Military Wiki
Internal conflict in Burma
Date1948 – present

Conflict ongoing

  • Insurgency since 1948
  • Sporadic ethnic uprisings in certain states
  • Civil War in Shan and Kachin States
  • Military dissolves official rule
  • Numerous truces and ceasefires signed with various groups
  • Regime changes to form the Union Solidarity and Development Party

Union government (1948–1962)

  • Anti-Fascist People's Freedom League

Burma Military government (since 1962)

  • Burma Socialist Programme Party (1962–1988)
  • State Peace and Development Council (1988-2011)
  • Union Solidarity and Development Party (since 2011)

Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (1994–2010)

Border clashes:

Flag of the People's Republic of China.svg People's Republic of China

Anti-government factions:
Karen National Union (since 1949)

Communist Party of Burma (1948–1988)

  • Red flags

File:Myanmar National Democracy Alliance flag.svg Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (since 1989)
Shan State Army (since 1988)

Wa National Army (1975-1988)
United Wa State Party (since 1988)

Kachin Independence Organisation (since 1961)

Pa-O National Organization (1949-1991)
Republic of China (1948-1962)
God's Army (1997-2006)
Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (since 2010)
All Burma Students' Democratic Front (Since 1980s-)
Shan State Volunteer Force (1967-1980)
Supported by:
 Thailand [2]
United States [3]

China People's Republic of China[4]
Commanders and leaders

Sao Shwe Thaik (1948-1952) U Nu (1952–1957)
Win Maung (1957-1962)
Ne Win (1962–1988)
Saw Maung (1988–1992)
Than Shwe (1992–2010)

BurmaThein Sein (since 2010)

Bo Mya (1976-2000)
Pado Phan (2000-2010)
Naw Zipporah Sein (since 2011)
Thein Pe Myint (1948-52)
Thakin Than Tun (1952-68)
File:Myanmar National Democracy Alliance flag.svg Yang Mao-liang
Wei Hsueh-kang
Johnny and Luther Htoo
Li Mi (1960-1961)
Bo Nat Khann Mway (DKBA, since 2008)

Lo Hsing Han (SSVF, 1967-1973)

43,000 (1951)[4]


4,000+ (1951)[4]
File:Myanmar National Democracy Alliance flag.svg:1,500-2,000 (1998)[6]
:8,000 [7]
Karenni Army
Chin National Front
Arakan Army
Arakan Liberation Army
apx. 100 [5]
:6,000 (1951)[4]

Unknown numbers of various other factions
Casualties and losses
between 5,000 and 10,000 killed (June 2011- September 2012)[9][10][unreliable source?][11] :Over 700 killed (June 2011- September 2012)[9]

210,000 killed (1948-2006)[12]

Over 10,000[unreliable source?] civilians killed in Rakhine State (in 2012)[13]

The internal conflict in Burma is the world's longest-running civil war and began shortly after the country's attainment of independence from the United Kingdom (U.K.) in 1948;[14] successive central governments of Burma (or Myanmar) have fought a myriad of ethnic and political rebellions. Some of the earliest insurgencies were instigated by Burmese-dominated "multi-colored" left-wing groups and the Karen National Union (KNU); the KNU fought to create an independent Karen state from a large section of Lower Burma (or Outer Myanmar). Other ethnic rebellions started in the early 1960s after the central government refused to consider a federal government structure. By the early 1980s, politically oriented armed insurgencies had largely withered away, while ethnic-based insurgencies continued.[citation needed]

As of 2013, the Karen and Shan (Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army) fight against the government in the east of the country, while small armed groups of the Rohingya people are active in the western part of the country (the Rohingya use refugee camps in Bangladesh as bases);[citation needed] sporadic conflicts also occur in other regions. Due to internal conflict, around 160,000 Burmese refugees live in Thailand, while many more Burmese live in other countries in the region.[citation needed] As of 2007, around 25 different ethnic groups have signed ceasefire agreements with the military government.[15]


Burma gained its independence from the U.K. in 1948. Immediately afterwards, communist rebels began an uprising against the new government, followed by the initiation of uprisings and ethnic conflicts in various provinces that continued into 1949. Also, the Karen, led predominantly by the Christian KNU, began fighting for an autonomous Karen state "Kawthoolei" in the eastern part of the country. The overall situation in Burma degenerated following the instatement of Buddhism as the country's official religion, and questions regarding the rights of Christian Karen, Chin, Kachin and other peoples under federalism were not sufficiently addressed; the rights issue was then exacerbated by the introduction of clauses into the constitution, whereby nominal rights of secession were granted to certain groups.[16] Due to a division within the ruling party, the Anti-Fascist People's Freedom League (AFPFL) formed the transitional military government in Burma from 1958 to 1960. Then, the 1962 Burmese coup d'état resulted in the instatement of Ne Win as the country's leader, followed by widespread human rights violations in frontier areas.[citation needed]

