Internal conflict in Myanmar

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Internal conflict in Myanmar
Armed conflict zones in Myanmar.png
Map of armed conflict zones in Myanmar (Burma). States and regions affected by fighting during and after 1995 are highlighted in yellow. For a more detailed map, see here.
Date2 April 1948[20] – present
(73 years, 3 months, 3 weeks and 6 days)
Location
Myanmar (Burma)
Status

Ongoing

Belligerents
Former:

Former:[a]

Northern Alliance

Federal Union Army

Former:
Commanders and leaders
Former:

Former:
Former:
Units involved

 Tatmadaw

  • Local armed insurgents[26]
  • Foreign volunteers[27][28]
  • Strength

    492,000[g]

    Previous totals:

    20,000[31]–25,000[32]

    NA-B: 21,500–26,500+

    ~10,000

    Unknown numbers of various other groups

    Previous totals:
    • 60,000–70,000 (1988)[43]
    • 50,000 (1998)[44]
    • 15,000 (1949)[h]
    • 14,000 (1950)[45]
    • 4,000+ (1951)[15]
    Casualties and losses
    130,000[46]–250,000[47] killed
    600,000–1,000,000 civilians displaced[48]

    Insurgencies have been ongoing in Myanmar since 1948, the year the country, then known as Burma, gained independence from the United Kingdom. The conflict has largely been ethnic-based, with several ethnic armed groups fighting Myanmar's armed forces, the Tatmadaw, for self-determination. Despite numerous ceasefires and the creation of autonomous self-administered zones in 2008, many groups continue to call for independence, increased autonomy, or the federalisation of the country. The conflict is the world's longest ongoing civil war, having spanned more than seven decades.[49][50][51]

    Background[edit]

    Before Myanmar (Burma) gained independence from the United Kingdom, several anti-colonial groups protested against British rule of the country. These groups became especially influential during World War II, when the Empire of Japan promised an "independent Burmese state" (though it would be de facto controlled by Japan as a puppet state) and appointed Ba Maw as its head of state.[52] During this period, far-left groups such as the Communist Party of Burma (CPB) and armed ethnic groups began to emerge in opposition to both the British and Japanese.[53]

    After World War II, Aung San negotiated with several ethnic leaders in Shan State, and the Panglong Agreement was reached between them. The agreement guaranteed the right to self-determination, political representation in the post-independence government and economic equality amongst the various ethnic groups. It also gave the Chin, Kachin and Shan people the option to separate from Myanmar after a decade if their states' leaders were unhappy with the central government. However, Aung San was assassinated shortly afterwards, and the Panglong Agreement was not honoured by the post-independence government.[45] This further strained relations between the Bamar ethnic majority and the country's many ethnic minorities.[54]

    Timeline[edit]

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

    Following Burma's independence from the United Kingdom on 4 January 1948, the two largest opposition groups in the country were the communists, led by the Communist Party of Burma (CPB), and the Karen nationalists, led by the Karen National Union (KNU).[16][52][55] The former had fought the British colonial government prior to independence; however, during the final days of the Japanese occupation of Burma in World War II, both groups helped the British fight against the Imperial Japanese Army.[52] Initially there was calm during the transitional period after independence, but on 2 April 1948, the CPB fired the first shots of the conflict in Paukkongyi, Pegu Region (present-day Bago Region).[20]

    During the post-independence period, the KNU favoured an independent state, governed by the Karen people. The proposed state would have encompassed the territories of Karen State and Karenni State (present-day Kayin State and Kayah State), in Lower Burma (Outer Myanmar). The KNU has since shifted their focus from full independence to regional autonomy, under a federal system with fair Karen representation in the government.[56]

    Ne Win era (1962–1988)[edit]

    "They have gone back": Insurgents of the Communist Party of Burma walk back to their bases after failed peace talks. (c. November 1963)

    After three successive parliamentary governments governed Myanmar, the Tatmadaw (Myanmar Armed Forces), led by General Ne Win, enacted a coup d'état in 1962, which ousted the parliamentary government and replaced it with a military junta. Accusations of severe human rights abuses and violations followed afterwards, and the cabinet of the parliamentary government and political leaders of ethnic minority groups were arrested and detained without trial.[43] Around this period, other ethnic minority groups began forming larger rebel factions, such as the Kachin Independence Army, in response to the new government's refusal to adopt a federal system.

    In 1967, the ideological spread of China's Cultural Revolution led to riots between the Bamar and Chinese communities in Rangoon (present-day Yangon) and other cities. The riots left 31 dead and prompted China to begin openly supporting the Communist Party of Burma.[57]

    Both immediately after the coup and again in 1972, General Ne Win held peace talks with insurgents, but both times they fell apart. This was partly due to General Ne Win's refusal to adopt a federal multi-party system.[58] After negotiations failed, defectors from the Tatmadaw and ethnic insurgents walked back to their bases, with headlines across Myanmar famously reading "They have gone back" (သူတို့ပြန်ကြလေပြီ). Private property was confiscated by the government, and the Burmese Socialist Programme Party (BSPP) was founded in 1974 to govern the country under a one-party system. Under General Ne Win's 26-year dictatorship, Myanmar became an isolated hermit kingdom and one of the least developed countries in the world. In 1988, nationwide student protests resulted in the BSPP and General Ne Win being ousted and replaced with a new military regime, the State Peace and Development Council.[44]

