Ashley South has 18 years’ experience as an independent author, researcher and consultant. He has a PhD from the Australian National University, and an MSc from SOAS (University of London), and is a Research Fellow at Chiang Mai University, Center for Ethnic Studies and Development.

Main research interests: ethnic conflict and peace processes in Myanmar/Burma and Mindanao, politics of language and education, humanitarian protection and forced migration (refugees and Internally Displaced People); comparative philosophies of peace-building.


My latest


Myanmar's stalled peace process (The Asia Dialogue, 3-4-2019) -

Beyond paying lip service to the peace process, neither the government nor the military has much interest in listening to – let alone addressing – the concerns of long-suffering minority communities.


Protecting civilians in the Kachin borderlands, Myanmar: Key threats and local responses (Overseas Development Institute/Humanitarian Practice Group Working Paper, December 2018) - PDF

The breakdown of a 17-year ceasefire in Kachin State, Myanmar in June 2011 led to the displacement of well over 100,000 civilians and the collapse of trust between large sections of the civilian community and the Myanmar government and Army. In the absence of an adequate national response, and with the government blocking international humanitarian access to vulnerable communities, Kachin civil society groups have taken the lead in assisting and protecting their own people. This report describes these local self-protection and coping mechanisms, enabled by the social capital of Kachin ethno-linguistic and faith-based networks. Sustainable solutions to the humanitarian crisis in Kachin State can only be achieved through a negotiated political settlement to decades of armed ethnic conflict in Myanmar. There are no humanitarian solutions to political crises: only when the Myanmar government and Army are willing to negotiate a just and equitable political settlement can these conflicts, and attendant humanitarian suffering, be resolved.

Executive Summary: Jingphaw & Burmese language translations - PDF


Myanmar Interim Arrangements Research Project, Between Ceasefires and Federalism: Exploring Interim Arrangements in the Myanmar peace process (Covenant Consult, November 2018: Ashley South, Tim Schroeder, Kim Jolliffe, Mi Kun Chan Non, Saw Sa Shine, Susanne Kempel, Axel Schroeder and Naw Wah Shee Mu) - PDF

The Myanmar Interim Arrangements Research Project, funded by the Joint Peace Fund, was implemented between October 2017 and October 2018. Researchers spoke to more than 450 people in Shan, Karen/Kayin and Mon States, Tanintharyi Region, Naypyidaw, Yangon and Thailand. 

The term “Interim Arrangements” is  a  contested  concept,  meaning  different things to different stakeholders. The MIARP adopted the following working definition of Interim Arrangements: “Service delivery and governance in conflict- affected areas, including the relationship  between EAOs and government systems, during the period between initial ceasefires and a comprehensive political settlement.” Interim Arrangement refers to EAOs’ governance functions, administrative authority and service delivery systems. The “interim” period extends until a comprehensive political settlement has been implemented, which given recent setbacks in the peace process may take many years to achieve.

Recognition of Interim Arrangements in Chapter 6 of the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) reflects the government’s acknowledgement of key EAOs’ political legitimacy and administrative responsibilities.  Interim Arrangements are about more than the NCA. However, Chapter 6 (Article 25) of the NCA recognizes the roles of signatory EAOs in the fields of health, education, development, environmental conservation and natural resource management, preservation and promotion of ethnic cultures and languages, security and the rule of law, and illicit drug eradication, and allows EAOs to receive international aid, in coordination with the government.  For many years, Myanmar’s larger EAOs have taken on governance and administration roles in their areas of control, often delivering a wide range of services in partnership with CSOs. In the southeast, groups like the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS), Karen National Union (KNU) and New Mon State Party (NMSP) are de-facto governments in relatively small pockets of territory. They also have influence and provide some services in wider areas of “mixed administration”, where EAO authority overlaps with that of the government and Myanmar Army. Between them for example, these three EAOs administer or support more than 2,000 schools, providing ethnic language teaching to vulnerable children who would otherwise often be denied an education. They also work with local partners to provide health services, access to justice and other public goods.

