Ethnic Conflict in Burma

Whilst a twenty year ceasefire still holds, there is unlikely to be peace and democracy in Burma without a political settlement that addresses ethnic minority needs and goals. The joint Transnational Institute - Burma Center Netherlands aims to stimulate strategic thinking to address ethnic conflict in Burma and give a voice to ethnic nationality groups who have until now been ignored and isolated within the international debate on the country.

Background

"Whilst a twenty year ceasefire still holds, there is unlikely to be peace and democracy in Burma without a political settlement that addresses ethnic minority needs and goals."

The joint Transnational Institute - Burma Center Netherlands project aims to stimulate strategic thinking to address ethnic conflict in Burma and give a voice to ethnic nationality groups who have until now been ignored and isolated within the international debate on the country. In order to respond to the challenges of 2010 and the future, TNI and BCN believe it is crucial to formulate practical and concrete policy options and define acheivable benchmarks on progress that national and international actors can support. The project will aim to achieve greater support for a different Burma policy, which is pragmatic, engaged and grounded in reality.

Project staff will publish a series of Burma Policy Briefings and in-depth reports, and carry out advocacy in Europe, the United States and Asia. The aim of the papers is to provide sound analyses and policy recommendations for national and international policy makers and define benchmarks for success. The papers will focus on a number of thematic issues including: the 2010 election; ethnic conflict dynamics; humanitarian aid; political and economic regional dynamics; and dilemmas surrounding engagement with the military regime.

In 1989 the military government changed the official name of the country from Burma to Myanmar. They can be considered alternative forms in the Burmese language, but their use has since become a politicised issue. The UN uses Myanmar, but it is still not commonly used in the English language. Therefore Burma will be mostly used in articles and publications. This is not intended as a political statement.

The ethnic crisis: 2010 and beyond

2010 is set to become Burma’s most important and defining year in two decades. A general election has been scheduled by the military government that could well determine the country’s political landscape for another generation. And yet, as the year begins, little has been agreed or declared that substantively indicate how the main stakeholders in Burmese politics will respond to the challenges of the general election and, subsequently, new system of government in the difficult times ahead.

For Burma’s military rulers, the election is only one element in a long-term process to secure a new system of military-backed government in the country. The challenges facing Burma’s different ethnic groups and parties are complex. Whether they approve of the 2010 election or not, the polls and introduction of new system of government are creating a timeline that is forcing all ethnic stakeholders to assess their political positions. Since 2009 tensions steadily rose, affecting political parties, ceasefire and non-ceasefire forces, religious-based groups and different community organisations. Equally critical, the ramifications of the 2010 election are unlikely to be political alone but have urgent consequences for the humanitarian and economic landscape. Ethnic politics are not a remote or peripheral border issue but have long been integral to the failure of the post-colonial state.

 

Publications on Ethnic Conflict in Burma

 

Joint TNI-BCN Burma Policy Briefings

Conflict or Peace? Ethnic Unrest Intensifies in Burma
Burma Policy Briefing No.7, June 2011
The breakdown in the ceasefire of the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO) with the central government represents a major failure in national politics and threatens a serious humanitarian crisis if not immediately addressed.

   

Burma's New Government: Prospects for Governance and Peace in Ethnic States
Burma Policy Briefing No.6, May 2011
What are the prospects for Burma's quasi-civilian government effectively addressing the country's ethnic minority grievances and resolving the multiple, decades-long conflicts?

   

Burma's Longest War: Anatomy of the Karen Conflict
Burma Policy Briefing, March 2011
The armed conflict in Burma constitutes the longest-running civil war in the world. The armed opposition Karen National Union (KNU) remains a key stakeholder, but a comprehensive analysis should take account of other organisations. There is an urgent need for their engagement in the transition process, but what kind of role might they play?

   

Ethnic Politics in Burma: The Time for Solutions
Burma Policy Briefing No.5, February 2011
Burma remains a land in ethnic crisis and political transition. In 2010 the military State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) laid out the landscape for a new era of parliamentary government. In 2011 the authorities face the challenge of introducing the new political system. Ethnic divisions and political exclusions, however, are emerging in national politics, threatening a new cycle of impasse and conflict.

   

A Changing Ethnic Landscape: Analysis of Burma's 2010 Polls
Burma Policy Briefing No.4, December 2010
At this critical juncture in the history of Burma, the transition to a form of civilian government and constitutional rule is underway, however imperfect it may be. The 2010 elections in Burma were not free and fair and the manipulation of the vote count was also more blatant than anticipated, severely limiting opposition representation, and seriously damaged the credibility of the new government.

   

Unlevel Playing Field: Burma's Election Landscape
Burma Policy Briefing No.3, October 2010

Opposition parties participating in the November 2010 elections do not regard directly confronting the regime as a winning strategy, as has been demonstrated repeatedly in recent years. They view boycotting the elections as a strategic mistake, futile and potentially counter-productive. The only way forward for them is to play a better game of chess, making the best strategic use of the limited space available.

   

Burma's 2010 Elections: Challenges and Opportunities
Burma Policy Briefing No.2, June 2010
Despite the very obvious flaws in the process, Burma's first election in 20 years - being held in November 2010 - represents the most significant political transformation for a generation. New leaders and a new political landscape will emerge, giving rise to opportunities to push for change, as well as a new set of challenges.

   

Burma in 2010: A Critical Year in Ethnic Politics
Burma Policy Briefing No.1, June 2010
2010 is set to become Burma’s most important and defining year in two decades. The general election scheduled by the ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) could well determine the country’s political landscape for another generation. All institutions and parties are faced with the uncertainties of political transformation. At this critical moment in Burma’s history, it is still not certain whether the general election will prove an accepted step in the SPDC’s seven-stage roadmap for political reform or become the basis for a new generation of grievances. As the election countdown continues, new divisions are emerging in Burmese politics, warning that a unique opportunity for dialogue and national reconciliation could be lost.

     

Other publications on Ethnic Conflict in Burma

 

Burma’s Cease-fires at Risk: Consequences of the Kokang Crisis for Peace and Democracy
Tom Kramer, TNI, September 2009
In August the Burma army occupied the Kokang region after several days of fighting, ending two decades of cease-fire with the ethnic minority group. The resumption of fighting in northern Burma raises speculation about the other cease-fires. Tensions are rising and the cease-fire groups have put their armed forces on high alert.

 



Neither War nor Peace: The Future of the Cease-fire Agreements in Burma
Tom Kramer, TNI, July 2009 
This year marks the twentieth anniversary of the first cease-fire agreements in Burma, which put a stop to decades of fighting between the military government and ethnic armed opposition groups. These groups had taken up arms against the government in search of more autonomy and ethnic rights. This paper explains how the cease-fire agreements came about, and analyses the goals and strategies of the cease-fire groups. It also discusses the weaknesses the groups face in implementing these goals, and the consequences of the cease-fires. The paper then examines the international responses to the cease-fires, and ends with an overview of the future prospects for the agreements.