    8888 Uprising[edit]

    On 12 March 1988, students began demonstrating in Rangoon (present-day Yangon) against the totalitarian rule of General Ne Win and his Burma Socialist Programme Party (BSPP).[59] The protests quickly spread across the country, and the BSPP government was eventually pressured into adopting a multi-party system.[60] However, the BSPP government was overthrown in a military coup d'état on 18 September 1988. The military then established the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) and violently cracked down on protesters, ending all demonstrations by 21 September 1988.[61]

    Authorities in Myanmar claimed that around 350 people were killed,[62][63] while opposition groups claimed thousands died in the protests at the hands of the military.[64][65][66] According to The Economist, over 3,000 people were killed in the demonstrations.[67] Despite its violent suppression of the 8888 Uprising, the new military junta agreed to ceasefire agreements with certain insurgent groups after the demonstrations ceased.

    Aung San Suu Kyi emerged from the 8888 Uprising as a symbol of Myanmar's pro-democracy movement, leading the country's largest opposition party, the National League for Democracy (NLD). The military junta arranged a general election in 1990, in which the 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.

    Rule of the generals (1988–2011)[edit]

    After voiding the results of the 1990 election, the military junta consolidated its rule over Myanmar. The State Law and Order Restoration Council was abolished in 1997 and replaced with the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), which consisted of eleven senior military officers.[68]

    In the 1990s, the Tatmadaw severely weakened ethnic insurgent groups, destroying most of their bases and strongholds.[69]

    In 2006, the Tatmadaw launched a large-scale military offensive against the KNU's armed wing, the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA). The clashes resulted in the displacement of hundreds of thousands of civilians in Kayin State. According to one estimate, approximately half a million people were displaced due to fighting between government forces and the KNU, and the forcible relocation of villages by the government.[70][71]

    In 2007, hundreds of thousands of monks protested against the military junta's rule, and called for free elections, minority rights and the release of political prisoners in an event now known as the Saffron Revolution.[72] The protest originally began in response to the government's removal of price subsidies for compressed natural gas.[73]

    In 2009, junta forces attacked Kokang, resulting in MNDAA lost control of the area and as many as 30,000 refugees fled to Yunnan in neighbouring China.[74]

    In 2010, Tatmadaw forces clashed violently with the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army, resulting in nearly 10,000 refugees fleeing to Thailand to escape the violent conflict.

    Civilian government (2011–2021)[edit]

    The government introduced a new constitution in 2011 and instigated a period of political reforms, with thousands of political prisoners being released, including Aung San Suu Kyi. 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 become President of Myanmar if her party won an election. These amendments however, were rejected.[75]

    In 2013, large anti-Muslim riots flared up in various cities across Myanmar. The violence coincided with the rise of the Buddhist nationalist 969 Movement, led by Sayadaw U Wirathu.[76]

    After the end of political reforms in 2015, the government began hosting a number of peace conferences in hopes of ending the conflict. However, these efforts were criticised for not addressing the main proposals made by ceasefire groups, and for excluding the country's largest insurgent groups which were still active.[77][78] Critics of the government have argued that the current constitution of Myanmar grants the military too much power, and is preventing the country from achieving peace and democratic reforms.[79][80] A number of politicians and activists have been killed for voicing their opposition to the military's role in the government, such as constitutional lawyer Ko Ni, who was assassinated after he called for political reforms to reduce the military's influence.[81]

    In Shan State, the military continued to engage the MNDAA during the 2015 Kokang offensive.

    On 9 October 2016, the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) launched its first attack on Burmese border posts along the Bangladesh–Myanmar border, killing nine border officers.[82] This prompted the Tatmdaw to begin massive "clearance operations" in northern Rakhine State, which intenisified following a second large-scale attack by ARSA on 25 August 2017.[83][84][85] The subsequent violence has sparked international outcry and was described as an ethnic cleansing by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.[86][87]

    In late November 2016, the Northern Alliance—which consists of four insurgent groups, the Arakan Army (AA), the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) and the Ta'ang National Liberation Army (TNLA)—attacked towns and border posts along the China–Myanmar border in Muse Township, northern Shan State.[88][89] The insurgents captured the town of Mong Ko on 25 November 2016[90] and maintained control of it until they withdrew from the town on 4 December 2016 to avoid civilian casualties from airstrikes by the Myanmar Air Force.[91][92]

    On 15 August 2019, Northern Alliance insurgents attacked a military college in Nawnghkio Township, killing 15.[93][94][95][96] Further clashes occurred in the following days,[97][98][99][100] with Myanmar's military warning there could be a "full-scale war" in Shan State if the Northern Alliance did not halt their attacks.[101]

    2021 coup and resurgence of violence[edit]

    On the early morning of 1 February 2021, the civilian government led by the NLD was overthrown in a military coup d'état, and the Tatmadaw's commander-in-chief, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, became the head of state. Aung San Suu Kyi and several other senior members of her government were arrested by the military during the coup.[102] Mass protests followed, with demonstrators demanding the resignation of Min Aung Hlaing and the newly-created State Administration Council (SAC), the release of those arrested in the coup, and the restoration of the civilian government.[103]

    Anti-coup protesters have armed themselves with slingshots, molotov cocktails, and makeshift shields.[104] In late March 2021, it was reported that dozens of protesters had travelled to Myanmar's border areas to train under one of the country's many insurgent groups, elevating the risk of a countrywide civil war.[105] The civilian government-in-exile, the Committee Representing the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH), has proposed the formation of a "federal armed force" to combat the military.[104]

    One of the first instances of armed resistance by protesters occurred in and around the town of Kalay, Sagaing Region. After the Tatmadaw raided a protest camp in Kalay on 28 March 2021, protesters fought back with hunting rifles and homemade firearms.[106] Several insurgent groups, notably the Kachin Independence Army and the Karen National Liberation Army, have also resumed or escalated their attacks against the Tatmadaw in response to the coup.[107][108]

    Seven signatories of the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement announced on 4 April 2021 that they had decided to join the National Unity Government, including the All Burma Student Democratic Front and the Karen National Union.[109] Some of the groups have resumed hostilities towards the junta government.

