It is well known to us that Burma has been a ground for conflicts and insurgencies since the intervention of British into it. Once started, the situation in Burma never became completely peaceful even after the country attained independence. Conflict remained among the myriad ethnic tribes and it produced a huge displacement of people. A large number of people displaced internally, many sought refuge in the neighbouring countries. Experts believe the government of Burma is not at all concerned about the affected civilians.
As a result, Burma’s ethnic non-state armed groups (NSAGs) – believed to hold territory covering a quarter of the country’s landmass – play a crucial role as protectors and providers of humanitarian aid. The approach to governance taken by different NSAGs varies greatly, as does the level of willing support given to them by their respective populations. In these traditional cultures, hierarchical leadership structures have evolved over time, often based largely on loyalty to those who provide support and protection.
Areas under the governance of NSAGs in Burma can be divided into what are known as the ‘black areas’ of active armed groups and the ‘ceasefire territories’ of those who made agreements with the national government over 15 years ago. These areas are collectively home to millions of civilians, many of whom fled areas of conflict or martial law to find refuge and humanitarian support. In many of these areas, education, healthcare, support for youth and women as well as emergency relief are provided by the NSAGs’ civil sectors, in most cases to a much higher standard than that provided by the state in nearby regions. Community workers supporting these projects, however, are heavily restricted and regularly attacked and arrested by Burma Army soldiers. Internally Displaced Persons who have fled to the ‘black areas’ are typically considered by the state to be supporters of the rebels and are under continuous threat of violence.
The elections held in November 2010 were as corrupt as most people expected and set continued military rule in stone. However, parallel to this, many foreign donors and governments have noted the military loosening its grip on civil society, opening up an unprecedented amount of space for humanitarian support and development. Parallel to this, however, all NSAGs have been ordered to incorporate their members into the Burma Army as ‘border-guard forces’, triggering a new series of threats to civilian communities and little hope for reconciliation between the military and NSAGs or their civil sectors.
There is a glimmer of hope in that there are some NSAG civil society groups that have been able to operate in government territory in recent years. The education branch of at least one of the more responsible ceasefire groups now provides support for primary schools in government-controlled areas through the monasteries. Ominously, offices of the Kachin Independence Organisation and the New Mon State Party have already been shut down in government territory and in early 2010 numerous youth workers of the former organisation were arrested, supposedly as part of a search for terrorist bombers.
NSAGs will remain critical to the provision of support to considerable numbers of IDPs in Burma, unless the government changes its approach to governance in these regions. Most IDPs and other civilians will continue to choose to live under the governance of NSAGs; and will remain dependent on international support. Steps to encourage a convergence of ideas and resources among legitimate civil society and groups linked to NSAGs should be, and could become, critical to the future peace and development of these regions, yet offer few solutions to the current displacement crisis.
For further information, refer to http://www.fmreview.org/non-state/Jolliffe.html