Myanmar has many non-state ethnic armed groups that are fighting for the right to self-determination, political recognition, territorial control, and resource control. The following list contains those actors most frequently in conflict with the Myanmar Army, or with other non-state armed groups.
Myanmar Army: Also known as the Tatmadaw, has control over the ministries of internal affairs, border and security affairs, and defense.? The country was under military junta from 1962 when the army staged a coup, until 2011 when it was officially dissolved following the 2010 general election. Still, the Myanmar Army has 25% of seats in parliament, giving them an effective veto since more than 75% of parliamentary votes are required for making constitutional amendments.? The Myanmar Army maintains over 400,000 troops and although it is multi-ethnic, Bamar officers predominate in senior positions.??
The Myanmar Army has entered bilateral ceasefire agreements with various non-state ethnic armed groups. With the 2015 nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA), the Myanmar Army has concluded ceasefires with eight armed groups while ten did not sign.? Active conflict persists with at least four non-state ethnic armed groups, mostly in Kachin and Shan states. The Myanmar Army has a track record of countering ethnic armed insurgency through divide and rule tactics, preventing the formation of a united front of groups, and has been accused of human rights abuses on several occasions . ???
National League for Democracy (NLD): The NLD, founded in 1988, is the party of current state counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi. They won a landslide victory in the constituency-based elections held in 2015 - the country’s first national vote since the nominally civilian government was introduced in 2011.? The NLD has placed importance on pursuing peace between the government and non-state ethnic armed groups. Deep distrust of the Myanmar Army and the NLD among non-signatories of the NCA have complicated peace talks.?
Kachin and Shan states
Kachin Independence Organisation/Army (KIO/KIA): The KIO, with its armed wing the KIA, is a political group of ethnic Kachins fighting for their right to self-determination in Kachin state. As one of the largest non-state ethnic armed groups, KIA troops are estimated at over 10,000.? The KIA is also involved in conflict in northern Shan state due to a territorial dispute. The KIA declined to sign the NCA, and has aligned itself with the Arakan Army, the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army in the ‘Northern Alliance’ in pursuit of a political solution.?
United Wa State Party/Army (UWSP/UWSA): The UWSP, the de facto ruling party of Wa state, and their armed wing the UWSA fight for autonomy of Wa state. The UWSA is the largest non-state ethnic armed group, with its troops estimated to number 30,000.? The UWSA has strong ethnic and political ties with China, and due to the size of its army is an important player in peace talks. The UWSA has not signed the NCA.?
Palaung State Liberation Front/Ta’Ang National Liberation Army (PSLF/TNLA): The TNLA is the armed wing of the PSLF, and fights for self-determination of the Palaung (or Ta’ang) people. They are located in Shan state, and have around 6,000 troops.? The TNLA was not invited to sign the NCA as it was in active conflict at the time of the agreement. The TNLA is part of the Northern Alliance, which remains in frequent conflict with the Myanmar Army.?
Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA): The MNDAA is an army of over 2,000, comprising Kokang people who live in the Kokang self-administered zone in Shan state.? Clashes between the MNDAA and the Myanmar Army led to large-scale displacement in late 2015.? The MNDAA has not signed the NCA, as they were also not invited to negotiations due to being actively engaged in conflict. They are part of the Northern Alliance.?
Restoration Council for Shan State/Shan State Army-South (RCSS/SSA-S): The SSA-S is the military wing of the RCSS and seeks to formalise the authority it has in Shan state. It is estimated to have over 8,000 troops.? Although they are a signatory to the NCA, the SSA-S occasionally clashes with the Myanmar Army. However, it is more frequently involved in clashes with other non-state ethnic armed groups, most notably the TNLA. Other non-state armed groups have accused the SSA-S of cooperating with the Myanmar Army, in which the SSA-S is used as a proxy.?
Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA): Formerly known as Harakah al-Yaqin (HaY, meaning 'Faith Movement' in English), ARSA is an insurgent group active in northern Rakhine state headed and supported by Rohingya Muslims based in Saudi Arabia. It is comprised of an estimated 500 fighters. The group was established following deadly riots between Muslims and Buddhists in 2012. It was responsible for attacks on three border posts on 25 August 2017 and 9 October 2016, which amplified the crackdown of the Myanmar Army on the Rohingya. The foundations of the group are strengthened by the marginalisation and discrimination of the Rohingya in Rakhine state. ARSA has been labelled a terrorist group by the government.??
Arakan Army (AA): The AA seeks self-determination for the ethnic Rakhine Buddhists of Rakhine (also known as Arakan) state, although it has strong ties with the KIA and is headquartered in Kachin state. It is estimated to be around 3,000 strong.? The AA has been in conflict with the Myanmar Army, mostly in Rakhine state. The AA was excluded from the NCA as it was engaged in active conflict at the time of negotiations, and is part of the Northern Alliance.?