    In Mindat and Hakha, Chin State, the Chinland Defense Force began an armed resistance on 26 April 2021.[110]

    On 5 May 2021, the National Unity Government declared the formation of an armed wing, the People's Defence Force (PDF), to protect its supporters from military junta attacks and as a first step towards a Federal Union Army.[111] It clashed with the Tatmadaw in the town of Muse on 23 May, killing at least 13 members of Myanmar's security forces.[112][113] Members of the Karenni People's Defence Force (KPDF) in Kayah State also clashed with the Tatmadaw near the state capital of Loikaw.[114][115]

    Main fronts[edit]

    Kachin State[edit]

    Cadets of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) preparing for military drills at the group's headquarters in Laiza.

    The Kachin people are a major ethnic minority in Myanmar who mainly inhabit the mountainous northern regions of the Kachin Hills in Kachin State. Kachin regular soldiers previously formed a significant part of the Myanmar military; however, after General Ne Win's regime seized power in 1962, many Kachin soldiers defected from the military and reorganised with already active 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 the majority Bamar people have been predominantly Buddhist.[116]

    Ceasefire agreements have been signed between 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.[117] As a result of the ceasefire breakdown, Kachin State has faced waves of internal displacement, with over 90,000 internally displaced people spread across over 150 camps or camp-like settings as of April 2017. Many IDP camps are located in non-government controlled areas with severely restricted access.[118] The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) estimates that in April and May 2018, over 14,000 people were displaced from fighting between the KIA and the Tatmadaw.[119]

    Clashes between the KIA and the Tatmadaw in 2012 resulted in around 2,500 casualties (both civilian and military), 211 of whom were government soldiers. The violence resulted in the displacement of nearly 100,000 civilians and the complete or partial abandonment of 364 villages.[120][121][122][123][124]

    Government forces attacked the Kachin Independence Army's headquarters near the city of Laiza on 19 November 2014, killing at least 22 KIA insurgents, according to the government.[125]

    N'Ban La became the KIO's chairman and the KIA's second-in-command in January 2018. Htang Gam Shawng retained his position as the KIA's commander-in-chief.[126]

    Kayah State[edit]

    In 1957, pro-independence groups in Karenni State (present-day Kayah State) founded the Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP). An accompanying armed wing, the Karenni Army, was esablished shortly after to fight for the self-determination of the Karenni people.[127] The Karenni Army and Tatmadaw have fought in the region ever since, apart from a brief three-month ceasefire in 1995.[128] Rivals to the KNPP include the leftist Kayan New Land Party (KNLP) and Karenni National People's Liberation Front (KNPLF), both of which are now allied with the Tatmadaw.[citation needed]

    The Karenni Army's stated grievances towards the government include the government's exploitation and rapid depletion of the natural resources in the region, the forced sale of farmer's agricultural products for low prices, extortion and corruption within local authorities, forced labour, forced relocation of whole villages and farms, destruction of houses, planting of mines in civilian areas, torture, rape, extrajudicial killings, burning of villages, expropriation of food supplies and livestock, arrests without charge and exploitation of the poor. The Karenni Army is currently led by General Bee Htoo,[127] and consists of roughly between 500[38] and 1,500 troops.[39]

    The conflict escalated following the 2021 military coup, with the civilian-led Karenni People's Defence Force (KPDF) opening up a new front in northern Kayah State. After Tatmadaw troops attacked and burned down several villages in the region, KPDF fighters launched an offensive against the Tatmadaw, seizing and destroying several military outposts.[129]

    Kayin State[edit]

    A KNLA medic treats IDPs in Hpapun District, Kayin State.

    The Karen people of Kayin State (formerly Karen State) in eastern Myanmar are the third largest ethnic group in Myanmar, consisting of roughly 7% of the country's total population. Karen insurgent groups have fought for independence and self-determination since 1949. In 1949, the commander-in-chief of the Tatmadaw General Smith Dun, an ethnic Karen, was fired because of the rise of Karen opposition groups, which furthered ethnic tensions. He was replaced by Ne Win, a Bamar nationalist who would go on to become the dictator of Myanmar.[130]

    The government of Myanmar has 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.[131] According to a report by legal firm DLA Piper, whose report was presented to the United Nations Security Council, these tactics against the Karen can be identified as ethnic cleansing. The government had however, denied these claims.[132]

    The initial aim of the Karen National Union (KNU) and its armed wing the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) was to create independent state for the Karen people. However, since 1976 they have instead called for a federal union with fair Karen representation and the self-determination of the Karen people.[56] Nearly all of their demands and requests have been ignored or denied by successive governments, a contributing factor to several failed peace talks.[citation needed]

