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Myanmar Foreign Minister and State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi attended the opening ceremony of the Union Peace Conference at Naypyidaw, Myanmar’s capital city, on 12 January 2016. AFP/Ye Aung Thu
Briefing 149 / Asia

Myanmar’s Peace Process: Getting to a Political Dialogue

After almost 70 years of armed conflict, Myanmar has a rare but fading opportunity to finalise a broad-based, federal settlement. The government must adopt a more flexible approach that allays opposition concerns, and armed groups need to go beyond preliminaries and engage in meaningful discussions.

Also available in: Burmese [PDF]

I. Overview

The current government term may be the best chance for a negotiated political settlement to almost 70 years of armed conflict that has devastated the lives of minority communities and held back Myanmar as a whole. Aung San Suu Kyi and her administration have made the peace process a top priority. While the previous government did the same, she has a number of advantages, such as her domestic political stature, huge election mandate and strong international backing, including qualified support on the issue from China. These contributed to participation by nearly all armed groups – something the former government had been unable to achieve – in the Panglong-21 peace conference that commenced on 31 August. But if real progress is to be made, both the government and armed groups need to adjust their approach so they can start a substantive political dialogue as soon as possible.

Pangalong-21 was important for its broad inclusion of armed groups, not for its content, and the challenges going forward should not be underestimated. Many groups attended not out of support for the process, but because they considered they had no alternative. Many felt that they were treated poorly and the conference was badly organised. The largest opposition armed group, the United Wa State Party (UWSP), sent only a junior delegation that walked out on the second day. An escalation of fighting in recent months, including use of air power and long-range artillery by the Myanmar military, has further eroded trust.

Such issues are not unexpected; what matters is the resilience of the process to deal with them. The announced scheduling of further Panglong-21 conferences every six months (the next for February 2017) imposes an artificially rigid timeframe that limits the flexibility required to overcome obstacles. Weak capacity in the government’s peace secretariat, the National Reconciliation and Peace Centre (NRPC), is another challenge. It will take difficult negotiations to convince most groups to sign the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA), a sine qua non for participation in the upcoming political dialogue process – future Panglong-21 conferences and the discussions feeding into them – that has been clearly articulated by both the government and military. This will be even harder if the military continues its forceful posture on the ground.

Eight groups signed the NCA in October 2015, but at least ten other armed groups have reservations. Some, like the UWSP, have better de facto self-governance arrange­ments already and worry their status would be undermined by signing. Others are concerned that the new government has a more unilateral approach to the peace process and that if they sign, political solutions are more likely to be imposed than negotiated. Three groups without bilateral ceasefires are resisting government demands to issue statements renouncing armed struggle in principle.

The government should consider adopting a more flexible timeframe for the peace conferences and reassure armed groups by demonstrating a less unilateral approach to the process in general. It needs to ensure that civil society, women and youth have a stronger voice in the process. It should also take steps to ensure that it has the necessary support capacity in place at the NRPC.

Armed groups need to recognise that though they have legitimate concerns about the process, they are unlikely to get a better chance to achieve a negotiated political settlement. Aung San Suu Kyi has expressed firm support for a federal, democratic solution and has unparalleled political authority to deliver it, particularly with the Burman majority. Now is the time to start discussing the contours of that deal, rather than continuing to focus on preliminaries.

The alternative is not attractive. Time is not on the side of the armed groups. Unless both sides grasp the current opportunity, the prospect of a negotiated solution will recede, likely to be replaced by a messy, drawn-out endgame that fails to address the underlying grievances of the minority communities, including their demands for a federal system and greater equality. This would be to the detriment of peace and stability in the borderlands and to Myanmar’s future as a prosperous, tolerant and democratic country.

II. Peace Legacy from the Previous Government

A. Peace Process with Armed Groups

The administration that took power on 30 March 2016 inherited a peace process that had been in stasis during the lame-duck period leading up to the November 2015 elections and the lengthy handover period afterwards.[fn]For recent Crisis Group reporting on Myanmar, see Asia Briefings N°s 147, The Myanmar Elections: Results and Implications, 9 December 2015; 146, Myanmar’s Peace Process: A Nationwide Ceasefire Remains Elusive, 16 September 2015; 144, Counting the Costs: Myanmar’s Problematic Census, 15 May 2014; 143, Myanmar’s Military: Back to the Barracks?, 22 April 2014; also Reports N°s 282, Myanmar’s New Government: Finding Its Feet?, 29 July 2016; 266 Myanmar’s Electoral Landscape, 28 April 2015; 261, Myanmar: The Politics of Rakhine State, 22 October 2014; and, for more detailed historical background on the armed conflict, 214, Myanmar: A New Peace Initiative, 30 November 2011.Hide Footnote  The previous government had had considerable early success, agreeing bilateral ceasefires with fifteen armed groups between 2011 and 2013 (see Appendix B and the acronyms in Appendix C). There was much optimism on 31 March 2015, when the government and armed group negotiating teams initialled the NCA. However, concerns over the lack of inclusivity (the government did not allow the three groups without bilateral ceasefires – AA, TNLA and MNDAA – to sign) as well as about giving the government of then-President Thein Sein a major victory just ahead of elections, stalled the process. Eventually, eight armed groups signed the NCA at a ceremony on 15 October 2015; the remaining ten involved in the formal peace process did not. This led to some tensions between signatory and non-signatory groups.[fn]For all armed group acronyms, see Appendix B.Hide Footnote

The NCA contains basic principles recognising the territorial integrity of the state (making clear that separatism or irredentism is unacceptable), committing to “principles of democracy and federalism” and embracing the diversity of the peoples and cultures in “a secular state”. A military code of conduct prohibits certain conduct by all parties in ceasefire areas (attacks, reinforcement, recruitment, new bases, laying landmines, etc.) and sets out troop deployment provisions to avoid clashes. There is provision for a joint ceasefire monitoring body, and “interim arrangements” endorse armed groups’ de facto authority in their areas of control for a transitional period. The NCA is to be followed by a “political dialogue”, consisting of a Union Peace Conference to reach a comprehensive peace agreement that would be “the basis for amending, repealing and adding provisions to the constitution and laws, in line with agreed procedures” – that is, through the legislature – along with armed group disarmament and security sector reform.[fn]For a detailed summary of the NCA, see Crisis Group Briefing, Myanmar’s Peace Process, op. cit., Section IV.Hide Footnote

Finalisation of the NCA was thus only the first step in a long, difficult process needed to reach a comprehensive peace agreement. Many of the most challenging issues, including a possible form of federalism, how revenue would be shared, future status of the armed groups and their possible integration into the military, were deferred to the political dialogue, as were some technical military issues on ceasefire monitoring and code of conduct. It is thus neither a classic ceasefire agreement – many military issues, such as force separation, demarcation and verification, are vague, not included or need further agreement to come into force – nor a full political agreement, as it references many political issues but defers detailed discussion. This hybrid status reflects its genesis, the diverse actors and priorities around the table and political constraints.

Following the partial signing, the previous government took formal steps to implement the NCA, specifically:

  • A first session of the Joint Implementation Coordination Meeting, the body mandated to oversee NCA implementation, was held 15-17 October 2015. It established the committees set out in the NCA to take the process forward: the Joint Monitoring Committee (JMC) for military and ceasefire matters and Union Peace Dialogue Joint Committee (UPDJC) for political dialogue. The JMC contains ten representatives of NCA-signatory armed groups, ten of government (including military), and four independent civilians; there are also subnational committees. The UPDJC initially had sixteen representatives each of NCA-signatory armed groups, government (including military and legislature) and political parties and was chaired by then-Vice-President Sai Mauk Kham.
     
  • A joint legislative session ratified the NCA on 8 December, giving it legal status.
     
  • A Framework for Political Dialogue was agreed on 15 December, including the mandate, agenda, working methods and proportions of representatives to be included in the dialogue.
     
  • The first Union Peace Conference was held 12 to 16 January 2016, with opening addresses by the president, commander-in-chief, Aung San Suu Kyi and Mutu Say Poe, the head of the Karen National Union armed group. The conference had 700 participants but, occurring in the lame-duck period after the elections, was largely symbolic, intended only to launch the process and keep to the NCA’s ambitious political roadmap. Armed groups that did not sign the NCA were invited to observe, but nearly all declined.[fn]In accordance with the Framework for Political Dialogue, the 700 seats were divided 75 each for government and legislature, 150 for military, 150 each for ethnic armed groups and registered political parties, 50 each for ethnic representatives and other relevant persons. The roadmap required the Framework for Political Dialogue to be agreed within 60 days of the NCA signing and the dialogue to commence within 90 days. One non-signatory group, the National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Khaplang, did accept the invitation. Three non-signatory armed groups without bilateral ceasefires (Arakan Army, Ta’ang National Liberation Army, Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army) were not invited.Hide Footnote

B. Armed Conflict

Notwithstanding these important procedural developments, the peace process essentially was in stasis between the NCA signing and the new government taking up the issue in April 2016. Meanwhile, the situation on the ground remained volatile, with fighting continuing to break out sporadically, and often unexpectedly, in many different parts of the country.

Most groups that signed the NCA are based near the Thai border in southern Shan State and the south-east. Their signing consolidated a fragile local peace, or at least absence of war, that had prevailed for some time. Groups based near the Chinese border did not sign, and the situation in many of those areas continued to be unstable, with regular, sometimes intense fighting, including between ethnic armed groups. The geographic split reflects very different political-economic realities between the areas, including access to funding and weapons and the distinct policies and approaches of China and Thailand.

