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Ceasefire State-Making and Justice Provision by Ethnic Armed Groups in Southeast Myanmar.

In Myanmar the legacies of military rule and decades of armed conflict mean that official state institutions, like the courts and police, are still highly mistrusted and partly absent in many areas. This is particularly the case in areas where ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) continue to be present. Absence of the Myanmar state has not implied a vacuum of authority, however. Major EAOs have for decades engaged in parallel state-making efforts, which, among other state-like institutions, include justice systems. Most EAOs now have ceasefire agreements with the Myanmar government, but an actual peace agreement that would involve a political settlement is still being negotiated at the national level. A National Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) was signed in 2015 by eight out of sixteen EAOs that participated in the negotiations. While the civilian government and the military have agreed to work towards recognizing EAOs' demands for federalism, it has proven extremely difficult to reach an agreement on what federalism will entail. (2) In this liminal phase, contested forms of state-making and governance are taking place in ceasefire areas.

Based on fieldwork undertaken in 2016-17, this article explores how these contested forms of state-making are unfolding in two rural areas that are respectively governed by the New Mon State Party (NMSP) and the Karen National Union (KNU)--the two most powerful EAOs in southeast Myanmar. These two EAOs have ceasefires with the Myanmar government. The NMSP signed bilateral ceasefires in 1995 and again in 2012, and the KNU signed a bilateral agreement in 2012 and the NCA in 2015. After the end of our fieldwork, the NMSP also signed the NCA. Through the lens of justice provision, we examine how the EAOs, through their state-making efforts, are trying to generate legitimacy and thus constitute authority within the villages they seek to govern. Analytically, we introduce the concept of 'ceasefire state-making' to capture the particular dynamics of state-making in the interim phase between the signing of a ceasefire and a political settlement, which we understand to carry the characteristic of liminality (Turner 1969, pp. 94-130; van Gennep [1909] 1960, pp. 1-25). Although state-making during the ceasefire is more stable and allows for the EAOs' geographical expansion into more territories than during armed combat, future outcomes, under liminal conditions, are uncertain (Turner 1969, pp. 94-130; Malksoo 2012, p. 488). In applying the concept of ceasefire state-making, we add new insights to the growing body of literature on rebel governance, which follows an empirically grounded approach to state-making (Mampilly 2011, pp. 1-24; Schlichte 2009; Krause and Milliken 2009; Sivakumaran 2009, pp. 489-513; Brenner 2017; Staniland 2014, pp. 1-55; Hansen and Stepputat 2001, pp. 1-39; Lund 2006, pp. 673-87). This literature comes with a welcome critique of conventional state theory, which assigns state-making only to officially recognized state bodies. However, it has only focused on rebel governance either during armed combat or after a political settlement has been reached. Our concept of ceasefire state-making, by contrast, covers the liminal phase between these two stages. (3) The aim of this article is not to pursue a systematic comparative analysis of the two EAOs based on the different periodization of their ceasefires, but rather to bring out the various dynamics of their ceasefire state-making across the two areas, teasing out the similarities and the shared challenges.

In both areas, our empirical findings suggest that EAOs' justice systems enjoy internal legitimacy among ethnic villagers, who view these systems as viable and trusted alternatives when disputes and crimes cannot be resolved inside the village. Although these systems are not officially recognized by the Myanmar state, our interviewees perceived them as de facto state institutions. Significantly, we demonstrate that the ceasefires have enabled the KNU and the NMSP to strengthen their justice systems and their geographical reach, rather than causing villagers to turn to the official Myanmar courts. However, a core challenge for these systems is the jurisdictional ambiguities and competition for authority with the Myanmar state. This reflects the fragility and liminal character of ceasefire state-making.

Ethnographic methods illuminate how state-making and legitimacy are constituted in practice. The insights of this article draw on qualitative interviews, informal conversations and participant observation. (4) We have triangulated the findings with a quantitative survey covering forty respondents in each field site, which focused on people's preferences for justice providers and types of remedies. (5) Qualitative interviews were conducted with a mixture of EAO officials, including judges, village leaders and elders, female leaders, where present, and ordinary villagers, male and female. (6) Fieldwork was done in small teams comprising Myanmar and Danish researchers (the authors) and with the assistance of Mon and Karen translators, whose connections with the two EAOs proved essential to access. The article is based on unique empirical material from areas where access is limited. While providing new insights, the constraints related to the limited time periods for fieldwork naturally restricted the depth of data collection. In addition, our findings cannot be generalized to all NMSP and KNU areas, as governance arrangements vary greatly across the brigades and districts of these two EAOs. In addition, there are various adjacent areas with mixed governance, which we do not address in this article (see Jolliffe 2015; Kyed and Thitsar 2018).

In this article we begin by introducing the scholarly debates about rebel governance and state-making that we engage with. We then outline our concept of ceasefire state-making and how we approach the concept of legitimacy. This is followed by a short overview of the conflict histories of the KNU and the NMSP and of their justice systems as officially described. We then go on to examine the actual practices of justice provision by the EAOs at the village level. In the conclusion, we return to theoretical reflections about rebel group state-making and discuss the future trajectory of EAO legitimacy.

Rebel Governance: State-Making and Legitimacy

Until recently, studies of rebel groups focused predominantly on recruitment strategies, extraction and coercion, and were inspired by a Hobbesian state-centric perspective, which assumes that the lack of official state control leads to social anarchy. From this perspective, understandings of state and legitimate authority are confined to official state institutions, whereas rebel groups are seen as violent organizations (Wood 2003; Collier and Hoeffler 2004). By contrast, we follow a more empirically grounded exploration of state-making, which looks beyond officially recognized state bodies (Migdal, Kohli, and Shue 1994; Hansen and Stepputat 2001; Migdal 2004; Kingston and Spears 2004). In particular, we draw from the argument of Migdal, Kohli, and Shue that state-society relations are formative and flexible, "States may help mold, but they are also continually molded by, the societies within which they are embedded" (1994, p. 2). Simultaneously, stateness carries certain characteristics or what Hansen and Stepputat (2001, p. 5) have referred to as practical and symbolic "languages of stateness", which, they argue, can also be applied by actors who are not part of the official state.

Practical languages of stateness include the assertion of territorial sovereignty through the monopolization of violence, the bureaucratized control and production of knowledge of the population, and the management of an economy that ensures the well-being of the population. "Symbolic languages of authority" cover the institutionalization of law and legal discourse as the medium through which the state acquires authority, the materialization of the state in a range of signs and rituals, and the nationalization of the state through a shared history and political community (Hansen and Stepputat 2001, pp. 7-8). As Krause and Milliken (2009, p. 204) demonstrate, many rebel groups have historically drawn on these languages of stateness as a way to gain legitimacy, even if they remain "states in formation".

