Myanmar/Burma’s Ceasefire Negotiations and Peacemaking: 50 years of failures

Original Post By: Maung Zarni |

A glance at the history of ceasefire/peace negotiations – all failed.

Muang Zarni ceasefire failed(Photo: Reuters)


In 1963, the first military government under General Ne Win named the Revolutionary Council government initiated ceasefire negotiations with different ethnic armed movements, as well as the Burmese Communists – “insurgent organizations” in the government’s official lingo – in order to end the country’s civil war that broke out within 90-days of independence from Britain. At the time Ne Win’s deputy named Colonel Hla Han, a University of Michigan-trained medical doctor, led the negotiations.

When the negotiations collapsed the military leaders adopted a policy of what it called “annihilation” of all those who demanded that the country’s founding principle of ethnic equality be honored in the form of federal power structures – as opposed to a unitary, centralized system of government where the majority Burmese arrogated to themselves monopoly power to decide on the national affairs. (As soon as the negotiators were dropped off in various regions where they travelled on foot to the capital Rangoon Ne Win sent assassination teams to embush them).

In the early 1980’s the same military leadership under General Ne Win re-initiated ceasefire negotiations with select ethnic armed organizations, for instance, the Kachin Independence Organization, operating along the long and porous Sino-Burmese borders, at the urging of China’s leaders. However, no concrete outcome resulted from the second round of negotiations.

Again in the early 1990’s, General Ne Win, then in his semi-retirement, ordered the Burmese military leaders, particularly his protégé and Chief of the Military Intelligence, to sue for peace with ethnic armed organizations. The trigger for the third wave of negotiations was the fact that the Burmese military regime was facing internal revolt among the ethnically Burmese public in the form of a popular movement for democracy and human rights led by the National League Democracy and its charismatic leader Aung San Suu Kyi. This time the Burmese military leadership and about a dozen Ethnic Armed Organizations (EAOs) – then called ‘insurgents’ – reached bi-lateral/separate ceasefire agreements whereby the EAOs were allowed to retain their own arm and pursue commercial activities as well as local development initiatives. All but one bilateral deals were, in effect, “gentlemen’s agreements” between the EAOs and the military’s chief negotiator, namely General Khin Nyunt. The only ceasefire agreement in writing was between the Kachin Independence Organization and the Burmese military. In the fall of 2004, General Khin Nyunt was sacked and placed under house arrest, and the Burmese military began new initiatives to end the existing ceasefire agreements with various EAOs by pressuring them to become subordinates in the country’s central armed forces under the arrangement called “Border Guard Forces”. This arrangement was made constitutional and legal under the military’s Constitution of 2008. Some small EAOs were unable to withstand the Burmese military’s pressure and accepted its arrangements while the stronger EAOs such as the Kachin Independence Organization, the United Wa State Army, and so on refused to comply with the Burmese military’s demands.

Beginning in August 2010, the Burmese military began fresh rounds of military attacks to annihilate EAOs such as the Kokant Han Chinese’ militia known as Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) – and succeeded its mission swiftly. Emboldened by its military victory against the Kokant, the Burmese military with its quasi-civilian government under ex-General Thein Sein unilaterally broke the ceasefire agreement with the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) in June 2011.

Contrary to its expectation for a quick defeat of the KIO, the Burmese military suffered unprecedented degree of casualties – by the thousands. A combination of the failure to crush the Kachin resistance, the growing domestic pressure for ending the civil war from the civil society networks of activists, the attempts by Aung San Suu Kyi and her NLD to seize the initiative for reviving federalist dialogue among different constitutive ethnic communities of the country and the need to create a stable environment for foreign investors and businesses in the newly opening country provided the impetus for the Burmese military to initiate the 4th wave of ceasefire negotiations in 50 years since the military came to power in 1962.

Therefore, two years after the failed military operations against the KIO, the government of Thein Sein launched ceasefire negotiations without any pre-conditions in 2013.

Leave a comment, tell us your story or simply like the post below

Leave a Reply