Serious bouts of conflict since early 2015 include:

  • in Shan State, resumed major fighting between Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) troops and government forces in the Kokang Self-Administered Zone since February 2015, which was particularly intense from February to June that year and again in October 2015. Elsewhere in Shan State, there have been sporadic clashes between government forces and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) and between that group and the Shan State Army-South (SSA-South). There have also been clashes between government forces and the SSA-North, of particular intensity from October to November 2015 and in August 2016;
     
  • in Kachin State, between government forces and the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO) throughout the period, and in particular from July to November 2015, and again from April to August 2016;
     
  • in Rakhine State and southern Chin State, occasional, sometimes heavy clashes between government forces and the Arakan Army, in particular in April 2015, January 2016 and from April to June 2016; and
     
  • in Kayin State, clashes in July 2015 and again from August to September 2016 between a renegade faction of the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) and government troops together with Border Guard Force soldiers.

Such conflicts are usually accompanied by grave violations of human rights by all belligerents.[fn]See, for example, “Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar”, UN OHCHR A/HRC/31/71, 18 March 2016.Hide Footnote  They undermine stability and trust in the peace process and severely impact lives and livelihoods – particularly of those most at risk, including women and children – often causing internal displacements.[fn]For a detailed risk analysis, see “Kachin and northern Shan protection concerns and risk analysis”, Protection Sector, October 2015.Hide Footnote  Some 100,000 people remain displaced in Kachin and northern Shan states as a result of fighting following the 2011 breakdown of the KIO ceasefire. Fighting in the Kokang Self-Administered Zone displaced around 80,000 in February 2015, the majority to China, though most have now returned. At least 12,000 were displaced in northern Shan State in the first half of 2016 in the complex conflicts that included government forces, the TNLA and the SSA-South; most have returned home, but some 3,000 remain displaced. The fighting in Rakhine State in March-April 2016 displaced approximately 1,900, who have yet to return home. Most recently, fighting in Kayin State displaced some 4,000 in September 2016.[fn]Figures from UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, except Kayin State displacements, from “Tatmadaw launch operations against KKO splinter group in Wah Boh Taung-Kyonhtaw, Methawaw regions”, Global New Light of Myanmar, 17 September 2016.Hide Footnote

III. The New Government’s Approach

A. First Steps

During the previous government’s tenure, the National League for Democracy (NLD) was invited, with other political parties, to participate in the peace process. Though it sent representatives, their engagement was limited. Aung San Suu Kyi kept her distance and was at times critical of the process. Her speech to the inaugural Union Peace Conference in January 2016 (above) was thus significant.

Suu Kyi had indicated that achieving peace would be a top priority for her government, and the NLD’s election manifesto addressed this as its first item, promising to “hold political dialogue based on the Panglong spirit in order to address the roots of internal armed conflict” – referring to the pre-independence Panglong Conference, convened by her father in 1947.[fn]“2015 Election Manifesto”, NLD, official translation, p. 5. For details on the 1947 Panglong Conference, see Crisis Group Report, Myanmar: A New Peace Initiative, op. cit., Section I. The 1947 Panglong Agreement was not a peace deal – there was then no insurgency – but an agreement by some ethnic areas (Shan, Kachin and Chin) to join an independent Burma in return for promises of full autonomy in internal administration and an equal share in national wealth.Hide Footnote  In her first major speech after the transfer of power, a Myanmar New Year’s message to the nation on 18 April, Suu Kyi stated that the government would aim to bring remaining organisations into the NCA, and “through peace conferences, we’ll continue to be able to build up a genuine, federal democratic union”.[fn]“State Counsellor offers New Year message”, Global New Light of Myanmar, 18 April 2016.Hide Footnote  She indicated that she would personally lead the process.

She gave the first concrete indication of her plans at a 27 April JMC meeting, announcing that a new 21st Century Panglong (Panglong-21) peace conference would be held within two months. This caused consternation among ethnic leaders due to both form and substance. There had been no prior consultation with ethnic armed groups or political leaders; and no details were provided on the initiative, which was seen as potentially signalling a unilateral shift in approach in a process with a legally-binding framework that had required months of detailed negotiation. The venue for the announcement compounded these concerns, as the JMC is tasked with military or ceasefire matters, not the political dialogue, for which the UPDJC is the mandated body.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, ethnic party and armed group leaders, Yangon, May-July 2016. For example, a month later the leader of the Shan State Army-South, a major armed group that signed the NCA, expressed concern on both aspects. “Lt-Gen Yawd Serk: If this conference is wrong, it will affect the future of the union”, Shan Herald Agency for News, 26 May 2016.Hide Footnote

In a 26-28 May meeting of the UPDJC, which she chairs, Suu Kyi sought to allay some concerns. She confirmed she would continue to follow the NCA framework, and Panglong-21 was only a different name for the Union Peace Conferences that framework envisaged. While this reassured ethnic leaders, other comments raised new concerns, notably her stated intention to narrow the scope of discussions in the political dialogue from the five thematic areas agreed in the UPDJC to federalism and security.[fn]Ibid. “NCA to guide 21st Century Panglong Conference”, Global New Light of Myanmar, 28 May 2016. The previously-agreed five areas are set out in the Framework for Political Dialogue, which is being amended. The three thematic areas proposed to be dropped were: social issues (including culture, language, gender, resettlement, human rights, drugs), economic issues (including foreign investment, tax and revenue distribution and regional development) and issues around land and natural resources (including resource management and revenue sharing).Hide Footnote  This would leave out some key areas of concern and missed an opportunity to build confidence by addressing easier issues, such as language policy. With armed group leaders strongly opposed, the matter was not settled before the Panglong-21 conference, and discussions are ongoing. It is likely armed group concerns will be accommodated, and the dialogue’s scope will remain unchanged, though with some effort to focus on priority issues.[fn]Crisis Group interview, member of UPDJC, Yangon, September 2016.Hide Footnote  There has to date been little outreach to civil society, and few efforts to engage a wider range of voices in the peace process, particularly women and youth.

The government also announced a new peace architecture on 31 May, with three sets of structures:

  • the NCA-mandated JMC and UPDJC, the latter now chaired by Suu Kyi and with party membership limited to those that won seats in the last elections;
     
  • a committee to transform the previous government’s Myanmar Peace Centre into a National Reconciliation and Peace Centre (NRPC). This new centre, launched on 11 July, is headed by Suu Kyi. Under it is a new Peace Commission, chaired by Dr Tin Myo Win, her personal physician and newly-designated chief peace negotiator.[fn]Established by President Office Orders 50/2016 and 51/2016, 11 July 2016.Hide Footnote  Unlike its predecessor, a semi-government body staffed mainly by non-government experts, it is a government institution under Suu Kyi’s State Counsellor Office, staffed by civil servants and governed by civil service laws and financial rules; and
     
  • a Panglong-21 preparatory committee also chaired by Dr Tin Myo Win and sub-committees to liaise respectively with NCA-signatories and non-signatories.

B. Peace Conference Preparations

Though the date for Panglong-21 slipped from her initial late-June proposal, Suu Kyi appeared determined to avoid major delays. This seems to stem from two considerations: not wanting to repeat the experience of the previous government, when negotiations bogged down over process, particularly which armed groups would be included; and a sense that her leverage would be at its greatest early in her term, due to the election landslide. Some observers also believed she wanted the conference before her September meetings with President Obama in Washington DC and at the UN General Assembly. Thus, at her urging, there was agreement with the NCA signatories for Panglong-21 to begin no later than 31 August, a very ambitious timeframe both logistically and for obtaining buy-in of non-signatory armed groups.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, armed group leaders and international peace-process adviser, Yangon, July-August 2016. “Gov’t, NCA signatories agree to hold UPC no later than 31 August”, Global New Light of Myanmar, 29 June 2016.Hide Footnote

The intention to make Panglong-21 inclusive of all armed groups, stated from the outset, was positively received. This has long been a demand of the non-signatories. On 3 June, as a first step to secure their participation, Dr Tin Myo Win met the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC), the main umbrella organisation of non-signatories. He then met separately on 17-19 June with the UWSP and NDAA, non-signatories that are not UNFC members. Under the previous government, non-signatories were only invited as observers; the new government got around this by indicating that since the first Panglong-21 conference would be symbolic, with presentations but no negotiations or decisions, all armed groups would be “attendees” (tet-yauk-thu). The government position remained, however, that only signatories could participate in the future political dialogue.[fn]Crisis Group interview, member of the Peace Commission, Yangon, August 2016.Hide Footnote

There were also negotiations with the three previously-excluded groups: AA, TNLA and MNDAA. Since these lack bilateral ceasefires, they are not eligible to sign the NCA, and the military previously insisted they must disarm, something the groups equated with surrender. The commander-in-chief subsequently proposed that it would be sufficient to put their arms beyond use in some verifiable way, along the lines of formulas used in Aceh, Nepal and Northern Ireland, but this was rejected.[fn]Ibid. Also, commander-in-chief meeting with press, 13 May 2016, reported in “Tatmadaw sets out peace conference conditions”, Myanmar Times, 16 May 2016.Hide Footnote  Negotiations then focused on a statement committing the groups to renounce armed struggle in principle. Considerable progress was made, with the only sticking point being the Burmese-language term for “armed struggle” versus “violence”.[fn]Crisis Group interview, member of the Peace Commission, Yangon, August 2016.Hide Footnote  However, no agreement was reached, the three issued no statement, and they were not invited to Panglong-21. Crucially, however, that did not lead to the UNFC and other non-signatories boycotting, though lack of inclusion had been a key reason cited by groups for not signing the NCA.[fn]See Crisis Group Briefing, Myanmar’s Peace Process op. cit., Section III.B.Hide Footnote  