    In 1995, the main headquarters and operating bases of the KNU were mostly destroyed or captured by the government, forcing the KNLA to operate from the jungles of Kayin State. Until 1995, the Thai government supported insurgents across the Myanmar–Thailand border, but soon stopped its support due to a new major economic deal with Myanmar.[16]

    The KNU signed the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) with the government of Myanmar on 15 October 2015, along with seven other insurgent groups.[133] However, in March 2018, the government of Myanmar violated the agreement by sending 400 Tatmadaw soldiers into KNU-held territory to build a road connecting two military bases.[134] Armed clashes erupted between the KNU and the Myanmar Army in the Ler Mu Plaw area of Hpapun District, resulting in the displacement of 2,000 people.[135] On 17 May 2018, the Tatmadaw agreed to "temporarily postpone" their road project and to withdraw troops from the area.[136]

    The KNU resumed its fight against the Myanmar government following the 2021 military coup. On 27 April 2021, KNU insurgents captured a military base on the west bank of the Salween River, which forms Myanmar's border with Thailand. The Tatmadaw later retaliated with airstrikes on KNU positions. Their were no casualties reported by either side.[108]

    Rakhine State[edit]

    Rakhine insurgency[edit]

    A Rohingya mujahid surrenders his weapon to Brigadier-General Aung Gyi, 4 July 1961.

    Insurgent groups of the Rakhine (formerly Arakanese),[137] Chin,[138] and Rohingya[139] ethnic minorities have fought against the government for self-determination in Rakhine State since the early 1950s. The region was a stronghold of the Red Flag Communist Party until its defeat by the Tatmadaw in 1978. Its successor, the Communist Party of Arakan continued to wage an insurgency in Rakhine State until the 1990s.[140]

    Ethnic Rakhine insurgent groups, such as the Arakan Army and Arakan Liberation Army (ALA), continue to have hostilities towards the government, though major violence has been rare since political reforms and peace talks. The Arakan Army, founded in 2009, is currently the largest insurgent group in Rakhine State, with around 7,000 fighters.[33]

    On 4 January 2019, around 300 Arakan Army insurgents launched pre-dawn attacks on four border police outposts—Kyaung Taung, Nga Myin Taw, Ka Htee La and Kone Myint—in northern Buthidaung Township.[141] Thirteen members of the Border Guard Police (BGP) were killed and nine others were injured,[142][143][144] while 40 firearms and more than 10,000 rounds of ammunition were looted. The Arakan Army later stated that it had captured nine BGP personnel and five civilians, and that three of its fighters were also killed in the attacks.[145][146]

    Following the attacks, the Office of the President of Myanmar held a high-level meeting on national security in the capital Naypyidaw on 7 January 2019, and instructed the Defense Ministry to increase troop deployments in the areas that were attacked and to use aircraft if necessary.[147] Subsequent clashes between the Myanmar Army and the Arakan Army were reported in Maungdaw, Buthidaung, Kyauktaw, Rathedaung and Ponnagyun Townships, forcing out over 5,000 civilians from their homes,[148][149] hundreds of whom (mostly Rakhine and Khami) have fled across the border into Bangladesh.[150] Civilian casualties,[151][152] arbitrary beatings[153] and detentions of ethnic Rakhines,[154] forced seizures of property,[155] and blockage of food aid and medical relief by the Tatmadaw have also been reported.[156]

    Rohingya insurgency[edit]

    Rohingya insurgents have been fighting local government forces and other insurgent groups in northern Rakhine State since 1948, with ongoing religious violence between the predominantly Muslim Rohingyas and Buddhist Rakhines fuelling the conflict.

    Following the independence of Myanmar, Rohingya mujahideen fought government forces in an attempt secede and annex Rohingya-inhabited regions to East Pakistan. Between 1949 and 1954, the Burmese military launched several operations to regain control over the region. By the end of the 1950s, the mujahideen had lost most of its momentum and support, and most of their fighters had surrendered by 1961.

    Ne Win's military junta turned increasingly hostile towards the Rohingyas. The authorities launched large-scale military operations to expel insurgents and so-called "foreigners" from Arakan, such as Operation Dragon King in 1978 and Operation Pyi Thaya in 1991[157]

    The legal and political rights of the Rohingya people have been an underlying issue in the conflict, with spontaneous bouts of violence such as the 2012 Rakhine State riots and 2013 Myanmar anti-Muslim riots periodically occurring as a result. Despite making up a majority of the population in the three northern townships of Rakhine State,[139] Rohingyas are often targets of religiously-motivated attacks. The 1982 Nationality law did not recognise the Rohingyas as an ethnic group native to Myanmar.[157] As a result, Rohingyas cannot apply for Burmese citizenship and few laws exist to protect their rights.[158]

    Members of the Myanmar Police Force patrolling in Maungdaw in September 2017.