Recent scholarship on rebel governance shows that many rebel groups, alongside fighting the official state, actively seek civilian support by establishing governance systems that provide public goods (Mampilly 2011; Schlichte 2009; Krause and Milliken 2009; Sivakumaran 2009; Brenner 2017). While not all rebel groups strive for independent statehood, they often copy the nation-state model (Mampilly 2011, p. 8). As Sivakumaran (2009, p. 509) argues, many rebel groups "attempt to normalize the situation, presenting] the image of a stable, functioning regime and createfing] a quasi-state". One of the most basic components of such normalization is the provision of justice (Mampilly 2011, p. 63; Sivakumaran 2009, p. 490). Justice systems are often a first step in the attempt to constitute legitimate authority by rebel groups, and such systems often compare favourably with formal state courts, which during conflict seldom function adequately and are absent or feared by the conflict-affected populations (Sivakumaran 2009, p. 510).

Studying justice provision by EAOs in Myanmar therefore provides us with a lens through which to explore state-making and claims to legitimate authority by such groups. The KNU and the NMSP, as Kingston (2004, p. 3) has argued for other rebel groups, act as "states-within-states", but rather than simply being incipient political entities, these groups' claims to the right to govern, and thus to moral authority, are as old as the postcolonial Myanmar state itself (see, for instance, Brenner 2017; South 2018). The ceasefire situation, we suggest, adds new dynamics to this history of state-making.

While literature on rebel governance frames this article, it has tended to either focus on state-making 'during' armed conflict or 'after' a peace agreement has been reached. Our article, by contrast, focuses on what happens in the in-between period. To capture the particular dynamics of this period, we introduce the concept of ceasefire state-making, which we define as characterized by 'liminality'. Defined as a state of ambiguity and 'in-between-ness', the concept of liminality was originally used in anthropological studies of rites of passage in small-scale societies to designate the middle stage between the first phase of detachment from a fixed condition to the final phase of aggregation where the change is completed and the situation is again stable (Turner 1969, pp. 94-106; van Gennep [1909] 1969, pp. 1-25). Turner (1969, pp. 94-95) further denned liminality as a 'betwixt and between' state where established structures and social categories assigned by law, custom and convention are dislocated, and traditional settings of authority may be challenged. While he saw liminality as anti-structure, he also understood it as a vital moment of creativity and agency for the potential renewal of the social make-up and for challenging established structures. As a threshold period, liminality constitutes a malleable situation that may be productive of new institutions, structures and customs. Therefore, the concept draws attention to the "formative potentials of dissolutions of order", as Malksoo (2012, p. 481) notes. However, liminal processes are not deterministic or unidirectional; they leave the outcomes unknown and uncertain (Malksoo 2012, p. 489). Recently, liminality has been applied to improve understandings of the fundamental ambiguity and unpredictability of wider societal transitions (such as from war to peace and from authoritarian rule to democracy), which seldom follow a teleological path or fixed phases in reality (Malksoo 2012, p. 492; Murphy and McDowell 2018, pp. 3-5). (7) The concepts of "perpetual" (Malksoo 2012, p. 489) or "permanent liminality" (Murphy and McDowell 2018, p. 2) are, in addition, applied to designate the often common "condition of being stuck in the 'in-between zone' of war and peace" (Malksoo 2012, pp. 491-92). This period is characterized by juridical-political limbo, which may result in relatively stable quasi-autonomous states in a context of uncertainty about the future (Malksoo 2012, p. 491). The transitional optics of a stable new order may be visibly manifested through new institutions, buildings and roles, but coexist with the uncertainty of an imagined peace and order (Murphy and McDowell 2018, p. 2). The role of agency and competition over power and transitional optics remain significant under this liminal condition (Malksoo 2012, p. 489).

We suggest that this redevelopment of the concept of liminality helps to capture the ambiguous and yet productive dynamics of EAO state-making in the prolonged ceasefire period of southeast Myanmar. With very little open combat, visible manifestations of routine and stability are emerging with the geographical and institutional expansion of EAO governance into Karen and Mon villages. Yet, because the final phase of political settlement has not yet been reached, and because both the timing and outcome of this settlement is unknown, elements of stability coexist with flexibility, mobility and uncertainty in the EAOs' modes of governance.

An important question is to what extent ceasefire state-making gives way to the constitution of legitimate authority. This can only be answered, we suggest, through empirical investigation, and cannot be assumed as a priori or be regarded as fixed. In making this claim, we follow a Weberian-inspired understanding of legitimacy as public consent, which emphasizes the 'internal' legitimacy that develops in the relationship between proclaimed authorities and their intended supporters (Weber 1958, pp. 1-11). As Lund (2006, p. 693) argues, de facto legitimate authority does not alone derive from legal attribution or fixed normative and moral properties, although these are important, but also from concrete exchanges, such as through protection, service provision, resource distribution, and mutual recognition. Authority is constituted relationally through a process of dual recognition, "when an institution authorizes, sanctions or validates certain rights, the respect and observance of these rights by people ... simultaneously constitutes recognition of the authority of the particular institution" (Lund 2006, p. 696). Conversely, seemingly trivial actions by individuals can undermine the legitimacy of de jure authorities by, for example, not respecting them or taking their "business", like crime cases, elsewhere (Lund 2001, p. 863). Therefore, legitimacy is not something fixed, but rather "a conflict-ridden and open process" in which different, and more or less powerful, actors and their audiences intervene (Lentz 1998, p. 47). Under the liminal conditions of the uncertain transition in Myanmar, this unfixed character of legitimacy becomes even more pronounced, we suggest. Hereto comes the need to understand legitimacy as potentially relying on a mixture of different sources: it can be based on the practical delivery of services (health, education, justice and such) and it can be based on the symbolic articulation of shared identity, rules and moral attributes. In this article we show how the EAOs' state-making efforts exactly draw on a mixture of such sources to constitute internal legitimacy among the ethnic populations that they seek to govern and claim to represent. As such the EAOs are simultaneously trying to constitute themselves as moral and governmental authorities through what essentially is a liminal situation.