Main fronts

Kachin State

The Kachin ethnic group of Northern Burma have fought a political struggle against the central government for regional autonomy since 1961. Ceasefires agreements have been signed by the Kachin Independence Army and the government, but fighting has always resumed. In 2012 fighting between the KIA and the government claimed at least 250 lives.[10][11]

Kayah State

The aim of the Karenni Army is to secure the independence of the Karenni State (Kayah State).[17] According to a pro-Karenni Army website, the group's grievances include: "Exploitation and rapid depletion of the natural resources, forced sale of agricultural products, extortion, forced labour, forced relocation of whole villages and crops, destruction of houses, planting of mines around crops and villages, torture, rape, extra-judicial killings, burning of villages, expropriation of food supplies and livestock, arrest without charge, false accusations and exploitation of the poor." [17] The Karenni Army is currently led by General Bee Htoo[17] and consists of between 800 and 1,500 soldiers.[5]

Kayin State

The Karen people is one of Burma's largest ethnic minority populations and has struggled for independence since 1949. The initial aim of the KNU was independence, but since 1976 the people has called for a federal system rather than an independent Karen state. Burma's government has fought countless battles with Karen groups and the conflict has resulted in a high number of both deaths and refugees; refugees have fled to Western Thailand and have mainly settled around the Tak Province. The government has pursued a "scorched earth" policy in the region, and has attempted to depopulate Karen communities and repopulate these areas with the Bamar people.[citation needed]

Rakhine State

An internal conflict commenced in the Rakhine State in 1947 and, as of 2012, this conflict continues. The political rights of the Rohingya has been the underlying issue in this conflict and violence, such as the 2012 Rakhine State riots, has periodically occurred.

Shan State

The Shan leaders started to fight back against the central Burmese government after the government failed to fulfill the 1947 Panglong Agreement. The agreement basically guaranteed the rights of self-determination, equality and financial management. The agreement was between the Shan and Burmese leader (Gen. Aung San) who convinced the Shan leaders to join him in gaining independence from the British Colony. Moreover, the Shan, Kachin and Chin states could separate from the mainland of Burma after 10 years if the ethnic state leaders were not happy with the Burmese government. The Shan started to fight back after the Burmese sent thousands of troops into Shan State because of an invasion by Chinese Nationalist the KMT in 1950. Driven out by the Chinese Communist forces, Nationalist KMT armies planned to use the region east of the Salween river as a base from which to regain their homeland. In March 1953, the KMT forces, with US assistance, were on the verge of taking the entire Shan State, and within a day's march of the state capital Taunggyi.[[18]] The Burmese army drove back the invaders east across the Salween, but much of the KMT army and their progeny have remained in the eastern Shan State under various guises to the present day. [[18]]. During the Burmese military presence in Shan state, the local Shan people were mis-treated, tortured, arrested, robbed, killed and raped by the Burmese military. As a result, on May 21, 1958, the Shan people started to arm and fight back against the Burmese military presence. The resistance movement led by Sao Noi or Saw Yanna fought for the freedom of Shan State. Today, the strongest resistance group in Shan State is the Shan State Army (SSA) lead by Sao Yawd Serk. The SSA has their main bases along the Shan-Thai border. The SSA signed a ceasefire agreement with the Thein Sein's government on Dec 2, 2011. Both sides agreed on 11 points: to allow SSA headquarters in Homain sub-township and Mong Hta sub-township; to negotiate and arrange the resettlement of SSA troops and their families in the locations mentioned in No. 1 ; the appointment by the SSA of village heads in the region, which would work with government official for township administration; Government soldiers in Homain sub-township and Mong Hta sub township will give help to the SSA; Both sides will discuss and negotiate to arrange for the security of SSA leaders; Government troops and the SSA would negotiate to designate areas where they could enter border areas; each side agreed to inform the other side in advance if one side wants to enter the other’s control area with weapons; to open liaison offices between the government and the SSA-S in Taunggyi, Kholam, Kengtung, Mong Hsat and Tachileik and trading offices in Muse and Nanhkam; Government ministers will arrange for SSA-S members to run businesses and companies in accord with existing policies, by providing aid and the required technology; To cooperate with the union government for regional development ; to cooperate with the government in making plan for battling drug trafficking; The government and SSA agreed in principle to the points discussed on January 16, 2012. Points will also be discussed in the coming second union-level meeting.