    On 9 October 2016, unidentified insurgents attacked three Burmese border posts along Myanmar's border with Bangladesh, starting a new armed conflict in northern Rakhine State. According to government officials in the border town of Maungdaw, the attackers looted several dozen firearms and ammunition from the border posts, and brandished knives and homemade slingshots that fired metal bolts. The attacks left nine border officers and "several insurgents" dead.[82] On 11 October 2016, four Tatmadaw soldiers were killed on the third day of fighting.[159] A newly emerged insurgent group, the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), claimed responsibility a week later.[160]

    During the early hours of 25 August 2017, ARSA insurgents launched coordinated attacks on 24 police posts and the 552nd Light Infantry Battalion army base, killing a dozen people.[83][84][85] In response, the Tatmadaw launched "clearance operations" in northern Rakhine State, which critics argued targeted Rohingya civilians rather than insurgents.[161][162][163] Following the violence, 200,000 civilians remained trapped in the region without adequate access to markets, livelihoods, services and medical care.[164][165]

    Shan State[edit]

    The Shan people are the largest ethnic group in Shan State and the second largest in Myanmar. They were one of several ethnic groups consulted by Aung San during negotiations leading up to the Panglong Agreement, which gave the Shan leaders the option to split from Myanmar a decade after independence if they were unsatisfied with the central government.[54] This was, however, not honoured by the post-independence government following Aung San's assassination.[45] During the Tatmadaw's heavy militarisation of the state in the late 1940s and early 1950s, locals accused them of mistreating, torturing, robbing, raping, unlawfully arresting and massacring villagers. As a result, on 21 May 1958, an armed resistance movement, led by Sao Noi and Saw Yanna, was started in Shan State.[citation needed]

    The movement became known as the Noom Suk Harn, literally "brave young warriors".[166] A splinter group broke away from the Noom Suk Harn and, together with the Shan National United Front (SNUF), established the Shan State Independence Army (SSIA) in 1960. The group eventually grew into a strong fighting force, the Shan State Army, formed in 1964 with Sao Nang Hearn Kham (Mahadevi of Yawnghwe) as chairman. In 1971, its political wing, the Shan State Progress Party (SSPP) was formed.[citation needed]

    The Shan State Army (SSA) came into conflict with the Communist Party of Burma (CPB) insurgents, which had long been active along the border with China. The Burma Army began the Ka Kew Ye (KKY) policy to employ ethnic forces to combat the communists, and in return, they would be permitted to engage in cross-border trade. This led to many units of the SSA defecting to the KKY militias. The SSA were also associated with opium warlords such as Lo Hsing Han and Khun Sa. Internal divisions resulted in the SSA fracturing into many factions, and it collapsed in mid-1976. In 1971, a northern, pro-communist faction was formed, known as Shan State Army - North (SSA-N), which continued the insurgency.[citation needed]

    In the 1960s, Khun Sa, a KKY militia leader, was permitted by the Burmese government to grow and trade opium in return for fighting Shan and communists insurgents. He gradually became one of the most powerful insurgent leaders in Shan State. Khun Sa was captured by the Tatmadaw after plotting with the SSA in 1969, but was later released to Thailand, where he built an army near the Burmese border and became the dominant opium warlord in the Golden Triangle. After being expelled by the Thai Army in 1982, Khun Sa returned to Burma and formed the Mong Tai Army (MTA) in 1985. In the 1990s, the MTA became the dominant Shan fighting force with peak strength of 20,000 soldiers. In 1991, Khun Sa declared the creation of an independent Shan State, with himself as president. However, some Shan nationalists in the MTA disagreed with his leadership and formed a rival Shan organisation, the Shan State National Army (SSNA).[167] The Mong Tai Army was quickly disbanded after the mass desertion, and Khun Sa himself surrendered to the government in 1996. He was allowed to retire in Yangon and keep his large fortune.

    The SSNA surrendered to the government in 2005, and a splinter group left and formed the Shan State Army - South (SSA-S) in Loi Tai Leng. It became one of the largest Shan insurgent groups in Myanmar, and currently has around 6,000 to 8,000 soldiers. The SSA-S was led by Yawd Serk until his resignation on 2 February 2014. Its political wing is the Restoration Council of Shan State. The SSA-S maintains bases along the Myanmar–Thailand border, and signed a ceasefire agreement with the government on 2 December 2011.[168]

    In northern Shan State, the Communist Party of Burma that had fought a decades-long conflict continued to fight against the government until 1989, when a group of CPB mutineers raided the party headquarters in Panghsang, forcing their leaders to flee to China. Ethnic Wa CPB cadres under Bao Youxiang formed the United Wa State Army and presently control the de-facto autonomous Wa State. A splinter group led by Sai Leun broke away and formed the National Democratic Alliance Army, which controls the Mong La area (Special Region 4). The Shan State Army - North (SSA-N) fought the government from its founding in 1971 until the fall of the CPB in 1989, when it signed a ceasefire agreement with the Burmese government. It was granted autonomy by the government for the areas under its control, later designated the Special Region 3 of the Shan State.

    The Tatmadaw launched a military offensive named Operation Perseverance (ဇွဲမန်ဟိန်း) against insurgents in Shan State in 2011.[169] During the offensive, the Tatmadaw captured territory from the National Democratic Alliance Army (NDAA) and the Shan State Army - North (SSA-N), with the latter being involved in most of the fighting.[170][171] While this operation was officially a response to the groups' rejections of the junta's "One Nation, One Army" policy,[172][173][174][175] researchers have linked it to the military's interests in the jade trade.[176][177]

    In October 2015, the Tatmadaw launched a military offensive to seize territory granted to the SSA-N under a previous ceasefire. The Tatmadaw used heavy artillery and airstrikes, displacing thousands of civilians.[178]

    Other ethnic armed groups in the region include the Lahu Democratic Union, the Ta'ang National Liberation Army, the Wa National Army and the Pa-O National Liberation Army, of varying sizes and affiliations.

