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Unending Ethnic Conflict in Burma

David Verberckt | Myanmar

Democratic Karen Buddist Army recruits following a 3 months long training at a military training center in Karen State. Myanmar, November 2018

During the past years I have extensively visited Myanmar's borderland States of Rakhine, Kachin and Karen, in government controlled areas and ethnic armed groups controlled territory, in order to try to understand, access and visualise the country's never-ending ethnic conflicts.

With 70 years of ethnic conflicts, most ethnic groups have established strong armed groups, parallel administrations, schools and health centres in areas that are under their full control along the Thai border (Karen and Shan) and Chinese border (Kachin).

Myanmar is infamously known for being one of the world's longest lasting armed ethnic conflict. Shortly after independence in 1948, ethnic conflicts have erupted between the Bamar dominated government military and diverse ethnic armed groups in minority States of the country. These conflicts have been part of the social landscape and created a multitude of distress through generations of minorities. Nearly 500,000 minority people live in camps for internally displaced persons, many more have fled the country and are refugees. Despite the arrival of a democratically elected government in 2015, led by Aung San Suu Kyi and the military, and hope for peace and lasting cease-fires with armed groups, the opposite has happened. Never before has the intensity of the conflicts, the number of displaced, refugees, civilian victims, war crimes and ethnic cleansing been so high as in the past four years in all ethnic majority States of Rakhine, Kachin, Shan and Karen with, as pinnacle, the brutal ethnic cleansing campaign against the Rohingya in 2017. All conflict zones are tightly quarantined from the international community, NGOs and journalists, making access extremely difficult and severely hampering much needed humanitarian aid. The conflict in Rakhine State between the military and the Arakan Army has escalated to a full-fledged war between 2019 and 2020 with more than 250,000 displaced.

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