Trajectories of Conflict and Ceasefire in Myanmar's Southeast

Myanmar's long-lasting armed conflict began shortly after independence in 1948 when EAOs, representing different ethnic nationalities, formed in opposition to the majority Bamar government. The KNU was formed in 1947, with its armed wing the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) (Smith 1999, pp. 77, 93). The NMSP was formed in 1958 and in 1971 its armed wing, the Mon National Liberation Army (MNLA), was formed (South 2003, p. 137). Like other EAOs, the KNU and the NMSP have fought for self-determination and the recognition of ethnic rights, culture and language. In the 1970s, secessionist claims were substituted with a demand for federal autonomy within a multi-ethnic union (Smith 1999, p. 288). Nevertheless, these EAOs have continued to engage in state-making efforts within the territories they control. They have administrations, schools, clinics, courts, and different other departments like agriculture and forestry. They have their own written laws, extract taxes from villagers and businesses, and issue land registers.

EAO state-making in Myanmar has been deeply shaped by the long trajectory of conflict, characterized by a combination of military combat with economic activities and the waxing and waning of the EAOs' administrative-territorial control. In the 1980s, intensified Burmese military offensives significantly challenged the power of EAOs, which in 1995 led the NMSP to sign a ceasefire with the military government (South 2003, pp. 195-231). This ceasefire allowed the MNLA to stay armed and granted the NMSP territorial control of smaller areas where it could operate its own administration and social services (Keenan 2012). However, because the ceasefire came with no political settlement towards a federal solution, the NMSP maintained a tense relationship with the military regime until a ceasefire was renegotiated in 2012 with the new civilian-military government. This same government initiated the gradual democratic transition of Myanmar and made peace with EAOs a top priority, which in October 2015 led to a Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) that the NMSP signed in early 2018.

Unlike the NMSP, the KNU remained in armed conflict with the Myanmar government until 2012. Up until the 1990s, the KNU was one of the strongest ethnic armed organizations in Myanmar. However, their strength declined significantly in 1995 after a group of Buddhist KNLA soldiers split from the KNU to form the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA). The DKBA signed a ceasefire with the military government and, shortly after, helped the military to take over the KNU headquarters (South 2011, p. 19). This was a major defeat for KNU state-making because its central institutions were forced into exile in Thailand. After years of intensive combat, the KNU signed its first ceasefire in 2012, followed by the signing of the NCA in 2015. The KNU now de facto governs areas in Karen state that are primarily in mountainous regions on the Thailand-Myanmar border. (8) It also holds smaller areas in Mon State and Bago and Tanintharyi regions.

The NCA promises a future federal solution that is to be reached through joint political dialogue, but it is still unclear what this will entail and what governing role EAOs like the KNU and NMSP will play in the future. (9) The NCA removed signatories from the government's list of unlawful associations, and it also recognizes the role of signatory EAOs in the fields of health, education, natural resource management and security (Government of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar 2015, p. 11). However, the NCA does not clarify the territorial and jurisdictional boundaries of EAO signatories, and it does not officially recognize EAO state institutions or clarify how they may work alongside the Myanmar state. These matters are yet to be discussed in the political dialogue of the NCA. It therefore remains unclear whether the Myanmar government will ever recognize EAO institutions and to what extent federalism will be realized.

Despite the ambiguity of terms set by the NCA, the KNU and the NMSP have continued to implement state-making practices on the ground, alongside the expansion of Myanmar government services, as the peace process continues to unfold. We now provide insights into such ceasefire state-making in southeastern Myanmar by focusing on the KNU and the NMSP justice systems.

EAO Justice Systems--Officially Described

The KNU and the NMSP have a three-tiered system of justice committees (central, district and township), which are linked to village-level dispute resolution in the form of appeals and transferrals. Figures 1 and 2 provide a graphical overview of the justice systems of the KNU and NMSP respectively.

The committees have no lawyers or professionally trained judges, but justice committee members are expected to enforce written laws. The NMSP has a codified law from 1973, which is based on sources from Myanmar Law and is updated periodically. (10) The KNU has a legal procedure code and three laws, which also date back to the 1970s: civil, criminal and witchcraft (McCartan and Jolliffe 2016, pp. 19-28). (11) The KNU disseminated an anti-drugs law in 2016 and an updated land policy in 2015. The laws are formalistic legal instruments, drawing on Western jurisprudence, akin to those of officially recognized states. Nevertheless, the committee structure differs from conventional state courts.

While the KNU has full-time judges who are tasked ostensibly to make independent decisions, they are elected from among the KNU standing committees, and thus are part of the civilian governance structure. (12) Furthermore, when making decisions, judges are required to seek advice from justice committee members whom the judges select from other KNU departments. The NMSP has no independent judges. Instead, it has committees with fixed members from the NMSP and the MNLA. The administrative chairpersons are also the chairpersons of the justice committees. The KNU has a police force, the Karen National Police Force (KNPF), which performs investigations, arrests and pretrials. (13) In the NMSP system, police functions are mainly performed by the township committee, jointly with the MNLA. Another difference is that the KNU has a separate justice department at the central level, which makes, reviews and disseminates laws, including creating legal awareness and advising decisions made by the judiciary (McCartan and Jolliffe 2016, pp. 19-20). The jurisdiction of each justice-committee level follows the degree of the offence and penalties. Higher levels also function as institutions of appeal. Punishments include prison, fines, compensation and labour. (14)

The village and village tract levels of dispute resolution constitute the basis of the NMSP and the KNU's justice systems, but they are also considered separate civilian village bodies, as they have no EAO members but comprise village residents who are locally elected. The village is the first instance for resolving cases, and these can be forwarded to the NMSP and the KNU courts in the form of appeals or when village actors are unable to resolve a case. In fact, the EAOs grant a high level of jurisdiction to the village level. The KNU, for example, permits village leaders to make by-laws and to use customary rules. (15)

These justice systems have existed since the 1970s-80s. However, because of decades of armed conflict, they have been in a constant process of remaking and unmaking, not least as headquarters were forced to shift locations. Nevertheless, since the 2012 bilateral ceasefire, the KNU has tried to strengthen its system, including its links to villages in previous combat zones. The NMSP system has not changed since the 1995 ceasefire, but has become more stable (McCarthan and Jolliffe 2016, p. 30). As described in the next section, the systems vary from area to area in practice and do not always systematically follow official procedures.