    Other fronts[edit]

    Wa State[edit]

    UWSA troops standing at attention during a military ceremony.

    In April 1989, a faction of the CPB under Bao Youxiang announced their separation and formed the United Wa State Party. In May 1989 it signed a ceasefire agreement with the State Law and Order Restoration Council and has since controlled the Wa State, a de-facto independent region, separated from the rest of Myanmar. The Wa State and the UWSA is heavily supported by China.[179]

    Kokang[edit]

    From the 1960s to 1989, the Kokang area in northern Shan state was controlled by the Communist Party of Burma, and after the party's armed wing disbanded in 1989 it became a special region of Myanmar under the control of the Myanmar Nationalities Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA). The MNDAA is a Kokang insurgent group active in the Kokang Self-Administered Zone in northern Shan State. The group signed a ceasefire agreement with the government in 1989, the same year it was founded, which lasted for two decades until 2009, when government troops entered MNDAA territory in an attempt to stop the flow of drugs through the area.[180] Violence erupted again in 2015, when the MNDAA attempted to retake territory it had lost in 2009.[181][182] The MNDAA clashed with government troops once again in 2017.[183][184]

    Mon State[edit]

    Since 1948 independence of Burma, members of the Mon people have sought self-determination, initially under the Mon People's Front and from 1962 through the New Mon State Party (NMSP). The Mon National Liberation Army (MNLA) has been fighting government forces since 1949. It signed the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) in 2015 and has been clashing with members of the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA).

    Chin State and Sagaing Region[edit]

    The Mizo people in Mizoram, India and the Chin, as well as the Kuki people, are all Zo people who share the same history.

    In 1960, the Chin Liberation Army was founded by Tun Kho Pum Baite to re-unify the Chin-inhabited areas, while the Mizo National Front (MNF) strove for Mizo independence. The Chin National Army (CNF) was formed in 1988. It signed a ceasefire agreement with the Chin State government in 2012. The Kuki National Army (KNA) was also founded in 1988 with the goal of creating Kuki autonomy in Myanmar and India.

    Several separatist groups fighting the Indian government in Northeast India also operate out of Myanmar, such as the Zomi Revolutionary Army, the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) and the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) They frequently cross into India via the porous border. [185]

    In June 2019, Tatmadaw troops in co-ordination with the Indian army carried out operations against the NSCN headquarters at Taga in the Naga Self-Administered Zone of Sagaing State. [186]

    Human rights violations[edit]

    The government of Myanmar has been accused of using "scorched earth" tactics against civilians, most notably in Kayin State. 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.[131] 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.[132]

    Both sides have been accused of using landmines, which have caused hundreds of accidental civilian injuries and deaths. The KNU has been accused of planting landmines in rural areas, most of which have not been disarmed. The KNU claims that its use of landmines is vital for repelling government forces, because it "discourages them from attacking civilians". However, the majority of those who fall victim to landmines which are planted by the KNU are local villagers, not government soldiers.[187] Victims of landmines must travel to the Myanmar–Thailand border to seek treatment, as local hospitals and facilities lack proper equipment and funding.[188]

    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 Labour Organization (ILO) has accused both sides of continuing to use child soldiers in violation of the agreement. According to the ILO, the Tatmadaw has discharged hundreds of child soldiers since 2012; however, the ILO also estimated that at least 340 child soldiers had been recruited by the Tatmadaw between 2013 and 2014.[189] Meanwhile, insurgent groups such as the MNDAA, SSA-S, and TNLA have reportedly press-ganged minors into their armies.[190]

    One of the most notable cases in which child soldiers were used in Myanmar was that of twins Johnny and Luther Htoo, the leaders of God's Army, a former rebel faction. When God's Army was formed in 1997, the pair were just ten-years-old.[191]

    Refugee and internal displacement crisis[edit]

    Mae La Camp in Tak, Thailand, one of the largest of nine UNHCR camps in Thailand where over 700,000 refugees, asylum seekers and stateless persons have fled.[192]
    Kutupalong refugee camp in Bangladesh, home to nearly 550,000 Rohingya refugees who live in makeshift shelters.

    The conflict has resulted in a large number of both civilian deaths and refugees, with many refugees fleeing to neighbouring countries such as Thailand, China, India, and Bangladesh. The persecution of Burmese Indians and other ethnic minorities after the 1962 coup led to the expulsion of nearly 300,000 people.[193] The UN estimated that between 1996 and 2006, around 1 million people were internally displaced inside Myanmar, over 230,000 of whom remain displaced in the southeast of the country, and 128,000 refugees lived in temporary shelters on the Myanmar–Thailand border.[194][195] In August 2007, approximately 160,000 refugees fled to nine refugee camps along the Myanmar–Thailand border and the Thai border provinces of Chiang Mai and Ratchaburi. Approximately 62% of the refugee population consisted of displaced Karen people. Humanitarian organisations such as Doctors Without Borders have since sent workers and medical support to the refugees.[196]

    Over the course of the conflict, government officials in Myanmar have been accused of forcefully removing civilians living in conflict areas and confiscating their property, to repurpose them for commercial, industrial, and military projects.[194][197][198]

    In Rakhine State, there were around 75,000 internally displaced Rohingyas in 2012, according to Refugee International.[199] UNICEF has reported that living conditions in Rohingya refugee camps in Rakhine State are "wholly inadequate" and lacks access to basic services.[200] In October 2017, there were an estimated 947,000 Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh.[201] 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."[202]