In the lead-up to Panglong-21, representatives of seventeen armed groups held a major strategy meeting in the KIO-controlled town of Maijayang, 26-30 July, to coordinate positions on key issues; the UN and China attended as international observers. Four armed groups did not attend (UWSP, MNDAA, TNLA and NSCN-Khaplang). The UWSP, together with its NDAA ally, went to Naypyitaw to meet on 29 July with Suu Kyi and then the commander-in-chief.[fn]The NDAA participated in both the Maijayang meeting and the Naypyitaw visit.Hide Footnote

C. The Panglong-21 Conference

The conference, officially the “Union Peace Conference – 21st Century Panglong”, was held in Naypyitaw from 31 August to 3 September. Suu Kyi’s opening address was followed by plenary speeches from the lower and upper house speakers, the commander-in-chief, the KNU chairman, NLD patron Tin Oo (an ex-commander-in-chief), the KIO vice chairman and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.[fn]The KIO vice chairman’s talk was a last-minute concession; there was initially no speaking slot for the non-signatory groups (Major-General N’Ban La also chairs the UNFC).Hide Footnote

Representatives of nearly all armed groups attended, except the AA, TNLA, MNDAA and NSCN-Khaplang.[fn]The first three were not invited; the NSCN-Khaplang, though invited, had long made clear it would not attend, as it is committed to the creation of an independent Naga homeland out of parts of Myanmar and India, which is politically inconsistent with the NCA and the peace process.Hide Footnote  Some 850 attendees participated over the four days. In a move armed group representatives welcomed for its transparency, the 72 ten-minute speeches were carried live on national television, “the first time in more than 50 years that they [were] able to express their desires and pent up aspirations to a national audience without fear of being arrested and put in prison”.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, armed group representatives, Yangon, September 2016. Quote from “Political Monitor No. 20”, Euro-Burma Office, 20 August-2 September 2016.Hide Footnote

The attendance of most non-signatories was an important step forward. However, it does not necessarily indicate significantly greater trust in the new government on the part of armed group leaders. It more reflects the very different political landscape – in particular, the domestic and international legitimacy of Suu Kyi. Many armed group leaders felt they had little alternative but to participate, despite reservations or concerns; some came under pressure from China to attend (see below).[fn]Ibid.Hide Footnote  A prominent ethnic politician, Khun Tun Oo, who chairs the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy, did boycott on the basis that the conference was not fully inclusive of armed groups (though the decision was undoubtedly influenced by political tensions between his party and the NLD).[fn]Crisis Group interviews, armed group representatives and analysts, Yangon, September 2016. “Khun Tun Oo absent from peace talks”, Shan Herald Agency for News, 31 August 2016. For details on the tensions, see Crisis Group Report, Myanmar’s New Government, op. cit., Section III.C.Hide Footnote

Several groups felt the conference had been hastily convened, and there was considerable unhappiness at flawed arrangements. Armed group delegations were not met at the Naypyitaw airport and had to find their own way to their accommodation; delegations, including some senior leaders, were housed dormitory-style by the government; written documents and nameplates did not give military ranks of armed group representatives or other honorifics (failure to use the equivalent of “Mr” or “Ms” before a name is culturally very impolite in Myanmar). A major group, the UWSP, walked out after the first day, saying it felt discriminated against, though this was at least as much a reflection of its ambivalence about the NCA as it was over a specific issue; it had sent only a low-level delegation.[fn]The UWSP delegation had booked itself into a prominent hotel, rather than stay at the government-assigned accommodation. Since groups were not met at the airport, the delegation did not collect its conference passes, and on the opening day a government organiser arranged temporary “observer” badges so the delegation could attend the plenary. Since these were not valid for the following day session, when the UWSP was to give its presentation, security barred the delegation, which then walked out in protest before organisers could remedy the problem. Crisis Group interview, organising committee member, Yangon, September 2016.Hide Footnote  Some of these issues arose from the tight timeframe for convening the conference, but others appear to have been the deliberate result of the government’s approach to organising it.

IV. Huge Challenges Remain

The government has indicated that it plans to hold such Panglong-21 peace conferences every six months.[fn]“Union Peace Conference to be held every six months”, State Counsellor Office statement, 15 August 2016.Hide Footnote  This would impose an artificially rigid set of deadlines on a process that must achieve the buy-in of diverse stakeholders on very contentious issues. Challenges lie in the preliminary matters that must be settled before the next session, the content of future political discussions and the political and security context.

A. Preparations for the Next Conference

Achieving broad participation by armed groups at the recent conference hinged on three things:

  • Suu Kyi, who won an electoral landslide, including in many ethnic areas, and enjoys strong international support as well, has great political capital and legitimacy. Most armed group leaders accordingly felt politically compelled to attend, unlike in the past. This was reinforced by the military’s support for the conference and the clear convergence of views between the soldiers and government on the peace process. China’s backing was also critical. The combination gave Suu Kyi a large advantage over the previous government, which had military support but far less legitimacy and no backing – indeed, sometimes obstruction – from China. (It also amplified the power asymmetry between the government/military and the armed groups, making the latter nervous.)
     
  • Decisions on difficult issues were postponed until after the conference. In particular, discussions on a revised Framework for Political Dialogue continue, and there is not yet agreement on topics to be included and how a series of “national dialogues” to feed into the next Panglong-21 will be conducted. Non-signatory groups declined to attend a September framework review meeting.[fn]Crisis Group interview, UPDJC member, Yangon, September 2016.Hide Footnote
     
  • Perhaps most importantly, the requirement that armed groups must sign the NCA to participate was not enforced. This was possible because the conference was billed as a symbolic launch, without discussions or decisions. But it remains firm government policy and a red line for the military that armed groups wishing to participate in the political dialogue must first sign the NCA. This message was reinforced by Suu Kyi and Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing, who made the NCA a key focus of their opening speeches.[fn]Reproduced in Global New Light of Myanmar, 1 and 2 September 2016, respectively.Hide Footnote

The timeframe is extremely tight. The next conference is due in February and may be timed to coincide with the 70th anniversary on 12 February of the 1947 Panglong agreement, celebrated annually as Union Day. Before this, there is need for negotiations to secure signing of the NCA by non-signatories and agreement on a revised Framework for Political Dialogue (targeted for end of October), followed by national dialogues in each state and region. All these steps are difficult, time-consuming or both, particularly getting more groups to sign the NCA. The largest armed group, the UWSP, is very reluctant to sign, because it is a de facto mini-state with far more autonomy than anything the NCA offers. The closely-allied NDAA is likely to follow its lead.

The seven UNFC groups (see Appendix B), particularly the larger ones, desire to reach a political settlement on the grievances driving decades of conflict – fundamentally, lack of autonomy and equality. They recognise the current moment may be the best opportunity they will ever get, but exclusion of the AA, TNLA and MNDAA makes the NCA politically problematic for them and a ceasefire militarily unfeasible. They also have not yet been offered any concessions – not even of the face-saving kind – for signing,[fn]In particular, the UNFC has put forward an eight-point proposal for amending/supplementing the NCA. It will be very difficult for the government to accept any changes now that it is signed by the former president, commander-in-chief and legislative speakers, as well as eight armed groups, and been ratified by the legislature. Some of the specific proposals are also quite difficult, but a compromise must be found. See also, Sai Wansai, “Framework for Political Dialogue: UNFC’s boycott leads to peace process deterioration”, Shan Herald Agency for News, 21 September 2016.Hide Footnote  and will be reluctant to do so if the only reason is to gain access to a process they view as driven unilaterally by the government and insufficiently sensitive to their concerns. They worry that conforming to an artificial, government-imposed timeframe would set a precedent for unilateral imposition of any subsequent political solutions.

