Conflict Summary

Recent international analysis of Myanmar’s politics has focused on its transition to a civilian government, albeit supported by the previously-ruling junta, and on the range of reforms – beginning with the constitution of 2008 – carried out as part of the country’s democratisation. However, the country has also been plagued by ethnic conflict and is home to some of the world's longest running insurgencies. While two-thirds of Myanmar’s population is Burman, particularly the hilly border regions are also home to numerous ethnic groups. The Karen and Shan each make up 10% of the population, alongside dozens of smaller groups with diverse grievances. The junta announced a 'roadmap to democracy' in 2003, and soon after the 2007 political uprising known as the Saffron Revolution said it would move towards a civilian administration. The by-elections of April 2012 witnessed the main opposition party to the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), the National League for Democracy (NLD), win 43 of the 46 available seats. Aung San Suu Kyi, the NLD leader who spent nearly two decades under house arrest, was among those elected. Responding to the reforms, Western nations are gradually removing economic sanctions against the state. The civilian government of the USDP has made efforts to end ethnic conflicts and, as of June 2012, the government had negotiated ceasefires with all but one of the country’s major armed rebel groups. However, the fragile nature of these ceasefires is clear from the continued armed clashes between government forces and ethnic militia. How the government intends to fully reconcile with ethnic groups remains unclear and is complicated by the ethnic groups’ lack of clearly articulated aims.