KNU Justice in Practice

The KNU justice system in the area where the research took place operates mainly through 'mobile courts'. The majority of hearings are temporarily set up in locations that are the most convenient for the parties involved. One main reason for this mobility is that the KNU headquarters, for security reasons, are located in the hills, and it can take up to two days to reach them by foot. (16) The judges are based at the headquarters, but the justice committee members are dispersed in outposts in the lowlands. Consequently, it is not always possible for the judges to summon the committee members, so they sometimes perform their duties with the assistance of a KNLA soldier or someone else at the outpost. The mobile courts reflect the liminality that is an inherent element in ceasefire state-making. The structure has been set up, but the need for flexibility and the uncertainty about the future prohibits more permanent institutions. A lack of resources and personnel, furthermore, contributes to this situation of impermanence.

In general, there is a lack of KNU staff and they are not paid a salary. Incomes from fines only cover transportation expenses. Therefore, actors involved in justice provision have overlapping positions in the KNU system, and engage in livelihood activities such as farming to provide for their families. Personnel problems mean that flexibility is necessary, which at times entails compromise of official procedures. Sometimes the district judge grants authority to the township judge to handle a case that would otherwise fall under the district jurisdiction. While judges aim to follow set procedures and laws in court cases, it is often more flexible in practice and there is considerable space for negotiation by the parties involved. For example, KNU judges often consider the economic and family situation of perpetrators when they decide on punishments. (17) Similarly, the way that cases are transferred within the KNU system also denotes flexibility. (18) These legal compromises further underline the not-yet-fixed character of KNU justice provision, reflecting the ways that the KNU is a "state-in-formation" (Krause and Milliken 2009, p. 204).

Since the 2012 ceasefire agreement, the KNU has also attempted to strengthen and expand its justice system. According to official procedures, perpetrators with prison sentences are supposed to go to the KNLA headquarters in the hills, where there are cells that can keep ten to twenty prisoners. However, since the 2012 ceasefire, cells have also been built at lowland outposts. These cells are physical markers of a general expansion of KNU presence into those lowlands of northern Karen state that lie on the ambiguous border between territories under KNU and Myanmar government control. Here the KNU has gradually strengthened its state-making practices, including not only justice provision but also tax collection, the granting of land certificates, education and the implementation of village leadership committees. In 2015, the official KNU district chairman also relocated from the headquarters in the hills to these lowlands. He now de facto operates from a new KED (Karen Education Department, under the KNU) school that was constructed after the ceasefire, located on the blurred boundary between KNU and Myanmar governed areas. This can be seen as a strategic move to enhance KNU territorial control, while also as a way of building internal legitimacy with Karen villages in the lowlands.

Village Dispute Resolution--KNU as a Sovereign 'Back-Up'

KNU ceasefire state-making has also had significant effects on stabilizing village dispute resolution and village leadership in Htee Ka Lay village. (19) This village has a majority of Christian Karen and is situated in the lowlands, just three kilometres from the KED school. Before the 2012 ceasefire, it was a conflict zone controlled by the Tatmadaw over long periods. Since the ceasefire it has gradually become a KNU-governed area. The ceasefire has meant a shift from a chaotic to a more stable situation, but because there is no permanent solution to the conflict there is no official recognition or guarantee of stability. The situation remains liminal.

The village has a dual leadership structure: one elected village leader who deals with Myanmar government affairs, and one elected KNU village chairman. However, in interviews, both leaders explained that they support the KNU. Prior to 2013, KNU village leadership had to operate covertly due to Tatmadaw surveillance and punishments. While a Tatmadaw camp still exists nearby, soldiers no longer enter the village, and the Myanmar government has made no real effort to expand its civilian administration. Therefore, the village is almost exclusively subject to KNU ceasefire state-making.

A central component of ceasefire state-making has been the dissemination of KNU laws. Another has been the formation of the KNU "Village Development and Dispute Resolution Committees" in Htee Ka Lay and other lowland villages. The Karen Women Organization (KWO) has also actively empowered the village-level KWO to create awareness of women's rights. The KWO now keeps records of cases and deals with marriage disputes. This has brought a new dynamic to village leadership, which hitherto was dominated by men. According to the local KWO leader, the KNU/KNLA was able to begin to expand the implementation of its laws in 2013, a year after the ceasefire. At a meeting in the village, a KNLA captain told the villagers that it was time to ensure law, order and peace in the village. He explained that minor cases should be dealt with inside the village, whereas larger ones should be forwarded to the KNU. Building on KNU law, which recognizes the importance of customary law at the village level, he also encouraged villagers to codify their own village rules.

In Htee Ka Lay, the village rules include prohibitions on selling alcohol, riding a motorbike on church days, touching unmarried women, and causing a public disturbance. The rules are posted on public signboards and at church. Breaking them can lead to fines of up to 50,000 kyat (US$36) or equivalent in community labour. These rules clearly aim to induce morally appropriate behaviour within the village, which the village leaders and elders associate with both Christianity and Karen identity, linked to a notion of purity and peace. It was explained by the village chairman that the KNU did not decide on these rules, but that the KNU provided inspiration and approved them. The KNU was also seen as the ultimate guardian of these moral rules. As the KWO leader said: "Before this time we had rules, but no one followed them. But after this time the KNU gave us authority to write the rules and now we can enforce them." (20)

According to the data collected, KNU intervention does not replace village dispute resolution and local rules. Rather, it helps to reinforce the notion that the KNU justice system is 'the' significant 'back-up' for village leaders. Villagers' first preference is to resolve disputes in private or inside the family, because reporting cases to the village leader is considered shameful and associated with conflict escalation. There is also a strong preference by the villagers to forgive rather than to seek a remedy. If the problems cannot be handled privately, the plaintiff prefers to take the case to the village leaders, who traditionally hold the authority to mediate in a dispute. The most common cases are domestic quarrels, adultery and inheritance. Petty theft is rare and the villagers do not fear crime. Village leaders mainly use reconciliation, but they can also enforce compensation, fines and labour punishments.

When village leaders give up on resolving a crime or repeated violations of village rules occur, the cases are transferred to the KNU justice system. The village leaders explained that the village committee uses a three-step system of warnings, with KNU law as a deterrent. First, the leaders warn the perpetrator and make him or her sign a form, promising not to repeat the offence. If the perpetrator repeats the offence, he or she gets a village punishment. (21) If the perpetrator commits the offence a third time, the case is transferred to the KNU. During hearings, reference to the KNU is used to get the parties to agree on a settlement. The leaders say, for instance, "if you continue to do the bad manner we will send you to the KNU". (22) As being referred to a higher KNU authority is associated with both shame and higher penalties, such threats are used effectively by the village leaders. Thus, the KNU and its codified laws are seen as a significant point of reference to enforce village decisions, even if the law is not used in any literal sense.