Some UNFC members may also want to delay major decisions until the KNU holds its congress in November.[fn]Crisis Group interview, senior armed group representative, Yangon, September 2016.Hide Footnote  If a more hardline leadership results, they believe it could pave the way for this influential armed group to rejoin the alliance, enhancing its power and bargaining position. However, if the UNFC tries to prolong the process too much, it risks being marginalised, for example not being eligible to participate in the national dialogues, thereby giving government and political parties a stronger role in defining the peace process agenda.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, armed group leaders, members of government peace bodies and analysts, Yangon, July-October 2016.Hide Footnote

The issue of the three groups, AA, TNLA and MNDAA, without bilateral ceasefires is even more difficult. Including them in the next conference requires, at a minimum, agreement on a statement renouncing violence in principle; even then, they could likely attend only as observers. Having declined that for the last conference, it is far from clear whether they will do so ahead of the next; the TNLA sent an open letter to Panglong-21 stating it would “never lay down arms or renounce arms, at any time or under any circumstance”.[fn]TNLA open letter to the Panglong-21 conference, 31 August 2016.Hide Footnote  This not only matters for inclusivity, but also has on-the-ground consequences. These groups are to various degrees allied with or supported by the UWSP and KIO, and they fight together in joint patrols and in some cases together with the KIO and SSPP. All operate in adjacent or overlapping territory, and it is hard to imagine any ceasefire being sustainable without the three non-ceasefire groups.[fn]See “Military confrontation or political dialogue: Consequences of the Kokang crisis for peace and democracy in Myanmar”, Transnational Institute, July 2015.Hide Footnote  

A huge amount of procedural work and negotiation is required before the next peace conference. In addition to the inherent challenges, the peace architecture has quite limited capacity. Lead negotiator Dr Tin Myo Win works extremely hard but has no chief of staff for the process and continues his medical work for Suu Kyi and as a surgeon at a philanthropic hospital. The NRPC, tasked with the day-to-day work, has only a handful of staff, compared with 120 under its predecessor. Because Suu Kyi decided to establish it as a fully government entity under her office (its predecessor was semi-independent, at least administratively), it must follow civil service staffing and budgeting regulations. Scaling up will take considerable time, and it will be difficult to draw on outside expertise.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, individuals with direct knowledge, Yangon, June-September 2016. The new multi-donor Joint Peace Fund is an initiative that can provide significant resources, but it cannot necessarily overcome the regulatory restrictions the NRPC operates under.Hide Footnote  There is thus a worrying lack of institutional capacity to support peace-process mechanics, and the armed groups also have little support capacity.

B. Questions of Content

Now that the peace process set out in the NCA has been launched symbolically on two occasions – the Union Peace Conference in January 2016 and Panglong-21 in August – the next conference will have to start addressing the substantive issues. Assuming that a revised Framework for Political Dialogue can be agreed and reasonable inclusivity of armed groups can be achieved through an expansion in NCA signatories, participants will then need to start grappling with the substance. All agree this will be very challenging, and it will likely be many years before a comprehensive peace agreement can be reached. Three key questions arise:

  • Is a negotiated federal solution possible? This is the main demand of armed groups and ethnic leaders, and Suu Kyi has strongly committed to achieving “the democratic federal union of our dreams”. The military is far more cautious. The commander-in-chief did not use the term “federal” in his opening speech at Panglong-21, emphasising “peace and unity” and that armed struggle is inconsistent with democracy. However, the military is not rejecting federalism; the commander-in-chief signed the NCA, whose first point is to “establish a union based on the principles of democracy and federalism”, and a senior military officer used the term at Panglong-21.[fn]Aung San Suu Kyi, opening speech, Panglong-21, Naypyitaw, 31 August 2016. NCA Section 1(a); speech of Lt. General Yar Pyae, JMC chair, at Panglong-21, reported in “21st Century Panglong commences in Nay Pyi Taw”, Global New Light of Myanmar, 1 September 2016.Hide Footnote  The potential deal is federalism in return for disarmament of armed groups. However, this will be complicated given the number of armed groups and their divergent interests, and the extent of federal powers that military and government are ready to devolve is not yet clear. There are also hundreds of armed militias, some of which have ethno-nationalist positions, but most are primarily economic actors.[fn]For details, see John Buchanan, “Militias in Myanmar”, The Asia Foundation, July 2016.Hide Footnote

  • Can the concerns of sub-minorities be accommodated? One of the more intractable issues is likely to be their status. Federalism has tended to be conceived, in geographic terms, as devolution of powers to the existing seven ethnic states.[fn]Chin, Kachin, Kayah, Kayin, Mon, Rakhine and Shan.Hide Footnote  This alarms smaller minority groups within these states, who fear that political domination at the state level will replace domination by Naypyitaw. This was already clear from the speeches at Panglong-21, where specific claims for new states were made by the Wa, Ta’ang and Pao (all currently having self-administered areas within Shan State) and the Red Shan (in Kachin State and Sagaing Region, where they have no territorial designation). Many other potential claims can be anticipated.[fn]See comments of Sai Htay Aung (Red Shan), Khun Myint Tun (Pao) and U Yan Kyaw (Wa), Global New Light of Myanmar, 3 September 2016; and TNLA open letter, op. cit., which specifically calls for creation of a Ta’ang (Palaung) State.Hide Footnote  Shan and Kachin political and armed group leaders in general oppose these proposals.
     
  • Will any negotiated solution be regarded as legitimate and be implemented? Even if a reasonably inclusive process can be achieved and consensus reached on the complex substantive issues, many constituencies may feel marginalised by the process. Minority ethnic representation is limited to those that have armed groups or political parties that won seats (in a recent change Suu Kyi initiated, those that did not win legislative seats in 2015 have only a token number at the peace conference and no UPDJC representation).[fn]See “Kayah political parties boycott Panglong Conference”, Myanmar Times, 22 August 2016.Hide Footnote  Many influential ethnic parties won nothing in the NLD landslide and will have a minimal voice in the process; some minority groups are not represented by an armed group; and questions can be asked about how representative armed groups are of communities in their areas.

There is a fundamental doubt about whether state-based federal solutions can appropriately be negotiated between armed groups and government, in particular when civil society voices, women and youth feel marginalised in the process.[fn]“CSOs pine for seat at table”, Myanmar Times, 26 August 2016; statement by Alliance for Gender Inclusion in the Peace Process on Panglong-21, September 2016; “No women, no peace: Gender equality, conflict and peace in Myanmar”, Transnational Institute, 13 January 2016; “Youth ethnic alliance emerges after summit”, Myanmar Times, 3 August 2016.Hide Footnote  That process should be adjusted to ensure that it has broader legitimacy. Even where representation has strong legitimacy – for example, the NLD government’s support from the majority Burman group (and many others) – the population at large has had little engagement with the peace process and may oppose solutions that devolve too much political authority and economic control to minority areas. Minority communities will not necessarily see the NLD as representing their interests, even if they voted for it, because that vote was in many ways a referendum on military rule, reflecting determination to vote out the military-backed party.[fn]For discussion of the election outcome in ethnic areas and its interpretation, see Crisis Group Briefing, The Myanmar Elections, op. cit., Section IV.C; and “The 2015 general election in Myanmar: What now for ethnic politics?”, Transnational Institute, December 2015.Hide Footnote

While Suu Kyi’s focus has been on federalism and security – she initially proposed that the political dialogue deal directly with only those issues – minority communities have many other concerns. These include rights and discrimination, revenue sharing, natural resource management and language policy.[fn]For detailed discussion, see Crisis Group Report, Myanmar: A New Peace Initiative, op. cit., Section IV.Hide Footnote  Whether these are dealt with up-front as potentially more tractable confidence-building measures or sidelined by more fundamental issues can have a big impact on the dynamics of the peace process. Overlooking them would likely be a mistake.

C. The Political and Security Environment

Since the peace process was launched in 2011, it has had to face significant external and domestic challenges. Serious armed conflict on the ground and China’s role have been particularly important and are to some degree interlinked.

The most significant outbreak of conflict in recent years was the collapse of the KIO ceasefire in 2011, the seeds of which were sown prior to the 2010 election. Fighting resumed ahead of the formal launch of the peace process in August 2011, and a serious escalation in December 2012 threatened to derail it, but China’s intervention, prompted in part by fighting spilling over its border, pushed the sides back to the negotiating table.[fn]See Crisis Group Asia Briefing N°140, A Tentative Peace in Myanmar’s Kachin Conflict, 12 June 2013.Hide Footnote  Another major test came in April 2014, when serious clashes displaced some 5,000 civilians and eroded the trust of all parties in the NCA negotiations. The crisis deepened in November 2014, when an army mortar attack on a military training centre at KIO headquarters almost caused the talks to collapse. Serious fighting in the Kokang Self-Administered Zone between government forces and the MNDAA from February 2015 hardened opposing positions of the military and several armed groups over inclusivity, part of the reason why a number of groups were unwilling to sign the NCA that year.[fn]Crisis Group Briefing, Myanmar’s Peace Process, op. cit., Section II.D.Hide Footnote

With a fragile peace holding in parts of the borderlands and clashes ongoing in many others (Section II.B above), the peace process is likely to continue to be buffeted. Rigid timelines for Panglong-21 conferences risk becoming an obvious target for spoilers and an unsatisfactory framework for adjusting to unpredictable but inevitable escalations in the conflict. The military may feel less constrained by the peace process than under the previous government; given the power asymmetries, it is likely to continue pressing its ground advantage, especially with NCA non-signatories and in particular if the peace process moves slowly or it feels that armed groups are being obstructive.