Similar arrangements exist in other parts of the country, both in ceasefire areas where EAOs have not signed the NCA, and in areas of on-going armed conflict. For example, across much of Kachin and northern Shan States, the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO) and other EAOs provide elements of governance, and life-saving if under resourced services to Internally Displaced People (IDPs) and other highly vulnerable communities.

There are three principal rationales for supporting Interim Arrangements:

1. Effective Interim Arrangements will provide the best outcomes for vulnerable and marginalised communities in conflict-affected areas. Rather than reinventing the wheel, existing EAO and CSO service delivery systems should be supported on a case-by-case basis, recognising best practice. Meeting the government’s targets for school enrolment and universal health coverage for example, will depend on the work of EAOs and affiliated civil society actors, who should be seen as partners in meeting critical needs and achieving development goals.

2. Several of Myanmar’s EAOs (including NCA signatory and non-signatory groups) enjoy longstanding political legitimacy among the communities they seek to represent. Supporting EAO governance regimes will counter perceptions of the peace process as a vehicle for state penetration into previously autonomous areas, displacing existing EAO authorities and services, without consulting local stakeholders. In order to be conflict-sensitive, aid should be delivered in ways that do not undermine systems associated with EAOs, to the benefit of the government. Timely peace dividends can best be provided to vulnerable and marginalized communities by working with existing and trusted local service delivery systems.

3. Interim Arrangements could be a key element in building “federalism from below” in Myanmar, supporting effective local governance through equitable practices of selfdetermination. The administrative functions and services provided by key EAOs and their civil society partners should be regarded as the building blocks of federalism in Myanmar - a political solution to decades of armed conflict which key stakeholders have endorsed.

There is concern among many ethnic stakeholders that international agencies, and particularly major donors, are pushing a convergence agenda, aimed at merging EAO and civil society service delivery with that of the state. While convergence between EAO and government systems may be appropriate in some scenarios and sectors, for most EAOs and CSOs Interim Arrangements are primarily about the maintenance and support of their independent systems. This is a sensitive topic, given the widespread perception that donors are intent on strengthening government capacities and systems, and extending these into previously inaccessible and/or contested conflict-affected areas.  Peace-support efforts often struggle with tensions between state-centric aid and development programs, and inclusive and politically sensitive peace-building. Assumptions that weak institutional capacity is at the core of conflict, with a consequent focus on reinforcing state institutions, can result in peace-building activities which marginalise other sources of authority, such as EAOs and civil society actors. This is particularly problematicin the context of Myanmar, where the State is a party to armed conflict, and EAOs have extensive (if often contested) political legitimacy. Donors and diplomats should recognise that many of the issues structuring decades of armed conflict in Myanmar are irreducibly political. This would help to assuage ethnic stakeholders’ concerns that the government has an economic development first agenda for the peace process in Myanmar, and uses aid as a distraction from demands for political reform.

Executive Summary [above] available in Burmese, Shan, Sgaw Karen and Mon languages:





  • 2020 - The Politics of Peace in Myanmar: ethnicity, conflict and building a legitimate state in Burma (NIAS Press Copenhagen, forthcoming)


  • 2008 [second edition 2010] – Ethnic Politics in Burma: States of Conflict (Routledge)
  • 2003 [second edition 2005] – Mon Nationalism and Civil War in Burma: The Golden Sheldrake (RoutledgeCurzon)