If and when cases could not be resolved within the village, ordinary villagers preferred the KNU justice system to the Myanmar justice system. In fact, it is unthinkable to them to go to the Myanmar police and courts. Our survey suggests that the villagers perceived the KNU system as substantially more legitimate than the Myanmar system when it came to questions about fairness, respect and enforcement authority. Thirty-eight out of forty respondents said that the KNU courts were fair and treated people with respect, whereas only four respondents said the same about the Myanmar courts. None of the respondents felt that the Myanmar system had strong enforcement authority, whereas thirty-five out of forty respondents thought the KNU courts had. This underscores the view of the KNU as 'the' source of sovereign power, in the sense of final decisions and punishments (Hansen and Stepputat 2005, pp. 1-5) and as a significant moral authority in the regulation of social behaviour. The responses may in addition be influenced by the widespread fear of Myanmar state authorities and the differences in language and ethnicity.

While our findings suggest that KNU state-making has afforded the KNU considerable internal legitimacy and, indeed, authority, the system upon which this rests remains unstable and the KNU cannot always enforce its laws and issue punishments directly. It must also respond to the justice preferences of the village. This happened in several cases that were transferred from the village level to the KNU; the KNU judges first tried to reconcile the parties rather than punish the perpetrators. This emphasis on reconciliation is embedded in an ethos shared by the KNU and Karen villagers that imprisonment is a last resort. For the villagers, the failure to make peace between people is associated with shame. For this reason, the KNU's state-making has to carefully balance law enforcement and punishment, while recognizing villagers' preferences for justice. This emphasizes a cautious form of ceasefire state-making, whereby the increased stability of institutions and promulgation of laws coexist with flexibility and ambiguity.

NMSP Justice in Practice

A central difference to the KNU peace process is that the ceasefire agreement between the government and the NMSP has been in place for a longer period of time. This means that some of the NMSP governance structures appear to be more fixed than those of the KNU. However, this prolonged intermediate solution has also kept people in a liminal state for a longer period of time. One could argue that this ceasefire situation--the liminal phase and the insecurity and malleability that it entails--has become the norm.

The NMSP justice system in our geographical area of research has a fixed physical establishment at the township and district headquarters, but like the KNU it is chronically lacking in personnel. An MNLA township commander told us, "We have no lawyers, no degrees and higher education. Only learning by doing. But people still come to the NMSP because they trust them more than the government and because they cannot speak Burmese." (23)

The commander added that villagers forward cases to the township level because it adds an extra layer of authority to village-level decisions. The lack of formal education and a general lack of personnel is conditioned by the ceasefire and unresolved situation of the state-makers here.

The district-level justice committee operates from the NMSP headquarters, which is a large compound surrounded by barbed wire and guarded by MNLA soldiers. The seven-member justice committee convenes mainly to deal with cases that the township level cannot resolve, while cases of rape, murder and drug trafficking go directly to the district level. The decision-making process is based on a mixture of precedence, common sense and NMSP law, but according to our observations the NMSP law book was not used as a working document during justice committee proceedings. The district uses three kinds of punishment: compensation, labour and imprisonment. Dangerous prisoners may, after serving for a period of time, be allowed outside the prison during the day, but they are chained and have to sign a khan won. A khan won is a letter of agreement and may, for instance, require a family member of the prisoner to agree that if the prisoner escapes the family member takes his or her place in prison. Another type of agreement used is one where, for instance, the prisoner's property is handed over to the plaintiff or NMSP if he or she absconds. (24) Case hearings at the district level provide insights into how references to the law are also combined with openings for negotiation. The NMSP is entrusted by the villagers to act as 'the' legal authority with the mandate to issue prison sentences. This status relies both on the articulation of state-like rules and on flexible resolution mechanisms that resemble those used at the village level. This flexibility is a necessity borne out of the liminal context of the ceasefire period, which leads NMSP state-makers to rely heavily on their sense of legitimacy at the village level.

NMSP Village Dispute Resolution

Pop Htaw village is close to the NMSP Bee Kharl district headquarters and officially located in what the Myanmar government recognizes as Karen State. Surrounding it are some Karen villages that are governed by the KNU, but Pop Htaw and most other villages are Mon and governed by the NMSP. The area experienced armed conflict until the mid-1990s, but was never directly controlled by the Myanmar state.

Pop Htaw has a five-member village justice committee, chaired by the village headman. The committee mainly resolves marriage disputes, quarrels, fights, conflicts over moneylending, land disputes between villagers, and moral breaches. As in Karen areas, reconciliation is the main dispute resolution mechanism, but punishments are issued, including fines, community labour, and confinement in a pillory. The pillory is a wooden framework with holes for the feet that can fit three people at a time. It is located in the village square and is used to punish people who commit drunken, rude or violent behaviour. Thus, the pillory is mainly used for dealing with moral breaches, as they are considered an offence towards the community as a whole in that they debase the village. The village justice committee refers to NMSP law, but mainly applies village rules, which are written on public signboards (see Figure 3). The rules are approved by the NMSP, but they are developed by village elders, monks and the village administration. They ban the sale of intoxicating substances, gambling, driving irresponsibly, speaking disrespectfully to other villagers, and the practice of letting animals roam in the village. The rules are infused with values linked to morally appropriate behaviour for a Mon villager and to Buddhist ideas of social harmony, as they are intended to keep the village orderly, clean and dignified. The committee also uses khan won in the same manner as the NMSP.

Overall, there is a strong sense that the justice committee and headman enjoy legitimacy and that their decisions are respected by the villagers. This authority is supported by the NMSP, which functions not only as an appeal option but also as a source of authority when the village committee faces difficulties in resolving a case. For instance, in a case of a land dispute, the village committee was able to enforce a decision because one of the parties had a certificate issued by the NMSP, featuring a stamp and letterhead. The other party was accused of forging his certificate, and a community labour punishment was meted out to him based on the authority vested in the NMSP document

In addition, the NMSP has institutionalized a fixed transfer system from the village upwards in the NMSP system requiring that cases first be reported to the village committee and to the village tract committee before it can reach the NMSP. There is a close relationship between the village leaders and the NMSP and a clear hierarchical structure in this system, which supports the enforcement authority of the village committee. When cases are too serious for them to handle or when the village committee is in doubt or does not dare to deal with suspected perpetrators, the NMSP is consulted. As in Htee Ka Lay in Karen state, 'NMSP law' should not be understood as adhering to a written legal code, but as a practical tool and a sign of identification with and belonging to the NMSP state.