China’s influence can have a big impact on ground dynamics and the peace process, given its considerable leverage over the groups on its border. It has regularly intervened, positively and negatively. Relations with the Thein Sein administration were often strained, starting with suspension of the Myitsone dam project in 2011 and difficulties with the Letpadaung copper mine – both major China-backed projects – and long delays in announcing that a Chinese company had won the tender for the Kyaukpyu deep-sea port and special economic zone, a major Chinese strategic interest.[fn]See Yun Sun, “Aung San Suu Kyi’s visit to Beijing: Recalibrating Myanmar’s China policy”, Transnational Institute, 16 August 2016.Hide Footnote  Myanmar’s markedly improved relations with the U.S. intensified China’s angst that it had lost its “traditional advantage”.[fn]“China’s engagement in Myanmar: From Malacca Dilemma to Transition Dilemma”, Transnational Institute, July 2016.Hide Footnote  The poor relations, combined with specific irritants such as Myanmar’s intrusion into Chinese airspace in 2015 to attack the MNDAA, a flood of refugees into China and Naypyitaw’s invitation to Japan and the West to become involved in the peace process, produced a negative stance toward the NCA, to the point that persistent allegations emerged that China was lobbying armed groups in 2015 not to sign.[fn]China has denied the allegations, which were made publicly by a member of the Myanmar Peace Centre and subsequently retracted, and privately to Crisis Group and others by a wide range of people connected to the peace process. Whether true or not, it is clear from talk with armed groups leaders at the time that there was no Chinese pressure to sign the NCA and massive private financial support from China that the authorities must have been aware of. See “Fraud probe alleges Chinese firm sent money to Myanmar insurgents”, Frontier Myanmar, 3 February 2016.Hide Footnote  

The situation has shifted significantly under the new government. China feels Suu Kyi gives more priority to the bilateral relationship, and it supports her peace overtures. At the July summit of armed group leaders hosted by the KIO, the Chinese special envoy publicly called on all groups to attend Panglong-21, and Beijing successfully put considerable pressure on several to do so. China has also given several million dollars to fund the JMC but remains uncertain about the trajectory of relations, the chances for success in the peace process and how many years that would take; it is thus likely to continue to balance support for Naypyitaw and maintaining ties with armed groups along its border.[fn]Yun Sun, “Aung San Suu Kyi visit to Beijing”, op. cit. Crisis Group interview, Myanmar expert on China, Yangon, September 2016.Hide Footnote

V. Conclusion

The Panglong-21 conference encapsulated both the significant advantages Suu Kyi has for forging peace and the enormous challenges she must surmount. The broad attendance of armed groups gives hope of a more inclusive, successful peace process, but it would be a mistake to think that the fundamental problems have become easier to solve. It will take difficult negotiations to convince most groups to sign the NCA, a sine qua non the government and military have each expressed. The announced scheduling of Panglong-21 conferences every six months artificially limits the flexibility required to secure signatures. Weak capacity in the government’s NRPC peace secretariat makes the job more difficult.

The government should consider adopting a less rigid timeframe and less unilateral approach and take steps to ensure it has the necessary support capacity in place. Armed groups need to recognise that, though they have legitimate concerns about the process, they may never get a better chance to negotiate a settlement. Aung San Suu Kyi has expressed firm support for a federal, democratic solution and has the political authority to deliver. Now is the time to start discussing the contours of that deal, rather than continuing to focus on preliminaries.

Yangon/Brussels, 19 October 2016

Appendix A: Map of Myanmar

Map of Myanmar. CRISIS GROUP

Appendix B: The Main Ethnic Armed Groups and their Ceasefire Status

  1. United Wa State Party (UWSP)
    Bilateral ceasefire: 6 September 2011. NCA-signatory: No
     
  2. National Democratic Alliance Army (NDAA, “Mongla group”)
    Bilateral ceasefire: 7 September 2011. NCA-signatory: No
     
  3. Democratic Kayin Benevolent Army (DKBA)
    Bilateral ceasefire: 3 November 2011. NCA-signatory: Yes
     
  4. Restoration Council of Shan State/Shan State Army-South (RCSS/SSA-South)
    Bilateral ceasefire: 2 December 2011. NCA-signatory: Yes
     
  5. Chin National Front (CNF)  
    Bilateral ceasefire: 6 January 2012. NCA-signatory: Yes
     
  6. Karen National Union (KNU)
    Bilateral ceasefire: 12 January 2012. NCA-signatory: Yes
     
  7. Shan State Progress Party/Shan State Army-North (SSPP/SSA-North)
    Bilateral ceasefire: 28 January 2012. NCA-signatory: No
     
  8. New Mon State Party (NMSP)
    Bilateral ceasefire: 1 February 2012. NCA-signatory: No
     
  9. Karen National Liberation Army Peace Council
    Bilateral ceasefire: 7 February 2012. NCA-signatory: Yes
     
  10. Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP)
    Bilateral ceasefire: 7 March 2012. NCA-signatory: No
     
  11. Arakan Liberation Party (ALP)
    Bilateral ceasefire: 5 April 2012. NCA-signatory: Yes
     
  12. National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Khaplang
    Bilateral ceasefire: 9 April 2012. NCA-signatory: No
     
  13. Pao National Liberation Organisation (PNLO)
    Bilateral ceasefire: 25 August 2012. NCA-signatory: Yes
     
  14. All Burma Students Democratic Front (ABSDF)
    Bilateral ceasefire: 5 August 2013. NCA-signatory: Yes
     
  15. Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO)
    Bilateral ceasefire: (30 May 2012)*. NCA-signatory: No
     
  16. Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA)
    Bilateral ceasefire: No. NCA-signatory: No
     
  17. Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA, “Kokang group”)         
    Bilateral ceasefire: No†. NCA-signatory: No
     
  18. Arakan Army (AA)
    Bilateral ceasefire: No. NCA-signatory: No

* An agreement was signed on 30 May 2012. It was not a formal ceasefire, but contained inter alia a commitment to “efforts to achieve de-escalation and cessation of hostilities”.

† The MNDAA’s 1989 ceasefire ended after an army attack in 2009, with one faction being routed (and its leaders fleeing to China) and the other agreeing to become a Border Guard Force unit under partial army control. The routed faction subsequently reactivated, with support from other groups.

The United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC) is an armed group umbrella organisation, whose seven members have not signed the NCA: SSPP/SSA-North, NMSP, KNPP, KIO, Lahu Democratic Union, Arakan National Council, Wa National Organisation. The last three do not have significant armed forces, so have not been directly included in the ceasefire process.

Appendix C: List of Acronyms

AA: Arakan Army

ABSDF: All Burma Students Democratic Front

ALP: Arakan Liberation Party

CNF: Chin National Front

DKBA: Democratic Kayin Benevolent Army, Democratic Kayin Buddhist Army

JMC: Joint Monitoring Committee

KIO: Kachin Independence Organisation

KNPP: Karenni National Progressive Party

KNU: Karen National Union

MNDAA: Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (Kokang)

NCA: Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement

NDAA: National Democratic Alliance Army (“Mongla group”)

NMSP: New Mon State Party

NRPC: National Reconciliation and Peace Centre

NSCN-Khaplang: National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Khaplang

PNLO: Pao National Liberation Organisation

RCSS: Restoration Council of Shan State

SSA-North: Shan State Army-North

SSA-South: Shan State Army-South

SSPP: Shan State Progress Party

TNLA: Ta’ang National Liberation Army

UNFC : United Nationalities Federal Council

UPDJC: Union Peace Dialogue Joint Committee

UWSP: United Wa State Party

Armed government troops cross a bomb damaged bridge outside the compound of the Gote Twin police station in Shan State on August 15, 2019, after it was attacked by ethnic rebel groups. AFP/STR
Briefing 158 / Asia

Myanmar: A Violent Push to Shake Up Ceasefire Negotiations

A trio of ethnic armed groups have escalated their fight with the military in Myanmar’s Shan State. This alliance has long been outside the country’s peace process. With China’s help, the government should pursue bilateral ceasefires – and longer-term rapprochement – with the three organisations.

What’s new? On 15 August, an alliance of ethnic armed groups staged coordinated attacks against strategic targets in northern Myanmar. The offensive left up to fifteen people dead, and clashes reportedly continue in the northern part of Shan State, creating concerns for civilians’ safety.

Why did it happen? The three ethnic armed groups behind the attacks have been largely excluded from the peace process for the past five years. In recent months, the government has proposed bilateral ceasefires to the groups but has set unrealistic demands and accompanied the offers with military pressure.

Why does it matter? The attacks mark a serious escalation in Shan State’s conflict. They represent a rejection of bilateral ceasefire terms that the Myanmar government has proposed to the armed groups. While the Myanmar military has not yet responded with significant force, the brunt of mounting violence will inevitably fall on civilians.

What should be done? Both the Myanmar military and the armed groups should exercise restraint, allow humanitarian agencies to safely provide assistance and pursue ceasefire talks. The military and government should review their earlier ceasefire proposal, while China should continue to use its influence in Myanmar to encourage an end to the fighting.

I. Overview

On 15 August, a trio of ethnic armed groups calling themselves the Brotherhood Alliance staged coordinated attacks on targets in Myanmar’s Mandalay Region and Shan State, killing up to fifteen people, mostly soldiers and police officers. Clashes have recurred daily across northern Shan State since then, resulting in combatant deaths on both sides as well as civilian fatalities. The alliance – comprising the Arakan Army (AA), Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) and Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) – said it mounted the attacks in response to military aggression in both Rakhine and northern Shan States. The three groups had been negotiating bilateral ceasefires with the government that would have brought them into the broader peace process for the first time. However, unrealistic demands from Naypyitaw have undermined those negotiations, and the attacks represent a rejection of the government’s proposed terms. The government and military should moderate those terms, notably by abandoning their insistence that the groups give up territory they have acquired over the past five years.

The attacks on 15 August hit a Myanmar military training academy, a bridge and police outpost on an important highway, a military battalion and a narcotics control checkpoint. Myanmar’s military has alleged that they were payback for a recent raid on a drug production lab in northern Shan State. It says the key target was a narcotics control unit situated on the main highway running from Mandalay, Myanmar’s second largest city, to the border with China.

