Myanmar's long road to peace: A timeline of 60 years of war

After more than 60 years of conflict, Myanmar's government and the country's 16 ethnic armed groups signed on Tuesday what the United Nations calls a "historic" draft nationwide ceasefire agreement. Here's a quick look at some of the world's longest civil wars:

1948: Myanmar gains independence from Britain. Wars break out almost immediately as ethnic minorities demand greater autonomy from Yangon (then called Rangoon). Principally, the struggles pit the Burman or Bamar ethnic group, comprising 60 percent of the population and which historically dominated the country's centre and its old capital Yangon, against a range of diverse ethnic minorities with their own cultures, languages and in some cases religions. These groups fight the Burmans to retain their own cultures, languages, religion, and control of their lands through devolution of power in a federation. The army will not tolerate that, believing it is the only force capable of keeping the Union from disintegrating.

1962: A military coup in the name of security cements the army's control over Myanmar. Civil wars continue. In subsequent years, some ceasefire pacts are signed, but conflict also continues in many areas.

2009: The government demands all ''ceasefire groups'' should transform into ''Border Guard Forces'' and accept the command of the Myanmar army. The armed groups do not agree.

2011: Myanmar transitions to quasi-civilian government

2011-2013: War breaks out between the government and the Kachin Independence Army. The fighting is the fiercest since 1948. Thousands are killed and many thousands flee.

2013: Peace process launched, supported by international community and donors. Multiple meetings are held all over Myanmar and in northern Thailand. Wrangles over protocol and where to meet. Talks stall frequently over contentious issues and sporadic clashes erupt even as talks are under way. Some ethnic groups are split among themselves between hardliners and those in favour of peace. There is decades of mutual distrust between the army and the armed groups.

2014 : President Thein Sein says a Nationwide Ceasefire Accord (NCA) must be signed on Union Day, February 12, 2015.

Feb 12, 2015 : The NCA fails to materialise

March 2015 : Agreement on the draft of the NCA

GRIEVANCES OF THE 16 ETHNIC GROUPS

- Ethnic states have the highest percentages of people living in poverty: Chin state (73 percent), Rakhine state (44 percent) and Shan state (33 percent)

- Underdevelopment in ethnic areas : no electricity, proper roads and other basic infrastructure

- Land confiscation and forced relocation

- Unfair distribution of revenue from natural resources

- Literacy levels are the lowest in ethnic states, according to 2010 statistics

- Lack of social and cultural rights: Currently many ethnic groups do not have the right to learn or teach in their own language, and there is no protection for traditional cultural practices or heritage sites

CONTENTIOUS ISSUES DURING TALKS

The army wants to protect government projects and extend the government's reach, by facilitating the collection of taxes for instance.

But the ethnic groups see this as provocation and threatening to their natural resources. Tactically, the armed groups see the army as trying to secure positions of advantage.

FUTURE CONTENTIOUS ISSUES 

- Political rights and federalism

- Security arrangements and the role of armies

nirmal@sph.com.sg