    The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre reports a total of 401,000 people internally displaced in Myanmar as of 2018, owing both to man-made and natural disasters as well as conflict and violence.[119] This figure includes IDPs across the country, with 131,000 in Rakhine State, 97,000 in Kachin State, 50,000 in Kayin State, 40,000 in Tanintharyi Region, 27,000 in Karenni State, 22,000 in Bago Region, 18,000 in Mon State, 15,000 in Shan State and 1,300 in Chin State.[203] Of these total displacements, IDMC estimates that approximately 42,000 people were newly displaced in 2018 by conflict and violence.[119] Compared to 2017, the rate of new displacements was lower in Rakhine State but higher in Kachin State and northern Shan State, which together saw approximately 36,000 people displaced.[119]

    The Global Camp Coordination and Camp Management Cluster (CCCM) estimated in 2019 that at least 941,000 people in Myanmar were in need of humanitarian assistance, with over 128,000 people living in IDP camps in Rakhine State and over 105,000 people displaced in Kachin State and northern Shan State.[204] While many displacements last only for the duration of active fighting, protracted displacement is evidenced by camps in Kachin State, Rakhine State, and Shan State.[119] Living situations in these camps are often overcrowded with inadequate shelter, sanitation, healthcare, food, and education.[205] In total, approximately 35 per cent of IDPs in Myanmar are estimated to live in non-government controlled areas that have limited if not wholly restricted access as of November 2019, complicating relief efforts both for international and local organisations.[204]

    Ceasefire attempts[edit]

    Several insurgent groups have negotiated ceasefires and peace agreements with successive governments, which, until political reforms in the early 2010s, had largely fallen apart.[206]

    Under the new constitutional reforms in 2011, state level and union level ceasefire agreements were made with several insurgent groups. 14 out of 17 of the largest rebel factions signed a ceasefire agreement with the new reformed government. All of the 14 signatories wanted negotiations in accordance with the Panglong Agreement of 1947, which granted self-determination, a federal system of government (meaning regional 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 Panglong 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.[207] However, most of the negotiations between the State Peace Deal Commission and rebel factions were formal and peaceful.[208]

    On 31 March 2015, a draft of the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) was finalised between representatives from 15 different insurgent groups (all part of the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team or NCCT) and the government of Myanmar.[209] However, only eight of the 15 insurgent groups signed the final agreement on 15 October 2015.[133] The signing was witnessed by observers and delegates from the United Nations, the United Kingdom, Norway, Japan and the United States.[70][71] Two other insurgent groups later joined the agreement on 13 February 2018.[210][211][212][213]

    The Union Peace Conference - 21st Century Panglong was held from 31 August to 4 September 2016 with several different organisations as representatives, in an attempt to mediate between the government and different insurgent groups. Talks ended without any agreement being reached.[214] The name of the conference was a reference to the original Panglong Conference held during British rule in 1947, which was negotiated between Aung San and ethnic leaders.[215]

    International responses[edit]

    Since 1991, the UN General Assembly has adopted twenty-five different resolutions regarding Myanmar's government, condemning previous military juntas for their systematic violations of human rights and lack of political freedom.[216] In 2009 they urged the then ruling junta to take urgent measures to end violations of international human rights and humanitarian laws in the country.[217] The request was mostly honoured during political reforms that begun in 2011 and ended in 2015.[citation needed]

    Reports of human rights abuses committed by the military and local paramilitaries prompted the UN Human Rights Council to launch an independent international fact-finding mission in March 2017, with which Myanmar's government failed to cooperate.[218] The mission's report (A/HRC/39/64) released in September 2018 highlighted "clear patterns" of serious human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law in Kachin State, Rakhine State, and Shan State since 2011. The Tatmadaw are accused of deliberate and systematic targeting of civilians, sexual violence, discriminatory rhetoric against minorities, and impunity for its soldiers.[205]

    Eyewitness testimony alleged that in Rakhine State, "clearance operations" by the Tatmadaw amounted to planned and deliberate mass killings in at least 54 locations.[205] Hundreds and perhaps thousands of Rohingya women and girls were reported to have been raped, including in mass gang rapes, and at least 392 Rohingya villages were burned to the ground.[205] The report also highlighted the conviction of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, two Reuters reporters who had exposed the military's extrajudicial killing of ten Rohingya men and were subsequently imprisoned; the journalists have since been released and awarded a 2019 Pulitzer Prize for their reporting.[219]

    In addition to violence against Rohingya communities, the report noted Tatamadaw abuses against ethnic Rakhine, including forced labour, sexual violence, forced evictions, and killings. It also highlighted crimes committed by insurgent groups in Kachin State, Rakhine State, and Shan State, including arson, extortion, destruction of property, forced labour, rape, murder, and forced disappearances.[220] The mission called for an investigation into and the prosecution of military leaders, in particular commander-in-chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, in the International Criminal Court (ICC) for genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes.