In truth, the attacks reflect longstanding tension over the status of Brotherhood Alliance members within Myanmar’s national peace process. Only signatories to the nationwide ceasefire agreement introduced in 2015 can take part in political negotiations with the government aimed at ending Myanmar’s civil conflicts. For most of the past five years, the Myanmar military (and, to a lesser extent, the civilian government) have excluded the three groups from this process, by setting stringent preconditions for talks toward signing the nationwide ceasefire.

More recently, the military and government have shifted their position, opening negotiations with each group aimed at individual bilateral ceasefires (they have also adopted this approach with a fourth ethnic armed group that does not have an existing bilateral ceasefire, the Kachin Independence Organisation). The bilateral negotiations, supported by neighbouring China, commenced in December 2018, when the three groups issued a statement pledging to stop “military actions” and expressing a desire for dialogue. The Myanmar military responded by announcing a unilateral ceasefire. Progress toward bilateral ceasefires had stalled in recent months, however. The government’s peace team put forward terms that were unfavourable to the insurgents – notably, a demand that they give up territory – while the Myanmar military continued to exert pressure on them in Rakhine and Shan States. Increasingly, the ethnic armed groups view both the unilateral ceasefire and the bilateral ceasefire negotiations as ploys to allow Naypyitaw to gain the upper hand rather than a genuine attempt to end the conflict.

An immediate goal of the attacks appears to have been to relieve pressure on AA forces in Rakhine State – an area not covered by the military’s unilateral ceasefire and that has seen significant fighting since January 2019 – by forcing the Myanmar military to shift forces to northern Shan State. But the Brotherhood Alliance members’ broader objective is to compel the Myanmar military and government to accept ceasefire terms that grant the groups political recognition, cement their territorial gains and potentially give them access to new economic opportunities. Toward these ends, the attacks appear aimed at forcing stronger intervention from China on the groups’ behalf.

Contrary to most expectations, the military has also extended its unilateral ceasefire from 31 August to 21 September.

Myanmar’s military has not retaliated in the heavy-handed way many observers expected, given the attacks’ provocative nature. Instead, it has focused on securing key infrastructure and reopening the highway to the border with China. Contrary to most expectations, the military has also extended its unilateral ceasefire from 31 August to 21 September. The government negotiating team has moved quickly to resume talks with the groups, with meetings held on 31 August and 17 September. On 9 September, the Brotherhood Alliance announced a one-month ceasefire but also warned that it would retaliate if attacked. China, which wields strong influence in the border areas and over some of the groups, has also been encouraging dialogue and de-escalation.

The Myanmar military could still decide to strike back, however. A counteroffensive would have dire consequences for the area’s civilian population, particularly ethnic Ta’ang (also referred to as Palaung), whom government forces suspect of providing support to the TNLA. Myanmar’s military and, to a lesser extent, the three ethnic armed groups have a history of human rights violations. Already, there are reports of indiscriminate shelling and mortar fire, as well as attacks on local aid groups’ vehicles and civilian cars and trucks on the highway. Thousands of residents have fled their homes, some pre-emptively out of fear of being targeted by forces on either side. Humanitarian access, which is already constrained, is likely to become more difficult.

Further clashes can and should be avoided. The Myanmar military’s extension of its unilateral ceasefire and the Brotherhood Alliance’s announcement of its own unilateral ceasefire are welcome steps. Both sides should continue to exercise restraint and also pursue negotiations aimed at reaching a bilateral ceasefire. Beyond that, the following steps could reduce civilian harm, reduce the likelihood of further violence and improve prospects for progress in the peace process:

  • All sides should allow humanitarian aid to reach those in need and ensure aid workers are not targeted or unnecessarily put at risk.
     
  • Naypyitaw should drop its insistence that the three groups return to their places of origin and abandon territorial gains. This demand is unrealistic and will hinder progress on bilateral ceasefires. The three groups’ inclusion in the peace process will be essential for future stability, if not progress toward a comprehensive peace settlement between Naypyitaw and Myanmar’s ethnic armed groups.
     
  • To enhance prospects for bilateral ceasefires, the military should broaden its unilateral ceasefire to Rakhine State and lengthen the time horizon.
     
  • China should also use its significant influence over both sides to encourage an end to the fighting.

II. New Targets, New Objective

In the early hours of 15 August, hundreds of Brotherhood Alliance fighters – predominantly TNLA soldiers – staged coordinated attacks on targets in Pyin Oo Lwin township, Mandalay Region and Naunghkio township, in northern Shan State.[fn]The Brotherhood Alliance should not be confused with the Northern Alliance, which comprises the AA, TNLA and MNDAA, but also the northern Shan State brigades of the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO). The formation of the Northern Alliance was announced in November 2016 prior to the groups staging a major attack in northern Shan State close to the border with China. The Brotherhood Alliance does not include the KIO.Hide Footnote  Targets included a battalion headquarters in Naunghkio; Pyin Oo Lwin’s Defence Services Technological Academy, which was hit by three 107mm rockets; a narcotics control checkpoint; the Goktwin bridge and a neighbouring police outpost on the Mandalay-Muse highway; and a military battalion.[fn]“Myanmar insurgents attack elite military college, other targets; 15 killed”, Reuters, 15 August 2019.Hide Footnote  On 17 August, insurgents destroyed three more bridges on the route from Hseni to the border at Chinshwehaw, in Shan State’s Kokang region.[fn]One bridge between Hseni and Chinshwehaw was destroyed again, just days after the government opened a temporary replacement.Hide Footnote

The attacks, which were successful partly because the targets were lightly guarded, have exacted a high economic toll.[fn]Crisis Group interview, security analyst, Yangon, August 2019.Hide Footnote  Though subsequent attempts to destroy bridges or attack battalions were less effective, and the assailants incurred significant casualties, the infrastructure damage and instability created have halted trade at two important border crossings, Muse and Chinshwehaw. Goods worth billions of dollars – mainly Myanmar’s agricultural products – pass through these points each year.[fn]Ministry of Commerce figures show that bilateral trade through Muse, the country’s busiest border crossing, is worth around $6 billion a year, of which approximately 70 per cent is exports to China. Chinshwehaw is Myanmar’s third biggest licit trade point by value and sees commercial exchange worth around $600 million annually, of which about 90 per cent is exports to China.Hide Footnote

A significant attack was not unexpected. The groups had warned Myanmar’s military as far back as April 2019 to halt offensives in Rakhine State against the AA or face joint military action. On 12 August, they repeated the threat and announced the creation of the Brotherhood Alliance, which they seem to have formed for the purpose of carrying out the attack three days later.[fn]“Why war will never end in Myanmar”, Asia Times, 20 August 2019.Hide Footnote  Not only did the three groups perceive a need to relieve pressure on the AA in Rakhine, but tensions between them and the government had been rising for some time due to negotiations over proposed ceasefire terms. For background on the three groups, see Appendix A.

Despite the military’s unilateral ceasefire, an increasing number of clashes had been reported in June and July.

The alliance had accused the military of putting forward an unrealistic proposal and, at the same time, trying to push back their forces so as to strengthen its negotiating position. Despite the military’s unilateral ceasefire, an increasing number of clashes had been reported in June and July, which the insurgents said were the result of military offensives aimed at dislodging them from areas in northern Shan State.[fn]Crisis Group interview, security analyst, Yangon, August 2019. See also, “Ethnic conflict escalation: NA-B raids in Pyin Oo Lwin and Nawngkhio”, BNI, 21 August 2019.Hide Footnote  More broadly, the three groups’ exclusion from Myanmar’s peace process has been a recurring source of conflict for much of the past five years, encouraging them to strengthen their forces and stage ever more dramatic attacks against targets in Shan and Rakhine States.[fn]For a detailed discussion, see Crisis Group Asia Briefing N°149, Myanmar’s Peace Process: Getting to a Political Dialogue, 19 October 2016, pp. 7-10.Hide Footnote

The attacks were notable for their apparent intent as much as their scale and impact. Though they bore similarities to the November 2016 offensive in northern Shan State (both targeted infrastructure and brought overland trade with China to a halt), this time the Brotherhood Alliance did not appear to be trying to acquire territory. This distinction also sets the latest attack apart from other notable offensives, such as in the Kokang region in February 2015 and in Rakhine State since January 2019.[fn]For full details of the November 2016 attack, see Crisis Group Asia Report N°287, Building Critical Mass for Peace in Myanmar, 29 June 2017, pp. 5-6.Hide Footnote Instead, the intention appears to have been to inflict the maximum economic, strategic and psychological damage on government security forces with the minimum use of force.[fn]Crisis Group interview, security analyst, Yangon, August 2019.

The attacks were also deliberately provocative. The firing of rockets at the military academy in Pyin Oo Lwin – a garrison town on the edge of the Shan plateau, not far from Mandalay, Myanmar’s second-largest city – is the closest that fighting has come to lowland Myanmar in many years. That the rockets hit the academy, killing one civilian and wounding a soldier, was surely a source of considerable embarrassment for the military.