Villagers explained that they are apprehensive about having their cases transferred to the NMSP, as this will usually involve harsher penalties, but they simultaneously recognize the NMSP courts as the accepted state institution above that of the village level. This was confirmed by our survey, where the NMSP court system compared favourably to the Myanmar courts on fairness and respect. Importantly, shared ethnicity played a strong positive role, not only in terms of contributing to the Mon villagers' identification with and preference for the NMSP system but also in terms of how the justice system is able to operate.

Even though the NMSP justice system exhibits flexible characteristics, the ceasefire has enabled a strengthening of services in some areas. For instance, in the area where the research took place, the village tract committee had received legal training and had been given a fixed place to resolve disputes. The village tract committee helps to renegotiate difficult cases at the village level, and it also resolves disputes that arise between persons from different villages. While structures have been established and institutionalized, and prisons built, there is still a need for flexibility as future prospects may dissolve once the liminal phase comes to an end.

An important challenge of this liminal situation is that justice provision gets complicated when disputes and crimes involve non-Mon, like Karen people from surrounding KNU-administered villages and Bamar persons living in Pop Htaw. This is because the non-Mon are not embedded in local networks of mutual obligation and are not perceived as belonging to the NMSP state. Due to the unresolved nature and liminality of the ceasefire situation, the justice system is inherently unstable and its applicability is non-universal. Instead, people adjust to the situation, and we observed different arrangements and more ad hoc solutions to deal with non-Mon involvement. For instance, one Mon factory owner in Pop Htaw obtained permission from the NMSP to employ around twenty Bamar workers. In return he pledged his entire property as a guarantee that the workers would comply with the NMSP authorities and the village rules. Thus, if the Bamar were to have a dispute or commit an offence, it would be the responsibility of the factory owner to deal with the matter. At the same time, the Bamar are excluded from bringing cases to the NMSP village justice committee.

Matters get more difficult when the case involves Bamar residents of Pop Htaw who are not under the responsibility of an employer. In one case, for instance, a Bamar man who was married to a Mon woman was accused of domestic violence and subsequently reported to the village justice committee. The committee sentenced him to a period of time in the pillory and obliged him sign several khan won, but he continued to repeat the offence. Finally, the village justice committee consulted the tract committee, which obtained the backing of the NMSP to expel this man from the village. Unlike Bamar members of these communities, the headman explained that a Mon villager could not be expelled, because as a native Mon there is either property that can be used as a guarantee or a wider family that can vouch for the offender. This shows how a shared ethnicity, which also facilitates an informal social contract related to property and family guarantees, is important for the justice system to function. The case also shows that the NMSP serves as an authoritative backup when the village committee cannot enforce compliance.

An exception to this role of the NMSP applies when cases involve Karen villagers who are governed by the KNU. In such cases the NMSP is more reluctant to get involved because this could create tensions with the KNU within the shared territorial space. The complexity of enforcing this system was demonstrated in a debt dispute where a Karen villager had repeatedly failed to repay his loan to a Mon villager. In this case the village committee did not appeal to the NMSP. Instead, the case was resolved through a mutual agreement between the village tract committee and a representative of the Karen village administration, who came together to handle the case. The tract committee members told us that this case would have been complicated if it had moved higher up in the system because the case would then involve two different authorities. At the tract level, jurisdictional lines based on ethnicity are less sensitive, and the village justice actors in both villages are known to one another. Conversely, the EAOs, as parallel sovereigns within shared territorial spaces, must be cautious when cases involve people who do not belong to their ethnic group. Their situation is that of being "betwixt and between" (Turner 1969, p. 95) stable classifications and agreements. This constitutes one of the liminal elements of ceasefire state-making.

Cautious Ceasefire State-Making

In our fieldwork sites, the KNU and the NMSP have developed a form of internal legitimacy which stabilizes their organizations and helps their justice systems to survive through civilian support, as the higher-level peace negotiations proceed. This is evident in how villagers view the EAOs as the preferred justice-seeking option if issues cannot be resolved at the village level. Indeed, in both areas the EAOs are seen as 'the' significant authoritative backup in justice and order enforcement, and this provides the villagers with a sense of protection and recognition. Legitimacy is not reducible to one source but is constantly negotiated and in the making. Thus, internal legitimacy rests not only on the shared identity with the villagers or on the EAO's historical claim to moral authority but also on practical state-making efforts, such as justice provision. Simultaneously, internal legitimacy rests on mutual dependency between the village leaders and the EAOs, which leads to a dual form of recognition and constitution of authority. While the ceasefires have enabled a territorial expansion and consolidation of EAO institutions and laws, these state-making efforts empower village leaders to govern their villages.

It is apparent that the villagers' preferences for the EAOs cannot be isolated from how they compare the EAOs favourably to the Myanmar state, with which they have little if any positive experience. Rather, as South (2018, p. 2) argues, the Myanmar state has always been experienced as violent and predatory, which despite recent political changes still informs ethnic villagers' imaginaries of the state. The villagers we interviewed had never gone to a Myanmar court, but rumours of corrupt officials and past experiences with the Tatmadaw as the incarnation of the Myanmar state made it unthinkable for them to report cases to the Myanmar system. Nevertheless, the Myanmar state still influences how the EAOs navigate their position and legitimacy. Their authority may be accepted on the 'inside', but KNU and NMSP township and district actors expressed fear that their authority is being threatened from the 'outside'. They worry that they are losing territory and jurisdiction over their respective ethnic populations and that the Myanmar state will take over from the inside, by setting up schools, health posts, development projects and businesses in the ethnic villages (see also Brenner 2017).

Where a core concern in northern Karen state is the lack of Tatmadaw troop withdrawal and the expansion of Myanmar business investments, the NMSP in our fieldwork site worried that the Tatmadaw might instigate conflict as a reprisal for not signing the NCA in 2015. (26) This worry is linked to the fact that the NMSP shares territory with the KNU. Although the KNU and the NMSP have an agreement about shared administration, the situation is still very sensitive. This was evident in a drug-trafficking case where the NMSP justice committee worried that the KNU would be offended because the NMSP had imprisoned Karen villagers caught with drugs inside NMSP territory. The situation is fragile as the authority of both EAOs is unfixed and challenged.