Foreign support

Burma's insurgencies have been supported or used by foreign states: the Karen received support from the United Kingdom (UK); along the shared border, East Pakistan (and then Bangladesh) assisted the Muslim Rohingyas, with additional Middle Eastern backing; the People's Republic of China assisted the Communist Party of Burma (CPB) (later the United Wa State Army), and the Naga and Kachin Independence Army ; the United States (U.S.) supported the Kuomintang; and Thailand assisted a wide variety of rebel groups by essentially creating buffer states or zones.[1]

Thai involvement

Thailand has been the major contributor of supplies and arms since the crisis began.[citation needed] Thai leaders have a deep distrust for the Burmese, who have frequently invaded Thailand in past centuries.[2] Weapons and ammunition from Thailand have allowed insurgent groups to remain active in the ongoing war with the Burmese army.[2]

Thailand's support was evident during the 1999 Burmese Embassy Siege. While the United Nations, together with the United States (US) and Burmese governments, referred to the siege as an 'act of terrorism', the Thai government responded differently, stating: "the captors are students working for democracy, not terrorists".[19]

1988 Uprising

On 8 August 1988, student demonstrations that included ochre-robed monks, young children, housewives and doctors spread throughout Burma, as the country's citizens protested against the regime.[20] The uprising ended on 18 September 1988 after a military coup was enacted by the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC). Authorities in Myanmar stated that around 350 people were killed[21][22] during the uprising and a high number of deaths have been attributed to the military.[23][24][25] As a result of the uprising the new government agreed to sign separate peace treaties with certain insurgent groups.

During the 8888 uprising, Aung San Suu Kyi emerged as a national icon. The military junta arranged an election in 1990 and San Suu Kyi's party the National League for Democracy (NLD) won. However, the military junta refused to recognise the results and instead placed San Suu Kyi under house arrest.


In November 2005, the military junta began transferring the government away from Yangon to a location near Kyatpyay, just outside Pyinmana, for the purpose of designating a new capital city. On Armed Forces Day (27 March 2006), the capital was officially named Naypyidaw Myodaw ("Royal City of the Seat of Kings"), but is commonly called Naypyidaw.[citation needed]

Since 2006, a Burmese army offensive has been enacted against the KNU in Karen State, and has resulted in the displacement of a high number of people. One estimate has identified approximately half a million people who have been displaced within eastern Burma due to armed conflict and the forcible relocation of villages.[26]

In August 2007, approximately 160,000 Burmese refugees fled to the Thai boundary provinces of Chiang Mai and Ratchaburi and refugee camps have been established; the camps are mostly located near the Burma–Thailand border. Approximately 62 percent of the refugee population consists of Karen people. Humanitarian organizations have been formed to assist and support the refugees.[citation needed]

In 2011, the Burmese army initiated a military operation called "Zwe Man Hein" (ဇွဲမန်ဟိန်း) to combat the rebel groups in Shan State.[27] During the operation, the Burmese army captured the territory of the National Democratic Alliance Army and Shan State Army (North), with the Shan State Army involved in most of the violent conflict. The offensive was a response from the Burmese army, as the rebel groups refused to accept Burma's 'One Nation One Army' policy.[28][29][30][31][32][33]

Ceasefire agreements

The Burman-dominated central governments (both civilian and military) have signed ceasefire agreements with most insurgent groups but fighting, especially in the Kachin Conflict, continues. Furthermore, accusations have emerged in regard to the army's mistreatment of the local population and the army is viewed as an occupying force in the ethnic regions.[citation needed] Prior to the ceasefires, the Burman-dominated armed forces ("Tatmadaw") engaged in annual dry season campaigns that were ultimately futile, as the rebels returned after the withdrawal of the Tatmadaw.

