Burma: mapping the challenges and opportunities for dialogue and reconciliation



The Union of Myanmar (Burma) has suffered political and ethnic conflict for more than half a century, which continues to hamper the country's social, political and economic development. The present report, prepared by the Crisis Management Initiative for the European Commission, seeks to map the conflict landscape, including its history, the actors involved, and the main obstacles and opportunities for dialogue and reconciliation. It assesses the change processes currently underway in the country and considers relevant comparative experiences from similar transitions elsewhere in the world. The final section contains specific recommendations to the EU and its member states, with particular attention to the possible role for a private (track-2) facilitator.

Section I: Overview of the Conflicts

Since Independence in 1948, the central government has faced armed rebellion from several dozen ideological, ethnic and economic groups, including the Communist Party of Burma (1948-89), the Karen National Union (1949-) and the All-Burma Students Democratic Front (1988-). According to the Uppsala Conflict Dataset, the number of direct battle deaths reached more than a thousand in most years from 1948- 1994 with gradually receding peaks in 1948-1954, 1963-74, 1985-88 and 1990-94.

Since t he mid 1990s the number of battle deaths has fallen to a few hundred per year, reflecting the spread of ceasefires and gradual weakening of the remaining insurgent forces. By contrast, political opposition at the heart of the state has substantially increased since the 1988 uprising and the take-over of power by the State, Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC), later renamed the State, Peace and Development Council (SPDC).

The consequences of these continuous conflicts has been cumulative and devastating for the country and its people, resulting in a chronic social, political, economic and humanitarian crisis. Since 1948, Burma has seen:

- 1,000s of political activists murdered, tortured or jailed;

- 10,000s of combatants and non-combatants killed in war;

- 100,000s of mainly ethnic minority villagers displaced from their homes in conflict zones; and 1,000,000s of people from all nationalities suffering poverty or illness as a consequence of conflict and resultant emergency governance.

Clearly, peace is vital for Burma to progress. And peace is needed now, before the country's institutions and conditions of life deteriorate to a point from which recovery will be impossible.