Chapters in edited volumes

  • 2015 - Governance and Political Legitimacy in the Peace Process (in 'Myanmar: the dynamics of an evolving polity', Lynn Reiner, ed. David Steinberg)
  • 2014 - 3 Chapters in 'Burma/Myanmar: where now?', NIAS Press Copenhagen, eds Mikael Gravers & Flemming Ytzen - PDF [with Charles Petrie] - PDF & PDF
  • 2010 – Karen Legitimacy and Conflict (in ‘Ruling Myanmar’, Australian National University/ISEAS Singapore, eds Trevor Wilson, Monique Skidmore & Nicholas Cheesman)
  • 2007 – Conflict and Displacement in Burma/Myanmar (in ‘Myanmar: The State, Society and the Environment’, Australian National University/ISEAS Singapore, eds Trevor Wilson & Monique Skidmore)
  • 2007 – Ceasefires and Civil Society: The Case of the Mon (in the ‘Exploring Ethnic Diversity in Burma’, NIAS Press, ed. Mikael Gravers) – PDF


Peer-reviewed academic articles

  • 2018 - Power Dynamics of Language and Education Policy in Myanmar’s Contested Transition [Marie Lall and Ashley South] ('Comparative Education Review', vol. 62, no. 4)
  • 2018 - Daoism and Peacebuilding: Toward an Agenda for Research and Practice ('Journal of Daoist Studies', Vol.11) -

  • 2017 - “Hybrid Governance” and the Politics of Legitimacy in the Myanmar Peace Process ('Journal of Contemporary Asia') -
  • 2016 - From Rebels to Rulers: The Challenges of Transition for Nonstate Armed Groups in Mindanao and Myanmar [with Christopher M. Joll] ('Critical Asian Studies', Vol.48, No.2) - PDF
  • 2016 - Language, Education and the Peace Process in Myanmar [with Marie Lall] ('Contemporary Southeast Asia' Vol.38, No.1) - PDF
  • 2015 – Forced Migration: typology and agency in Southeast Myanmar [with Kim Jolliffe] (‘Contemporary Southeast Asia’ Vol.37, No.2) – PDF
  • 2013 – Comparing Models of Non-state Ethnic Education in Myanmar: the Mon and Karen national education regimes [with Marie Lall] (‘Journal of Contemporary Asia’)
  • 2012 – The Politics of Protection in Burma: beyond the humanitarian mainstream ('Critical Asian Studies', Vol.44, No.2):
  • 2008 – Civil Society in Burma: The Development of Democracy Amidst Conflict (East-West Centre, Washington – ‘Policy Studies’ No.51) 
  • 2007 – Karen Nationalist Communities: The ‘Problem’ of Diversity (‘Contemporary Southeast Asia’ Vol.29, No.1 - ISEAS/National University of Singapore) – PDF
  • 2007 – Burma: The Changing Nature of Displacement Crises (Refugee Studies Centre, Oxford University, Working Paper No.39) – PDF
  • 2004 – Political Transition in Myanmar: A New Model for Democratization (‘Contemporary Southeast Asia’ Vol.26, No.4 – ISEAS/National University of Singapore) – PDF



  • March 2015 - Forced Migration and the Myanmar Peace Process [with Kim Jolliffe] - UNHCR Policy Development and Evaluation Service (New Issues in Refugee Research, Paper No. 274) PDF

  • April 2014 - Lessons Learned from MPSI's Work Supporting the Peace Process in Myanmar, March 2012 to March 2014 - Myanmar Peace Support Initiative - PDF & Burmese translation
  • March 2013 – Mapping of Myanmar Peacebuilding Civil Society [with Charles Petrie] - paper prepared for the European Peacebuilding Liaison Office, as background for the meeting entitled ‘Supporting Myanmar’s Evolving Peace Processes: What Roles for Civil Society and the EU? (Brussels on 7-3-2013) - PDF
  • March 2012 – Myanmar/Burma: Local agencies and Global donors (Local to Global Protection initiative: - PDF
  • December 2012 – Prospects for Peace in Myanmar: opportunities and threats (Peace Research Institute Oslo Working Paper) - PDF; Burmese language version - PDF
  • February 2012 – Local to Global Protection in Myanmar (Burma), Sudan, South Sudan and Zimbabwe [co-authored] (Overseas Development Institute Network Paper No.72) - PDF
  • October 2011 – Myanmar – Surviving the Storm: self-protection and survival in the Delta [co-authored] (Local to Global Protection initiative: – PDF
  • March 2011 – Burma’s Longest War: anatomy of the Karen conflict (Transnational Institute/Burma Centre Netherlands)PDF
  • September 2010 – Conflict and Survival: self-protection in south-east Burma [co-authored] (Chatham House/ Royal Institute of International Affairs, Asia Programme Paper ASP PP 2010/04; Local to Global Protection initiative) – PDF
  • December 2007 – Displacement and Dispossession: Forced Migration and Land Rights in Burma (Center on Housing Rights and Evictions) – PDF
  • September 2002 – Internally Displaced People and Relocation Sites in Eastern Burma (Burmese Border Consortium, Bangkok)


