Ethnic Armed Conflict and Territorial Administration in Myanmar

A Study by Kim Jolliffe (The Asia Foundation, 2015)

Rural and mountainous areas across many of Myanmar’s non-Bamar regions are contested by multiple governance actors with overlapping claims to territory, including: the Myanmar government and armed forces, countless state-backed ethnic militia, and dozens of opposition ethnic armed groups. Many of the varied ethnic armed actors have much deeper relations with local communities than the state does, and in numerous cases, have been the only administrative authorities of these regions in the country’s history. Very few of their territories have clearly agreed borders, and none are sanctioned officially by law or in the constitution.

While, out of necessity, successive governments have continued to tolerate or even accommodate the role of ethnic armed actors in subnational administration, they have persisted in attempts to design the state around their particular ideal vision of “the Union”, rather than in coordination and compromise with subnational actors. This has resulted in an ongoing failure to establish constitutional arrangements that truly reflect power relations and political realities on the ground. One of the key challenges that must be addressed in the current peace process, therefore, is the nature of subnational administration in these contest areas.

Given this challenging environment, The Asia Foundation carried out research in 2015 to examine and compare de jure and de facto administration systems in Myanmar’s conflict-affected areas, and how they relate to longstanding disputes over constitutional arrangements for subnational governance. This report seeks to provide a better understanding of the complex political geography in contested areas, and highlights how challenging it will be to achieve a political solution to conflict. This is of particular importance to international actors, given the heightened interest in supporting the peace process and increasing levels of humanitarian and development assistance to conflict-affected areas.

Full text is available here.


Jolliffe, Kim (2015). Ethnic Armed Conflict and Territorial Administration in Myanmar. Yangon: The Asia Foundation.