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Changing Realities, Poverty and Displacement in South East Burma/Myanmar

By Thai Burma Border Consortium  •  October 31, 2012

Simultaneous and interdependent reforms promoting democratisation, economic liberalisation and conflict transformation present a plethora of opportunities and risks for the people of Myanmar. The prospect of progressing from ceasefire agreements into a substantive process for peace and national reconciliation raises hopes for an end to protracted displacement and chronic poverty. This field survey from South East Myanmar reports encouraging signs for the future return of displaced persons but sobering indicators about the challenge ahead for poverty alleviation.

After the government dropped demands for ceasefire groups to transform into Border Guard Forces in September 2011, the peace process gained momentum quickly. Preliminary ceasefire agreements have been negotiated with most of the major non-state armed groups to cease hostilities, separate troops, establish liaison offices and continue political dialogue. The President has stressed the importance of an “all-inclusive political process” and building trust on the basis of the “Panglong spirit” in a sequence of ceasefires, followed by economic development and then political dialogue.

However, the non-state armed groups are advocating for dialogue about political and constitutional reform to be convened outside of parliament in a National Convention to rebuild a National Accord prior to the 2015 elections. Ongoing armed confl ict in Kachin State has raised questions about the government’s ability to control the National

Armed Forces (the Tatmadaw), while communal violence in Rakhine State has highlighted systematic weaknesses in the rule of law and underlying racial discrimination. Civil society groups have noted that the culture of authoritarianism and elite politics is driving the peace process but that active and broad engagement is essential if it is to be sustainable. After feeling betrayed by the exchange of ceasefire agreements for business concessions during the 1990s, informal peace building processes are striving to ensure that government and armed opposition leaders are held to account.

The most significant impact of ceasefire agreements for local communities in contested areas so far has been a substantial decrease in armed conflict and attacks on civilians. Roving counter-insurgency patrols into remote areas have also decreased which has resulted in some improvement in civilian access to fields and markets. However, skirmishes have not stopped which is due primarily to the lack of troop withdrawals from sensitive areas and the lack of clarity in arrangements for the transport of supplies.

There has also not yet been any significant improvement in the protection of human rights, with forced labour, extortion and land confiscation still widespread to accommodate Tatmadaw troops and new investment interests in border areas.

The Border Consortium’s (TBC’s) community-based partners have documented the destruction, forced relocation and abandonment of more than 3,700 villages since 1996, but no further villages were displaced in South East Myanmar between August 2011 and July 2012. While over 10,000 people are estimated to have been forced from their homes in the South East during the past year, this represents a significant decrease from the average rate of 75,000 people displaced each year since 2003.

This survey estimates that in total there remain at least 400,000 internally displaced persons in the rural areas of 36 townships in South East Myanmar. Approximately 37,000 formerly displaced persons attempted to either return to their villages or resettle in surrounding areas between August 2011 and July 2012. However, the sustainability of these movements remains in doubt due to ongoing concerns about physical security and livelihood opportunities.

Click here to download the full report.

Click here to download the brochure in English and Burmese.

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This post is in: Displacement

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