About TNI-BCN Burma Project

Addressing the needs of ethnic nationalities to support peace, development and democracy in Burma

The Project

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. 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.

Ethnic conflict in Burma   

Burma has been afflicted by ethnic conflict and civil war since independence in 1948, exposing it to some of the longest running armed conflicts in the world. Ethnic nationality peoples have long felt marginalised and discriminated against. The situation worsened after the military coup in 1962, when minority rights were further curtailed. The military government has as yet refused to take political demands from ethnic nationality groups into account, for the most part treating ethnic issues as a military and security issue.

The main grievances of ethnic nationality groups in Burma are the lack of influence in the political decision-making processes; the absence of economic and social development in their areas; and what they see as the military government's Burmanisation policy, which translates into repression of their cultural rights and religious freedom.

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.