INTRODUCTION AND SUMMARY OF FINDINGS
For over six decades Myanmar has endured violent conflict between the central government armed forced, called the Tatmadaw, and numerous ethnic armed groups. The complexity of the conflict lies in the multitude of actors involved and armed clashes that take place across the country, which have taken the lives of many and diminished the potential of the country. The peace process that was initiated in 2011 by the government is formed on bilateral ceasefire agreements signed between the government and Ethnic Armed Groups.
The bilateral ceasefire agreements served as a foundation for the central government, Tatmadaw, and the different ethnic armed groups to begin negotiations for a nationwide ceasefire agreement. Throughout Myanmar, there are calls for a peace process that not only stops the fighting and ends the violence, but also addresses longstanding issues that affect all communities. The forging of the ceasefire agreement in 2015 was seen as a first step in a long process that needs to address decades of resentment, marginalisation, and mistrust from the different ethnic groups across the country. Various counterinsurgency tactics employed in different ethnic states that aimed at cutting off communication and trade between the EAG and civilian communities have stunted economic and social development in most ethnic states. This has left a legacy of severe poverty and lack of communication and transportation infrastructure that remains a problem today.
As the country prepares for the third session of nationwide peace talks, the peace process is at a precarious juncture, with armed clashes continuing in Kachin state between the Tatmadaw and the KIA, and fighting in Northern Shan state between the Tatmadaw and the RCSS and TNLA. Not only have these clashes been putting the lives of communities at risk and created large numbers of IDPs in the country, but they have also undermined national trust in the sustainability of the peace process.
Other challenges to the peace process are issues of inclusivity and representation at peace dialogues. However, more recently the signing of two ethnic armed groups to the cease-fire agreement, the NMSP and LDU, bring the total signatories to ten, marking a more positive step. Besides this, the dialogues have also been criticized for not including participation from civil society groups and women. Since the Myanmar peace process has largely been a top-level process that concentrates on dialogue between the Myanmar government, Tatmadaw, and EAG leadership, communities often remain voiceless and invisible at the negotiating table.
The Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies (CPCS) recognises the importance of involving communities in the peace process. The communities are necessary partners in creating a robust and sustainable peace process. As stakeholders who have been living at the frontlines of conflict, they have valuable insights to share about the grievances that drive conflict. Listening to how the bilateral ceasefire agreements are being implemented in their areas also serves as a significant source of feedback on the positive and negative effects of the ongoing peace process at the community level.
This publication is based on research and direct engagement with communities in six ceasefire areas of the country. The overall aim of the project is to amplify the voices of communities to allow their experiences to inform and influence decision-makers, including negotiators and other key stakeholders in the country’s peace process.
From May to September 2017, 485 conversations were conducted with 1537 community members living in the six ceasefire states of: Kachin, Kayah, Kayin, Northern Shan, Southern Shan, Kayah, and Mon state. Using the listening methodology, trained researchers known as listeners who are familiar with the context, culture and geography travelled to various townships across the country and had conversations with a cross- section of the states’ demographics. These conversations were focused on community opinions regarding their direct experiences living through conflict and as their country progresses through a peace process. The topics covered their daily challenges, their thoughts on the peace process and their hopes for the future.