The problems associated with sharing territory with other justice providers, and thus ultimately other "sovereign bodies" (Hansen and Stepputat 2005, p. 11), is even more sensitive when it comes to the Myanmar government and mixed controlled areas. (27) Even though each of the EAOs attempts to govern their populations and have set up institutionalized structures, the lack of juridical status outside their areas provides a challenge for them. This is characteristic of states-within-states (Spears 2004, p. 16). The ceasefires and Myanmar state law do not give legal authority to the KNU or the NMSP justice committees to summon perpetrators or disputing parties who live in areas controlled by the Myanmar government, even if the crimes are committed within areas de facto controlled by the EAOs. For instance, in 2016 the NMSP was heavily criticized by the Mon State Government for narcotics arrests and other justice-related activities outside their territory (Min Paing 2016). From the NMSP's perspective, their actions were legitimate as they were policing their border area to protect villagers from drugs. The KNU faces similar concerns. While it has been able to de facto consolidate its justice system after the ceasefire, the lack of legally clarified territorial boundaries in the ceasefire agreement is contributing to a situation where the KNU has to act carefully, and often covertly, which sometimes leads to legal compromises. One core challenge now is the rising problem of drug trafficking in the lowlands, which has led the KNLA to police, arrest and trial non-Karen people outside KNU-controlled areas. They have to do so secretly, using nocturnal checkpoints, because it is not permitted by the government. (28) We also encountered cases where Karen who committed offences in Myanmar-controlled areas were prosecuted by the KNU. While this is less controversial than prosecuting non-Karen, according to the KNU district chairman, it is still a delicate matter. The absence of external legitimacy and legal recognition alongside the fragile nature of the peacemaking process makes ceasefire state-making inherently precarious.


In line with the comparative literature on rebel governance, this article has shown that the KNU and the NMSP in Myanmar cannot simply be dismissed as rebels who are focused on extraction and coercion alone. They are also de facto state-makers who try to nurture spheres of sovereignty and legitimate authority through civilian governance and by articulating a shared political community based on identity. In this article we focused on the KNU and the NMSP's state-making efforts through the institutionalization of judicial mechanisms and rules. Alongside policing, justice provision can be seen as one of the essential steps of developing a governance system, as it enables the EAOs to assert a key component of Weberian sovereignty--the monopoly over the use of violence in a specific territory. It also contributes to a sense of normalization and order, which helps build internal legitimacy among the populations they seek to govern (Mampilly 2011, p. 63; Sivakumaran 2009, p. 509). Indeed, our findings suggest that the justice systems of the EAOs constitute a legitimate alternative to the Myanmar state system in the eyes of the villagers, and while justice provision boosts the authority of the EAOs, it also has a stabilizing effect on village leadership. Shared language, identity and notions of morally appropriate behaviour also play a role in the nurturing of internal legitimacy.

In their state-making efforts, the EAOs are mimicking the practical and symbolic languages of the nation-state (Hansen and Stepputat 2001, p. 5), even though they are formed in opposition to the incumbent state. While this may seem paradoxical, Mampilly (2011, p. 60) convincingly argues that this is because the nation-state still largely constitutes the recognized model of political organization. Nevertheless, as "states-within-states" (Kingston and Spears 2004, p. 3), the EAOs' mimicry of the state also creates ambiguities and forms of instability, which are related to the vexed question of external legitimacy and competing sovereignty. This is unfolding within a prolonged period of peace negotiations and an insecure political transition where the incumbent state is now, at least officially, in the hands of a democratically elected government, but where the military still holds considerable power.

In this article we have introduced the concept of ceasefire state-making to capture the liminal period of ambiguity and uncertainty that unfolds during the period between the ceasefire agreement and a potential and yet unknown political settlement. The comparative insights of Mampilly (2011) and other literature on states within states (Kingston and Spears 2004) go a long way in explaining the governance tactics and state-making efforts of the NMSP and the KNU. However, by either focusing on the periods of combat or the post-war period, they fail to capture the particular liminal dynamics of how state-making unfolds during protracted periods of ceasefire, of the 'in-between war and peace' situation currently existing in southeast Myanmar.

Ceasefire state-making is characterized by simultaneous processes of stabilization--facilitated by the end of combat--and unfixity--facilitated by the lack of a final settlement. The EAOs are able to consolidate their institutions, enforce laws and expand their geographical reach to a greater extent than during armed conflict. However, this is done in a cautious, flexible and contested manner, as they compete with the incumbent state and as they are not fully recognized as governance actors. At the national peace negotiations they are recognized as partners in a political dialogue, but, when it comes to everyday governance, their jurisdictions, mandates and ability to act on issues pertaining to the populations they claim to represent, their authority remains unfixed and in need of continuous adaptation and flexibility. External legitimacy has not been secured. We have used the anthropological concept of liminality as a core characteristic of such ceasefire state-making. This conceptual framework usefully describes how the ceasefire has opened up possibilities for new structures and modes of governance. However, the instability of the situation gives these new structures and modes of governance a character of temporality and unfixity, which shapes how state-making can be pursued. Indeed, the judicial and governmental authority of the EAOs described is unsettled, negotiable and continuously in process (Turner 1969, pp. 94-96; Malksoo 2012, pp. 488-89). This was evident in the constant legal compromises, insecurity around jurisdictions and the need to be mobile and adaptable to various justice demands, and in the restrictions from the Myanmar government. Simultaneously, the EAOs draw on a long historical claim to the right to govern the ethnic groups they profess to represent and they articulate themselves as guardians of identity and morally appropriate behaviour. However, these claims to moral authority coexist with competing political claims in Myanmar.

This liminal situation raises important questions about the continued trajectory of ceasefire state-making and, indeed, of the future legitimacy of EAOs. While the military still holds considerable political power in parliament and over core ministries that deal with defence, security and administration of justice, important changes have occurred in the political arena. EAOs in Myanmar have now been promised a federal solution as part of the peace negotiations. Simultaneously, as South (2018, p. 8) notes, as Myanmar moves towards a more institutionalized democracy, the national perception of political legitimacy is shifting towards participation in parliamentary politics rather than through armed struggle. South argues that this shift will likely challenge the EAOs' "privileged position as the principle representations of minority communities" (South 2018, p. 8), making service provision an even more important strategy for the organizations' survival.

Simultaneously, there is a dilemma associated with competing forms of sovereignly. As Sivakumaran (2009, p. 490) also notes for other contexts, the courts of the KNU and the NMPS contribute significantly to stability and order at times when the official state systems lack territorial reach and are mistrusted by civilians. However, such courts--and indeed the punishment of delinquency and materialization of parallel state-like laws--are fundamentally perceived by official states as an "encroachment on their sovereignty" (Sivakumaran 2009, p. 489).

