Making sense of Myanmar’s ongoing conflicts

22 May 2015

Whether Myanmar’s ongoing ethnic and sectarian violence will derail rapid political, economic and social reform is the focus of a two-day conference starting at The Australian National University on 5 June 2015.

The 2015 Myanmar/Burma Update brings together leading experts from Australia, Myanmar and the world to examine the county’s persistent ethnic insurgencies, sectarian violence and contentious politics from a range of perspectives.

The conference will also hear a rare address in English by the Speaker of Myanmar’s Upper House of Parliament, HE U Khin Aung Myint.

Conference co-convenor and long-time Myanmar watcher Dr Nicholas Farrelly, from the Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs, says that conflict is no small challenge to the country’s march from military to civilian rule.

“Myanmar has succeeded in making progress on many key economic and social reforms, and in certain areas of institution building,” said Dr Farrelly.

“At the same time, political, social and armed conflict persists, and in some parts of the country these have increased considerably.

“The continuation of longstanding conflicts in Myanmar raises questions about their persistence and the prospects of efforts to resolve them. Other new conflicts, particularly along religious fault lines are also emerging, and are cause for significant concern.”

Since the end of British colonial rule in 1948, Myanmar has been racked by almost 70 years of civil war, the longest in modern history, mainly with ethnic minorities fighting for greater autonomy or independence.

While by 2011 most of the rebel groups had signed peace deals or ceasefires with the government, a resurgence of recent fighting with groups like the Kachin Independence Army and the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army in the Chinese-speaking Kokang area have ended years of relative calm.

In the case of the Kachin, the military campaign has caused major a humanitarian emergency and led to allegations of human rights abuses against the Myanmar Army.

Meanwhile, violence in Rakhine State between the majority Buddhist and minority Muslim population in 2012 spread through the country, leaving hundreds dead and up to 100,000 people displaced.

This violence is one of the key causes of the current Rohingya crisis, with more than 8,000 of the persecuted Muslims taking to the sea to seek refuge in neighbouring nations Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand.

Dr Farrelly said: “Long-lasting and sustainable peace with Myanmar’s myriad of minorities and an end to sectarian violence is the country’s next big challenge on its road to further reform.

“Whether it is up for the challenge, and what the prospects for peace are, is yet to be determined.

“At the very least, the 2015 Myanmar/Burma Update presents an opportunity for scholars and practitioners to draw on their research and work in studying and addressing conflict in Myanmar to probe its many layers, and consider the means by which conflict might be resolved.”

The conference is free and open to the public. To register and for more information visit

WHO               Speaker of Myanmar’s Upper House HE U Khin Aung Myint and others  

WHAT             2015 Myanmar/Burma Update conference

WHERE          Lecture Theatre, HC Coombs Building, Fellows Road, ANU 

WHEN             Friday 5 June, 8.30am- Saturday 6 June, 6pm 

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