Edited by Andrew T.H. Tan
Chapter 15: Ethnic Conflicts in Burma: From Separatism to Federalism
15 Ethnic conﬂicts in Burma: from separatism to federalism Martin Smith Since independence from Great Britain in 1948, ethnic insurgencies have remained endemic in many minority-inhabited regions of Burma (Myanmar).1 An often bewildering array of armed ethnic struggles has continued throughout all periods of government. Over the decades, the ideological visions and strategies of many nationality movements have adapted to the changing geopolitical landscapes. During diﬀerent eras, the goals of the leading ethnic parties have ranged from separatism to seeking federal systems of government. None of the ethnic parties, however, has succeeded in achieving its political objectives, and there has been no secession of any ethnic minority territories from Burma. At the same time, none of the major ethnic insurgencies has ever been totally defeated nor have ethnic grievances been addressed by an inclusive process of reforms. The evidence is compelling. At the beginning of the twenty-ﬁrst century, there continued to be over 30 diﬀerent ethnic forces still in control of their own territories and arms. Some groups had ceaseﬁres with the military government of the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) and some remained in armed struggle (see Table 15.1). Equally critical, decades of ethnic conﬂict and humanitarian suﬀering have witnessed Burma decline from a resource-rich country that was once regarded among the most potentially prosperous in Asia to one of the poorest and most conﬂict-torn lands in the contemporary world. In the process, hundreds of thousands of lives have...
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