The Tatmadaw, as the Myanmar army is called, has alleged that the attacks were revenge for a raid on drug production facilities in northern Shan State’s Kutkai.[fn]According to the Commander-in-Chief’s Office, police seized 750kg of crystal methamphetamine (or “ice”) along with 9,000 of the methamphetamine pills containing caffeine that are known as yaba. See, for example, “Drug lab raids in Myanmar’s meth capital met with artillery fire”, Frontier Myanmar, 1 August 2019.Hide Footnote  It claims that the key target was the narcotics control checkpoint, where soldiers were using drug detection equipment purchased from abroad.[fn]See, for example, “The death toll from Northern Alliance attack reaches 15”, Mizzima, 16 August 2019.Hide Footnote  These allegations should be treated with caution, however. While the armed groups, particularly the AA, almost certainly have some connection to – indeed, may even be heavily involved in – the drug trade, the area in which the raids took place is also home to pro-government militias with long histories of drug production, against whom the military has rarely taken action.[fn]See Crisis Group Asia Report N°299, Fire and Ice: Conflict and Drugs in Myanmar’s Shan State, 8 January 2019, pp. 6-11.Hide Footnote  The military has put forward no solid evidence that would implicate any of the Brotherhood Alliance members in drug production at the raided factories, and the attacks would have been planned well in advance of the raids. Linking the attacks to the narcotics trade also serves the military’s interest in denigrating ethnic insurgents as criminals.

The Brotherhood Alliance is capable of inflicting significant damage, even in appar-ently peaceful areas of the country.

The Brotherhood Alliance most likely aimed this message not only at the Myanmar government and military but also at China, which is a significant stakeholder in the peace process. The attacks occurred along a corridor where Beijing plans to build roads and railways, as well as border trade zones, as part of its Belt and Road Initiative. In May 2019, China Railway Eryuan Engineering submitted a technical report to the Myanmar government for the $9 billion project following a ground survey started in December 2018.[fn]“Initial technical report on Muse-Mandalay railway project submitted”, The Myanmar Times, 29 May 2019.Hide Footnote  Both Muse and Chinshwehaw are to host economic cooperation zones, with ground surveys already completed and a draft framework agreement nearing completion.[fn]The permanent secretary of Myanmar’s Ministry of Construction told a journalist just before the attack that the government would soon send a draft framework agreement back to Chinese authorities. “Myanmar set to ink pact with China on border cooperation zones”, The Irrawaddy, 15 August 2019.Hide Footnote  By closing highways and halting trade, the attacks have caused significant economic damage and underlined risks to Chinese ambitions. The three groups appear to be trying to force Beijing to take a more active role in the peace process in the hope that this will tilt negotiations in their favour.[fn]Crisis Group interview, Yangon-based diplomat, August 2019.Hide Footnote

Despite the impact of the 15 August attacks, the immediate response from the Myanmar military has been subdued. The military has shifted some forces to northern Shan State to reinforce those already on the ground, but it has not yet committed large numbers of troops. There has been no sign of a major counteroffensive or counter-insurgency operation, and when military forces have repelled subsequent attacks they have not pursued retreating Brotherhood Alliance fighters. Instead, the military has concentrated on reopening the roads, particularly the Mandalay-Muse highway.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, security analyst and Peace Commission member, Yangon, August 2019.Hide Footnote  Though a senior Myanmar military official described the attacks as “terrorism” and “a war crime”, he also underlined that the military was prepared to engage in peace talks.[fn]

“Myanmar army warns of full-blown war in Shan, deploys aircraft in Rakhine”, Radio Free Asia, 23 August 2019.
 

Hide Footnote  On 31 August, the military extended its unilateral ceasefire for a further three weeks.[fn]“Myanmar military extends non-operation period against armed groups”, Xinhua, 31 August 2019.Hide Footnote

The lack of a counteroffensive may be a delaying tactic rather than a conciliatory gesture, however. The three-week extension could serve as a window for the military to prepare for a major retaliation. Some analysts also speculate that the military may be waiting to see whether the insurgents are planning further attacks before committing forces.[fn]“TNLA, MNDAA and AA Launch Coordinated Attacks, Conflict Likely to Escalate”, Myanmar Institute for Peace and Security, 24 August 2019.Hide Footnote

At least 7,000 people have been forced to flee their homes since 15 August.

The fighting has inflicted a heavy toll on the local population, particularly around the town of Kutkai. At least 7,000 people have been forced to flee their homes since 15 August, and while many have returned, the situation remains fluid, with new displacement on a near-daily basis.[fn]“Weekly Regional Humanitarian Snapshot”, UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, 26 August 2019.Hide Footnote  It is unclear how many civilians have been killed or injured, but at least one died in a mortar attack on 18 August, while five were killed by artillery fire near Kutkai on 31 August.[fn]“Five Myanmar civilians including toddler killed by mortars in Shan State as peace talks held”, The Irrawaddy, 31 August 2019.Hide Footnote Humanitarian workers have not been spared: on 17 August, the leader of a Lashio-based volunteer group was killed when his vehicle, though marked as an ambulance, was hit by RPG and sniper fire attributed to the Brotherhood Alliance.[fn]“One killed, 4 hurt as rescue team hit by RPG, sniper in Myanmar's Shan State”, The Irrawaddy, 17 August 2019.Hide Footnote

III. Unfinished Business

For the past five years, the status of the AA, TNLA and MNDAA has been a key – if not the most important – fault line in Myanmar’s peace process. For most of that time, the Myanmar military and government have sought to isolate the groups and, at times, exclude them from the national peace process, including the nationwide ceasefire agreement.[fn]The AA and TNLA are the only major armed groups in Myanmar that have never had a bilateral ceasefire with the military or government. The MNDAA and KIO previously had bilateral ceasefires that are no longer in effect. As a result, the four groups must first reach a bilateral agreement before they can sign the nationwide ceasefire agreement or take part in political dialogue through the Panglong-21 peace conference.Hide Footnote  Naypyitaw has chosen this course mainly because the three groups are fairly new. Though they have links to earlier armed groups, the AA and TNLA formed under the aegis of the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO) in the late 2000s and were intended as proxy forces.[fn]See “Burma’s Northern Shan State and Prospects for Peace”, U.S. Institute for Peace, September 2017.Hide Footnote  The Myanmar authorities’ concern was that acknowledging the groups – and any territory they had acquired – would only encourage more ethnic armies to form. At the same time, the authorities have allowed groups with almost no armed forces, such as the Arakan Liberation Party and Pa-Oh National Liberation Organization, to sign the nationwide ceasefire agreement and participate in dialogue aimed at ending Myanmar’s conflicts.

Both the AA and TNLA have responded to this exclusion by strengthening their forces and expanding their territory so that they essentially become too significant and dangerous to ignore. Attention-grabbing attacks such as those that commenced on 15 August are important for demonstrating this capability. As one Yangon-based diplomat observed, “The AA was told back in 2014 that it was too small [to sign the nationwide ceasefire]. The Tatmadaw is essentially reaping what it has sown by shutting people out of the peace process”.[fn]Crisis Group interview, Yangon-based diplomat, August 2019.Hide Footnote

The military labelled the three groups “terrorists” and refused to negotiate with them.

Though the MNDAA has a longer history, it suffered defeat at the Myanmar military’s hands in 2009 and only re-emerged in 2015.[fn]See “Military Confrontation or Political Dialogue: Consequences of the Kokang Crisis for Peace and Democracy in Myanmar”, Transnational Institute, July 2015.Hide Footnote  From February of that year it led efforts (with the support of the AA and TNLA) to retake control of the Kokang region in northern Shan State. These were mostly unsuccessful, but the fighting led to heavy casualties within the Myanmar military and strained Myanmar’s relationship with China. Following the Kokang campaign, the military labelled the three groups “terrorists” and refused to negotiate with them.

As a result, the peace process splintered. Eight armed groups based along the border with Thailand signed the nationwide ceasefire in October 2015, and, in the following year, they began political negotiations with the government and military through the Panglong-21 peace conference. But armed groups based in northern Myanmar, such as the powerful United Wa State Army (UWSA), refused to sign a nationwide ceasefire agreement, ostensibly because the AA, TNLA and MNDAA had been excluded.[fn]Ibid.Hide Footnote

In April 2017, seven groups that had not signed the nationwide ceasefire formed the Federal Political Negotiation and Consultative Committee (FPNCC).[fn]For a full discussion on the FPNCC’s formation, see Crisis Group Report, Building Critical Mass for Peace in Myanmar, op. cit.Hide Footnote  Led by the UWSA, this coalition includes organisations that have bilateral ceasefires but have chosen not to sign the nationwide ceasefire, as well as those without bilateral ceasefires, such as the KIO and members of the Brotherhood Alliance. This new body initially rejected the nationwide ceasefire agreement outright, but it has since said that its members will consider signing once the AA, TNLA, MNDAA and KIO have reached bilateral ceasefires with the government, and are therefore eligible to consider signing the nationwide accord.

Over time, political and military realities, including China’s influence over the peace process, have forced the Myanmar military and government to review their position toward the three groups. In the second half of 2018, Beijing began brokering informal meetings between them and the government’s Peace Commission. These resulted in the trio issuing a statement in December pledging to stop “military actions” and expressing a desire for negotiations.[fn]“Three armed groups offer to stop fighting, enter peace talks”, The Irrawaddy, 13 December 2018.Hide Footnote

Bilateral ceasefires are a step toward the groups signing the nationwide ceasefire agreement, which is a prerequisite for participation in political dialogue.

