions, and as a resilt, in resent, the KNU backed out of the conference and complained the lack of independence for each party within the ethnic bloc.[71] However, most of the negotiations between the State Peace Deal Commission and rebel factions were formal and peaceful.[72]

See also[edit]


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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]