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June 24, 2017

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Burma's ethno-political conflicts will continue

The latest development is a consequence of the unresolved longstanding ethno-political conflicts in the Union of Burma. The nature of the conflict is evidence of the existence of two different sets of movements in Burma: democracy and democracy that guarantees the rights of ethnic minorities.

The Union of Burma had gained independence from the British in 1948, but its ethno-political problems have not been settled. Though more than a dozen armed groups have signed ceasefire agreements with the junta, simmering tensions still linger.

The 1947 Panglong agreement was the foundation of the Union of Burma. Prior to independence, ethnic Burmans did not rule over other ethnic groups and vice versa. The different ethnic nationalities came together to form the Union of Burma. Ethnic problems in Burma had started long before independence. The mistrust was exacerbated when the spirit of the Panglong agreement was not honored.

One fundamental principle of the agreement was to establish a federal government. With the assassination of Aung San, who headed the negotiations for Burma's independence from the British, the dream of establishing a federal society was shattered.

The latest tension is a consequence of the military's attempt to silence the voice of the opposition in the runup to the 2010 general election. Unless the military junta can persuade the different ceasefire groups to accept its terms, it is likely that similar confrontations will occur. Despite international criticisms, the Burmese military junta is determined to move forward with the 2010 general election. Under the guidelines of the 2008 constitution, it is by and large a forgone conclusion that the military will hold on to power after election.

Burma will see a transitional government with a military-dominated multi-party democracy. The military junta's official name "State Peace and Development Council" will either be abolished or renamed.

If the United States of America and the Peoples' Republic of China can lead a coordinated international strategy, there still is a chance for the success of the international community's engagement.

Otherwise, one thing is clear that the ethno-political conflicts in Burma will continue to remain after the 2010 election.

Nehginpao Kipgen is a researcher on the rise of political conflicts in modern Burma (1947-2004) and general secretary of the U.S.-based Kuki International Forum (

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