    The Gambia filed a lawsuit against Myanmar in the International Court of Justice on 11 November 2019. Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi defended her country's military generals against accusations of genocide in public hearings in December 2019.[221]

    Foreign support[edit]

    China[edit]

    The People's Republic of China has long been accused of having a multifaceted role in the conflict, given its close relations with both the Myanmar government and insurgent groups active along the China–Myanmar border.[222]

    China openly supported the Communist Party of Burma (CPB) and its pursuit of Mao Zedong Thought during the 1960s and 1970s.[19][57][15][223] After the CPB's armed wing agreed to disarm in 1988, China was accused by Myanmar of continuing to support insurgent groups operating along its border, such as the United Wa State Army[14] and Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army, the latter enjoying closer ties to China due to a common Han Chinese ethnic background.[13]

    In 2016, China pledged to support Myanmar's peace process by encouraging China-friendly insurgent groups to attend peace talks with the Burmese government and by sending more soldiers to secure its border with Myanmar.[1][2][3] China also offered $3 million USD to fund the negotiations. However, the Burmese government has expressed suspicion over China's involvement in the peace process, due to China's alleged links to the Northern Alliance and the United Wa State Army.[224]

    India[edit]

    India and Myanmar share a strategic military relationship due to the overlapping insurgency in Northeast India. India has provided Myanmar's military with training, weapons, and tactical equipment.[225] The two countries' armies have conducted joint operations against insurgents at their border since the 1990s.[226] Myanmar has also taken an active role in finding and arresting insurgents that fled from northeast India; in May 2020 Myanmar handed over 22 insurgents, included several top commanders, to Indian authorities.[227] Similarly, India has been the only country to forcefully repatriate Rohingya refugees back to Myanmar despite global outcry.[228]

    Pakistan[edit]

    From 1948 to 1950, Pakistan sent aid to mujahideen in northern Arakan (present-day Rakhine State). In 1950, the Pakistani government warned their Burmese counterparts about their treatment of Muslims. In response, Burmese Prime Minister U Nu immediately sent a Muslim diplomat, Pe Khin, to negotiate a memorandum of understanding. Pakistan agreed to cease aid to the mujahideen and arrest members of the group. In 1954, mujahid leader Mir Kassem was arrested by Pakistani authorities, and many of his followers later surrendered to the Burmese government.[18]

    The International Crisis Group reported on 14 December 2016 that in interviews with the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), its leaders claimed to have links to private donors in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. The ICG also released unconfirmed reports that Rohingya villagers had been "secretly trained" by Afghan and Pakistani fighters.[229][230] In September 2017, Bangladeshi sources stated that the possibility of cooperation between Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and ARSA was "extremely high".[231]

    Thailand[edit]

    Thailand had been a vocal supporter of various insurgent groups in Myanmar, condemning actions done by the then ruling military juntas and allowing weapons and ammunition to be smuggled through its border through lax enforcement.[17] However, in 1995, the Thai government secured its border with Myanmar and stopped all logistical support going through Thailand after they signed a major economic deal with Myanmar.[16]

    United States[edit]

    Starting in 1951, the CIA began aiding Kuomintang soldiers that fled to Myanmar from China following the advance of Chinese communist forces into Yunnan. This included Operation Paper, which involved supplying them with non-lethal aid via Thailand until 1953, when they airlifted 7,000 soldiers to Taiwan and ended the operation.[15]

    Yugoslavia[edit]

    Yugoslavia became the primary arms supplier for the Burmese government beginning in 1952, when the Burmese reached out to Belgrade due to the slow and uneasy support from the United States and the United Kingdom. The two nations became very close as a result, and the Yugoslav National Army sent advisors to aid in the front lines. The sudden strong relationship between Burma and Yugoslavia prompted concern among the Americans, who worried the Yugoslav support would strengthen Marxist ideology in the government.[232] General Ne Win, who previously sought support solely from the West, was impressed with the speed of the Burmese–Yugoslav cooperation, and traveled to Belgrade in 1953.[233][234]

    Arms suppliers[edit]

    As of 2019, Myanmar's military is supplied by fourteen arms companies from seven countries; China, India, Israel, North Korea, the Philippines, Russia, and Ukraine.[235][236]

    Vietnam has also been a vocal supporter of modernisation efforts by Myanmar's military, providing them with ammunition and military hardware.[237] Burmese military officials have also toured Vietnam to receive military advice from their counterparts in the People's Army of Vietnam.[238]

    Foreign fighters[edit]

    Dave Everett was a member of the Australian Special Air Service Regiment before leaving in 1986 and joining the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) as a mercenary. Everett fought alongside the KNLA under the alias "Steve" and trained insurgents, helping them improve their marksmanship and teaching them how to use claymore anti-personnel mines. To fund his time with the KNLA, Everett perpetrated several robberies in Australia with the help of accomplices and took piloting lessons so he could smuggle weapons into Myanmar. Everett returned to Australia a year later in 1987.[239]

    Former members of the British special forces, Australian special forces, Green berets, French Foreign Legion, and Russian Spetsnaz have also been reported fighting alongside insurgents as recently as 2012.[27]

    See also[edit]

    Notes[edit]

    1. ^ All of the groups listed below were integrated into the Tatmadaw and became Border Guard Forces.
    2. ^ Alleged support to the MNDAA[13] and UWSA.[14]
    3. ^ Support to the mujahideen only.[18]
    4. ^ Support to the Kuomintang and the Wa National Army only.[15]
    5. ^ Support to the Kuomintang only.[15]
    6. ^ Support to the Communist Party of Burma from the mid-1960s to 1970s.[19]
    7. ^ Includes personnel not directly involved in the conflict.[29]
    8. ^ Peak number of fighters.[20]

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