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Dr. Kerstin Duell · Myanmar-Southeast Asia expert – political analyst, development professional, photojournalist.      

Myanmar (Burma) is affected by two types of internal conflicts. The first is between the military government and various ethnic groups spread along the international borders with India, China, Laos and Thailand. These ethnic minorities speak different languages, have different cultures and have taken up arms. They seek to have a say in the political process, economic development of their regions and the right to practice their language, culture and religion without constraints.

They have been operating across the international borders. In the absence of economic security, law and order and effective governance to meet their needs, they tend to indulge in various illegal activities like arms smuggling and drug trafficking having effect on the neighbourhood. The second internal conflict is due to the aspirations of the people demanding democratic government which is being severely put down by the military junta. The conflict arising out of the democratic aspirations of the people and the approach of the military government has serious implications to the neighbouring countries. This volume comprises of eleven research papers presented at the seminar held in Singapore in May 2010 in collaboration with Institute of South East Asian Studies (ISEAS), Singapore.

Burma’ has been witnessing decades of conflict and civil war before the backdrop of centuries of a no less tumultuous history. The contemporary conflict is characterised by multi-layered, complex, shifting dynamics set within a deeply divided society and fought out between numerous state and non-state conflict parties, most of them pitted against the military government but also against each other. Persisting strife has resulted in chronic socio-political, economic, humanitarian and environmental’ crises.

Domestic Conflicts and Internal Crises — After Burma’s independence from British colonial rule in 1948, disagreements between Burman and ethnic nationality politicians, and the military triggered ethnic and communist rebellions which carved out ”liberated areas” from the Burmese polity. Thus,-a number of opponents have challenged the rule and legitimacy o(successive, military-dominated governments: First, the armed ethnic nationality movements for self-determination, second, the armed communist movement, which eclipsed in 1989, and third, the predominantly unarmed urban population led by university students and Buddhist monks.’

Armed and non-violent opposition to military rule have coexisted, while an internal dynamic of violent action and counter-reaction has emerged, peaking in three major confrontational waves – post-1948, post-1962, and post-1988.4 Neither the various opponents nor the governments can be seen as monolithic entities. On the contrary, all have contained at times competing or opposing factions and subgroups. It is this politico-historical heterogeneity compounded by Burma’s ethnic jigsaw, and by external influences that create today’s political conundrum.

Since 1994 the United Nations General Assembly has passed annual resolutions calling for tripartite dialogue and encouraging ”the Government of Myanmar to engage in a substantive political dialogue with Aung San Suu Kyi and other political leaders, including representatives from ethnic nationality groups.”’ The international community has in this way identified the military government, Aung San Suu Kyi and the National League for Democracy (NLD), and leaders of a number of ethnic nationalities’ as the three main conflict parties.

The military, however, only held talks with the NLD or individual ethnic nationality leaders, thus foregoing inclusive and transparent three-party negotiations. Repeated attempts to break the political deadlock through dialogue stopped short of mutually acceptable agreements addressing political key concerns. Instead, the military has followed its own ”Seven-Step Roadmap” to disciplined democracy. ##


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