Shorter articles

            Burmese translation:

  • January 2014 – Inside the Peace Process, 'The Myanmar Times' - PDF
  • September 2012 – From Ceasefires to Lasting Peace?, 'The Myanmar Times' - PDF
  • September 2012 – China as a New Aid Actor, 'The Global Times' 11-9-2012 - PDF [this is the original article, the published version being somewhat shorter]
  • March 2012 – Resolving Ethnic Conflicts in Burma - Ceasefires to Sustainable Peace,‘The Irrawaddy’ - PDF
  • June 2011 – Burma’s New Challenge , ‘Pacific Forum CSIS’ (PacNet#32) – PDF
  • December 2010 – Post-Election Politics in Burma - Glimmers of Hope? , ‘The Irrawaddy’ – PDF
  • November 2010 – Voting, But Not As We Know It, ‘The World Today’ (Chatham House) – PDF
  • July 2010 – Making the Best of a Bad Election, ‘The Irrawaddy’ – PDF
  • May 2010 – Burma's Electoral Dilemmas, 'The World Today' (Chatham House) - PDF
  • March 2010 – Self-protection and Survival in Southeast Burma, ‘Humanitarian Exchange’ – PDF
  • November 2008 – Economics Crisis and Human Rights, ‘The World Today’ (Chatham House) – PDF
  • August 2008 – Electoral Dilemmas, Independent Mon News Agency commentary (4-8-2008) – PDF
  • July 2008 – Burma after the Cyclone: Making a Disaster Out Of the Cyclone, ‘The World Today’ (Chatham House) – PDF
  • April 2008 – Humanitarian Aid to IDPs in Burma: activities and debates, ‘Forced Migration Review’ (Refugee Studies Centre, Oxford University) – PDF
  • March 2008 – Prospects for Burma’s New Constitution, Independent Mon News Agency commentary (17-3-2008) – PDF
  • February 2008 – Mahn Sha La Phan: Resistance leader of Burma’s Karen people, ‘The Guardian’ obituary (18-2-2008) – PDF
  • December 2007 – Crisis on the Burma Border, ‘The Nation’ (20-12-2007) – PDF
  • October 2007 – Mon Nationalist Movements: insurgency, ceasefires and political struggle – paper presented at ‘Seminar on Discovery of Ramanndesa’, Chulalongkorn University, Thailand, (11-10-2007), published by Mon Unity League (Bangkok, January 2008) – PDF
  • August 2007 – What lies ahead for Burma’s cease-fires, ‘The Nation’ (8-1-2007) – PDF
  • October 2006 – The Quest for Karen Unity, ‘The Irrawaddy’ – PDF
  • October 2006 – Border-based Insurgency: Time for a Reality Check, ‘The Irrawaddy’ online – PDF
  • September 2004 – Beyond the National Convention, ‘The Irrawaddy’ – PDF
  • November 2001 – Burma’s  Ex-Insurgents: The Mon Ceasefire and Political Transition, ‘Burma Debate’ (Vol. VIII, Fall 2001) – PDF