In January 2012, the Myanmar government announced a ceasefire agreement with the Karen rebel group. The ceasefire includes a mandate that allows open communication between the government and Karen rebels, and also ensures safe passage for Karen rebels throughout the country. The Myanmar government granted amnesty to over 6,000 KNU prisoners and reduced the sentences of 38,964 prisoners.[34] The peace talks, held in Hpa-an, were led by Railway Minister Aung Min, also the leader of the State Peace Deal Commission, and General Mutu Saipo of the KNU. Aung Min stated that one of the agreement's key points was a commitment to continue the formal communication process. The talks were due to reconvene within 45 days of the initial meeting date for more substantive discussions.[35] For economic sanctions to be lifted, Western governments have identified the negotiation of a peace agreement between the KNU and the Burmese government as a primary demand.[35] Min Ko Naing, the leader of the pro-democracy uprisings in 1988, said upon his release from Tayet prison: "We need peace across the country immediately. Then we can work toward building national reconciliation." Specifically, Ko Naing called for peace in ethnic minority areas and the release of all incarcerated political prisoners, including Ko Ko Gyi (released on 13 January 2012), 1990 MPs, ethnic group leaders, monks and all prisoners of conscience.[36]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 Steinberg, p. 44
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Alfred W. McCoy, with Cathleen B. Read and Leonard P. Adams II. "The Shan Rebellion: The Road to Chaos", from The Politics of Heroin in Southeast Asia: CIA Complicity in the Global Drug Trade (2003 ed.). ISBN 1-55652-483-8. Retrieved 8 December 2011. [dead link][dead link]
  3. Richard Michael Gibson (2011). The Secret Army: Chiang Kai-shek and the Drug Warlords of the Golden Triangle. John Wiley and Sons. pp. 85–90. ISBN 978-0-470-83018-5. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 Richard, p. 88
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 Burma center for Ethnic Studies, Jan. 2012, "Briefing Paper No. 1"
  6. Rotberg, Robert (1998). Burma: prospects for a democratic future. Brookings Institution Press. p. 169.
  7. AP, 4 May 2012, Myanmar state media report battles between government troops, Kachin rebels killed 31
  8. Far From Home, Arakan Rebels Fight on Kachin Frontline, Irrawaddy, 28 December 2012,
  9. 9.0 9.1 Time for Thein Sein to come clean about Burmese losses in Kachin state, Kachin News, 22 September 2012 By Edward Chung Ho,
  10. 10.0 10.1 KIA says 211 army soldiers die in two-month fighting in Hpakant, Oct. 10, 2012,
  11. 11.0 11.1 31 dead in new clashes with Kachin: Myanmar paper,May 5, 2012,\05\05\story_5-5-2012_pg14_7
  12. De re militari: muertos en Guerras, Dictaduras y Genocidios
  13. RISE's Urgent Call for Intervention: Rohingyas death toll 10,000, The Humanitarian Crisis Hub, Nov. 1, 2012,
  14. Patrick Winn (13 May 2012). "Myanmar: ending the world's longest-running civil war". Retrieved 27 March 2013. 
  15. Smith, M. (2007). State of Strife: The Dynamics of Ethnic Conflict in Burma. Policy Studies, 36, p. 1. East West Centre, Washington.
  16. Lall, Marie (23 November 2009). Ethnic Conflict and the 2010 Elections in Burma. Chatham House.[dead link][dead link]
  17. 17.0 17.1 17.2 Karenni Army (KA) (Myanmar), GROUPS - ASIA - ACTIVE, Jane's World Insurgency and Terrorism, March 13, 2012
  18. 18.0 18.1 Thant Myint-U (2006). The River of Lost Footsteps--Histories of Burma. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. pp. 274–289. ISBN 978-0-374-16342-6, 0-374-16342-1. 
  19. "World: Asia-Pacific Embassy gunmen flee". 2 October 1999. Retrieved 27 March 2013. 
  20. Maureen Aung-Thwin (1989). "Burmese Days". Foreign Affairs. Council on Foreign Relations, Inc. Retrieved 27 March 2013. 
  21. Ottawa Citizen. 24 September 1988. pg. A.16
  22. Associated Press. Chicago Tribune. 26 September 1988
  23. Ferrara (2003), pp. 313
  24. Philippa Fogarty (6 August 2008). "Was Burma's 1988 uprising worth it?". Retrieved 27 March 2013. 
  25. Wintle (2007)
  26. Burma Campaign UK: Crisis in Karen State[dead link][dead link]
  27. Htwe, Ko (8 April 2011). "Conflict in Shan State Spreading". The Irrawaddy. Retrieved 16 July 2011. 
  28. "Shan Herald Agency for News (S.H.A.N.)". Retrieved 14 January 2012. 
  29. Hseng, Khio Fah (10 January 2011). "Mongla base shelled by Burma Army artillery". Shan Herald Agency. Retrieved 16 July 2011. 
  30. Hseng, Khio Fah (26 January 2011). "Mongla base shelled by Burma Army artillery". Shan Herald Agency. Retrieved 16 July 2011. 
  31. "All roads to Shan rebel base closed". 24 February 2011. Retrieved 14 January 2012. 
  32. "Burma Army occupies SSA core base". 16 March 2011. Retrieved 14 January 2012. 
  33. "SSA 'North' given ultimatum to surrender". 17 March 2011. Retrieved 14 January 2012. 
  34. Mydans, Seth (12 January 2012). "Burmese Government and Ethnic Rebel Group Sign Cease-Fire". New York Times. 
  35. 35.0 35.1 "Burma government signs ceasefire with Karen rebels". 12 January 2012. Retrieved 27 March 2013. 
  36. Wai Moe (13). "Min Ko Naing Calls for Peace in Ethnic Areas". The Irrawaddy. Irrawaddy Publishing Group. Retrieved 27 March 2013. 

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