Myanmar: The repression of ethnic minority activists in Myanmar

February 16, 2010

Myanmar: The repression of ethnic minority activists in Myanmar

The Kachin (also known as Jinghpaw) are concentrated in Kachin State in the far north of Myanmar. The majority are Christians, although some Kachin are Theravada Buddhists. The Jinghpaw language is spoken by a majority of Kachins, although other languages are also spoken among them. Two major political bodies seek to represent the Kachin: The Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), with formal control over some functions of local government, and the Kachin State National Congress for Democracy (KSNCD), which won three parliamentary seats in the 1990 elections.


The Shan live primarily in Shan State, in the east of the country bordering China, Laos and Thailand. There are smaller groups of Shan living in Mandalay Division in the centre of the country, in Kayin State in eastern Myanmar, and in Kachin State. Most Shan people follow Theravada Buddhism and are part of the pan Tai family, which also includes most of the populations of Thailand and Laos. The Shan National League for Democracy (SNLD), which seeks to represent the Shan, was the second most successful party in the 1990 elections after the NLD, winning 23 seats. The Party Chair, Khun Htun Oo, is presently serving a 93-year prison sentence and is in poor health.


The Karenni (also known as the Red Karen or the Kayah) are found in Kayah State in the east of Myanmar bordering Thailand. Christianity and animism are their predominant religions. While there are many languages spoken in Kayah State, the Karenni language is spoken among different communities as a common language. The armed opposition group, the Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP), has splintered several times since its founding in 1957, but still seeks to be representative of the Karenni.


The Karen ethnic minority is concentrated in the east of the country primarily in Kayin State, with lesser numbers in Kayah State, the southern part of Shan State, and the Ayerawaddy Division. Buddhists, Christians and followers of animist religions exist amongst the Karen. There are three main Karen languages, all part of the Sino-Tibetan family but not mutually intelligible. The Karen National Union (KNU) has sought to represent the Karen since 1947.


The Mon are largely found in Mon State in southeast Myanmar, but smaller populations live in Ayerawaddy Division and along the Myanmar-Thailand border. They helped spread Theravada Buddhism throughout the region. The Mon language was once widely spoken in the south of the country but is presently spoken by less than one million people. The Mon National Democratic Front (MNDF), which won five seats in the 1990 elections, was banned in 1992 but still continues to operate.



2.2 Ceasefire groups and Border Guard Forces


Fighting between various ethnic minority armed groups and the central government has never completely stopped since the country's independence. However, since 1989 and primarily during the late 1990s and early 2000s under General Khin Nyunt's leadership and initiative, 19 ethnic minority armed groups--16 from the seven largest ethnic minorities--have agreed to ceasefires with the government. 30