The conflict in Myanmar, also known as Burma, is considered as one of the world’s longest-running conflicts.
The conflict started when Myanmar’s ethnic groups took up arms in a struggle for self-determination or greater autonomy soon after the country gained independence from British colonial rule in 1948.
According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the current Myanmar conflict has internally displaced 120,000 people in Rakhine State and 100,000 people in Kachin State. The UN humanitarian agency added that one million people in Myanmar are in need of humanitarian aid.
In the paper called “Understanding Myanmar’s Peace Process: Ceasefire
Agreements,” Min Zaw Oo, Director of the Ceasefire Negotiation and Implementation Program at the Myanmar Peace Center, reported that between the late 1980s and 2000s, the military regime of Gen. Khin Nyunt, negotiated unwritten “gentlemen’s” ceasefire deals with 40 ethnic groups.
In 2011, President U Thein Sein’s quasi-democratic government initiated peace talks with armed groups. On October 15, 2015, the Government of Myanmar and eight ethnic groups signed the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA). The NCA is structured as an open agreement. Other ethnic groups are encouraged to ratify the document.
Despite the international prominence of Aung San Suu Kyi, she was not directly involved in the peace talks which culminated in the signing of the NCA in October 2015. Other women, however, actively participated in the peace process.
In the paper called “Women’s Inclusion in Myanmar’s Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement” published by Inclusive Security and Swiss Peace, Allison Muehlenbeck and Julia Palmiano Federer reported that out of the 94 delegates for the NCA negotiations, five were women. Signatories of the NCA include one woman from the government, one woman from the ethnic groups, and two women as witnesses.
The landmark elections in November 2015 brought Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy Party to power.
State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s de factor leader as she is prevented by an army-backed constitution to serve as President, initiated the 21st Century Panglong Peace Conference. The 5-day conference, which started on August 31, 2016 in Naypyidaw, brings together 17 of Myanmar’s 20 largest ethnic groups. The country officially recognizes 135 ethnic groups.
“So long as we are unable to achieve national reconciliation and national unity, we will never be able to establish a sustainable and durable peaceful union,” Myanmar’s de factor leader told the attendees during the first day of the conference.
She added, “Only if our country is at peace will we be able to stand on an equal footing with the other countries in our region and across the world.”