The Myanmar military responded on 21 December by declaring a unilateral ceasefire in Kachin and Shan States to last until 30 April 2019. The ceasefire was severely tested just two weeks later, when the AA staged coordinated attacks on police outposts in northern Rakhine State on 4 January, leaving thirteen officers dead and prompting heavy fighting.[fn]See Crisis Group Asia Briefing N°154, A New Dimension of Violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine State, 24 January 2019.Hide Footnote  But the Myanmar military and government have continued to pursue talks with the Brotherhood Alliance’s three members, along with the KIO. The military extended its unilateral ceasefire to 30 June, then again to 31 August and now a third time to 21 September.

For the government and military, bilateral ceasefires are a step toward the groups signing the nationwide ceasefire agreement, which is a prerequisite for participation in political dialogue aimed at reaching a comprehensive peace agreement that would end Myanmar’s conflicts. For the Brotherhood Alliance, bilateral ceasefires are more a means of securing political recognition, cementing territorial gains and potentially getting access to new economic opportunities.

The terms of proposed bilateral ceasefires with the Brotherhood Alliance members have been a sticking point, however. The groups put forward proposals at talks in Muse on 30 April, pushing for a formal role for China. Two months later, at a meeting in Mong La in eastern Shan State, the government’s peace team responded with its draft, which had essentially come from the military. This version removed the Chinese role and also required the groups to return to their so-called places of origin – meaning that the AA would have to leave Rakhine State and return to areas controlled by the KIO, while the TNLA and AA would also have to give up significant territory.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, Peace Commission member and source close to ethnic armed groups, August and September 2019. See also “Military’s draft peace deal demands retreat of Northern Alliance troops”, The Irrawaddy, 1 July 2019.Hide Footnote

Crisis Group interviews, Peace Commission member and source close to ethnic armed groups, August and September 2019. See also “Military’s draft peace deal demands retreat of Northern Alliance troops”, The Irrawaddy, 1 July 2019.
 

Hide Footnote  For all three, but particularly the AA, these demands are non-starters, and came at a time when they were facing military pressure in both Rakhine and northern Shan States. “If the Brotherhood Alliance doesn’t see a clear path forward for negotiations and there is also military pressure, they have to focus on the military necessity”, commented one source close to the groups.[fn]Crisis Group interview, source close to ethnic armed groups, August 2019.Hide Footnote

Following the August attacks, the government’s National Reconciliation and Peace Centre moved quickly to arrange a meeting in Kengtung, eastern Shan State, with the three groups and the KIO. The talks focused on ending the recent fighting and resuming progress toward a bilateral agreement. Significantly, they agreed to hold talks with the military on “deployment of forces, and rules and procedures to prevent outbreak of fighting”.[fn]“Joint communiqué of the National Reconciliation and Peace Centre (NRPC) and KIO, Palaung State Liberation Front (PSLF), Myanmar National Truth and Justice Party (MNTJP), United League of Arakan (ULA) representatives”, 31 August 2019.Hide Footnote  As a confidence-building measure, the Brotherhood Alliance also announced a one-month unilateral ceasefire on 9 September, but at the same time warned that they would defend themselves if attacked, including with artillery or from the air by plane or helicopter.[fn]“Brotherhood Alliance one-month unilateral ceasefire announcement”, 9 September 2019.Hide Footnote

A second meeting took place on 17 September in Kengtung, this time with senior military officers and the attorney general present. Again there was no breakthrough, but the presence of the Myanmar military meant the two sides were at least able to discuss issues such as troop deployments. They have agreed to meet again, most likely in October, and the military is expected to extend its unilateral ceasefire for about another month.[fn]Crisis Group interview, Peace Commission member, September 2019.Hide Footnote

Further progress will likely require the military and government to propose revised ceasefire terms.

These immediate efforts at dialogue are positive, but further progress will likely require the military and government to propose revised ceasefire terms. The alternatives are unpalatable: leave the groups out of the peace process, running the risk of further conflict; or seek a military victory, which would be devastating for local populations and stretch military resources. Both options would almost certainly hinder economic development, including China-backed mega-projects, in northern Shan State.

China has responded quickly to the attacks and may have used its influence to avoid a significant escalation. On 19 August, its foreign ministry “strongly condemned” the strikes and said it would continue to support the peace process in a “positive way”. The following day, its special envoy for Asian affairs, Sun Guoxiang, met representatives from the three armed groups, urging them to halt attacks and meet the government for fresh talks. Though the meeting took place on 31 August, China has been unable or unwilling to bring fighting to a complete halt. It is wary of becoming involved beyond its current mediator role and risking being perceived as taking sides in the conflict.[fn]Crisis Group interview, China analyst, September 2019.Hide Footnote

The KIO neither took part in the August attacks nor gave them its official endorsement. Previously, the KIO’s northern Shan brigades were part of the Northern Alliance, a bloc that included the AA, TNLA and MNDAA and staged the offensive in northern Shan State in November 2016. In contrast, it has not joined the new Brotherhood Alliance and did not commit troops to the attacks launched on 15 August. After eight years of warfare, the KIO is less eager to fight than the other three groups. It also has complaints about the bilateral ceasefire proposal put forward by the government but, unlike the three groups in the Brotherhood Alliance, would not have to give up territory. With its status within the peace process assured, the KIO also has different political goals; in particular, it wants to make progress on the return or resettlement of almost 100,000 internally displaced persons in Kachin State.[fn]Crisis Group interview, Peace Commission member, August 2019. For a detailed discussion, see Crisis Group Asia Briefing N°156, An Opening for Internally Displaced Person Returns in Northern Myanmar, 22 May 2019.Hide Footnote

IV. Conclusion

The attacks launched on 15 August in northern Shan State were unusual in their boldness but should not have come as a surprise, given rising tensions over ceasefire negotiations and recent Myanmar military pressure. The Brotherhood Alliance’s objectives were to underline its ability to strike at key economic infrastructure, to shift pressure off AA forces in Rakhine State and to reset bilateral ceasefire talks. The Myanmar military’s response has so far been subdued. But there is no guarantee that its restraint will continue; a major counteroffensive is still possible. The willingness of both sides to engage in dialogue is promising, but given recent disagreements, a fundamental rethink of negotiations will be required to improve prospects for bilateral ceasefires.

As long as the three groups remain outside the peace process, prospects for an end to Myanmar’s conflicts remain dim.

As long as the three groups remain outside the peace process, prospects for an end to Myanmar’s conflicts remain dim. Their status has been the pivotal issue in the process for the past five years, causing fragmentation among Myanmar’s ethnic armed groups that has undermined efforts at dialogue. Bilateral ceasefires that bring the three insurgent groups into the peace process would be an important step forward, if only because it would mean an immediate end to fighting in large parts of Rakhine and Shan States. The insistence that the groups give up territorial gains is unrealistic, however, particularly for the AA, and Naypyitaw should abandon it. If the 15 August attacks represent a rejection of this current ceasefire proposal, they are also a push for the status enjoyed by most of Myanmar’s other armed groups – many of which have far less military capacity and public support. Such recognition seems inevitable both for the parties to reach bilateral ceasefires and for the peace process to be able to move forward with credibility and legitimacy.

In the meantime, both sides should adhere to their respective unilateral ceasefires and refrain from further attacks, particularly those that might put civilians at risk. They must also allow aid to reach those in need and ensure that aid workers are not targeted or put at unnecessary risk. To give renewed impetus to bilateral ceasefire negotiations, the military should broaden its unilateral ceasefire to Rakhine State and lengthen the time horizon. Given its significant influence over both parties, China is well placed to encourage an end to the fighting and renewed dialogue.

Yangon/Brussels, 24 September 2019

Appendix A: Who’s Who in the Brotherhood Alliance

The Arakan Army (AA) was formed in 2009 under the patronage of the Kachin Independence Organisation at its headquarters on the China border in Laiza. The group emerged as a serious force from 2015, when it began participating in attacks in Shan State together with the Ta’ang National Liberation Army, Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army and Kachin Independence Organisation. Around this time, its fighters also began to infiltrate into southern Chin State, close to the border with Rakhine State. In January 2019, it launched major attacks in Rakhine State and has been engaged in heavy fighting with the military there for the past nine months.

The Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) traces its roots to the Palaung State Liberation Army formed in 1963. After the latter signed a ceasefire with the military government in 1991, remnant forces in Kayin State continued to fight against the military together with the Karen National Union as the Palaung State Liberation Front. The Front was largely inactive, however, until 2009, when it established the TNLA as its new armed wing, under the patronage of the Kachin Independence Organisation. The TNLA has fought regularly against not only the Myanmar military but also militias allied to the military, such as the Pansay militia, and the Shan State Army-South, the armed wing of the Restoration Council of Shan State. 

The Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) was formed after forces led by Pheung Kya-Shin (Peng Jiasheng) broke away from the collapsing Communist Party of Burma in 1989. It was the first ethnic armed group to sign a ceasefire with Myanmar’s military regime, which had taken power the previous year. The ceasefire held for two decades until 2009, when the Myanmar military invaded the Kokang region after the MNDAA refused to become a Border Guard Force under military control. The military ousted Pheung Kya-Shin and put a rival faction in charge of the Kokang region. In 2015, the MNDAA, with AA and TNLA support, staged a surprise offensive in an effort to retake the Kokang region. While largely unsuccessful, this operation inflicted significant casualties on the Myanmar military and reshaped the peace process.

Appendix B: Map of Shan State

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