Likely due to this dilemma of sovereignty, there are no examples where the civilian governance systems of rebel groups have been fully recognized, unless they have taken over state power or obtained secessionist goals (Mampilly 2011, pp. 247-48). Rather, what dominates are examples where rebel actors are integrated into the official state structures, with their civilian structures being ignored after a peace deal (Mampilly 2011, pp. 247-48). As argued by Mampilly (2011, p. 11), the nation-state serves as 'the' model upon which rebel governance is structured and civilian consent is obtained, but rebel groups are also trapped by this model because it makes it inherently difficult to imagine full recognition without separate statehood. Erasing this dilemma would require a fundamental rethinking of the concept of sovereignty, which could involve international recognition of non-state sovereigns. A first step in this direction is to ameliorate the common conception that rebel governance necessarily poses an existential challenge to the state system (Mampilly 2011, p. 250).

These matters are particularly relevant in the case of Myanmar, where the current commitment to federalism, and the relinquishing of secessionism, could potentially open up space for alternative and more hybrid arrangements. One beginning could be, as South (2018, pp. 61-63) suggests, to find practical arrangements that officially recognize the EAOs' governance systems, including justice provision, in the so-called 'interim phase'--or what we have called the liminal period--namely, during the ongoing peace negotiations and thus as part of the process of ceasefire state-making. However, this would require the Myanmar state and the EAOs to share sovereignty. A more likely scenario in the near future is a situation of 'perpetual liminality' (Malksoo 2012, p. 489), where a plurality of state-makers and moral authorities coexist and compete over a yet unknown political outcome.


Fieldwork was conducted as part of the project Everyday Justice and Security in the Myanmar Transition, which was made possible through funding from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark. The project constitutes a partnership between the Danish Institute for International Studies (DIIS), Aarhus University, Yangon University and the Enlightened Myanmar Research Foundation (EMReF). We are particularly thankful to Lue Htar and Mi Thang Sorn Poine, researchers at EMReF, for their contribution to data collection and analysis in the KNU and NMSP areas.


(1.) The two authors have contributed equally to this article.

(2.) Fighting between the military and EAOs has continued in other parts of the country since the 2015 national ceasefire agreement, notably in Kachin, Shan and Rakhine states, and there have also been pockets of conflict between troops in ceasefire areas. On the various obstacles to the peace negotiations, see Smith (2017).

(3.) While we draw on the rebel governance literature, we refrain from using the concepts of rebels and insurgent groups for the NMSP and the KNU. Rather, we use the local term ethnic armed organization, which also fits better with their current status as ceasefire groups that are no longer criminalized by the Myanmar government.

(4.) Three trips comprising a total of fifteen days of fieldwork in the NMSP area were conducted between 28 March 2016 and 5 February 2017. The researchers were able to live at both the NMSP District Headquarters as well as with a family in the village. In the Karen village, fieldwork was also conducted over three periods of time in May and September 2016 and January 2017, totalling seventeen days. The shorter-term stays are not ideal for anthropological research but were necessary due to the limited accessibility to the EAO areas, which requires the renegotiation of permissions from higher-ranking EAO members each time. Case study areas were chosen based on accessibility criteria, including security concerns.

(5.) Like the qualitative data collection, the survey was done with the permission of the KNU and the NMSP, but conducted independently by members of the research team.

(6.) The distribution of interviews was as follows in the NMSP area: NMSP administration and the MNLA at district level (10 persons), NMSP administration and the MNLA at township level (3 persons), village elites (such as various committee members, leaders, monks) (10 persons), ordinary villagers (23 persons, of these 7 were male and 16 female). In addition, 3 villagers, 2 NMSP Central Executive Committee leaders and 3 Mon Community Service Organizations were interviewed in Mawlamyine. In the KNU area, the distribution was as follows: KNU administrative persons and judges (7 persons), village elites (14 persons), religious leaders (2 persons), women's group members (3 persons), ordinary villagers (20 persons, of whom 6 were men and 14 were women).

(7.) Unlike original anthropological studies of rites of passage in small-scale societies, large-scale societal transformations lack a clear time span, obvious entrance and exit points as well as fixed authoritative ceremony masters, which makes liminality even more uncertain (Malksoo 2012, p. 487).

(8.) We have chosen to use Karen rather than the Burmese designation Kayin, for Karen/Kayin state and the ethnic members of the Karen group, as it is the preferred English term used by Karen people.

(9.) The NCA political dialogue process was continued under the new civilian government of the National League for Democracy, which took office under the de facto leadership of Aung San Suu Kyi in 2016.

(10.) Most recently, an extension related to drug crimes was added.

(11.) The law on witchcraft covers penalties in instances where people are accused of causing other persons to become ill, mad or to die using certain witchcraft materials that are listed in the law or by getting the help of spiritual actors. It can also punish persons who take the law into their own hands against persons accused of bewitching. The law itself explicitly states that it was passed because witchcraft accusations were rife and gave way to many cases of vigilante justice in Karen state. Thus, the law gives the authorities the mandate to deal with such cases legally according to the KNU law on witchcraft from 1976, of which we obtained a copy during fieldwork and translated to English.

(12.) Standing committees are the civilian governments of the KNU, and the members are elected at congresses every two years from the village tract level up to the central committee. It resembles a one-party state system (Jolliffe 2015, pp. 46-47).

(13.) The KNPF was formed in 1991, but because of the armed conflict it was absorbed into the KNLA. The ceasefire provided a space for reforming the KNPF, which was revived in 2015 (interview with KNU Justice Department, Mae Sot, Thailand, March 2016).

(14.) Technically, the central level can also hand down death sentences, but this is rare.

(15.) Exceptions are for murder, rape and drug abuse, which are meant to go directly to the EAOs.

(16.) Interview with district chairman, northern Karen State, 11 May 2016.

(17.) For instance, in one case the sentence for adultery was reduced for a woman whose parents needed her to care for them.

(18.) The village leaders do not report to any specific office but use a network of KNU or KNLA contact persons, which used to operate secretly during the armed conflict. This networked reporting system reflects that people are still cautious when operating through the KNU justice system (interview with district judge, northern Karen State, 29 September 2016; interview with village chairman, Htee Ka Lay village, 27 September 2016).

(19.) The place names in both field sites have been made up in order to ensure anonymity.

(20.) Interview with KWO village leader, Htee Ka Lay village, 27 September 2016.

(21.) Case settlements may also involve ritual offerings, associated with customary notions of having to apologize to the community as a collective, as offences like adultery are perceived as sullying the community as a whole.

(22.) Field notes, 27 May 2016, Htee Ka Lay village.

(23.) Interview with MNLA township commander, Bee Kharl District, 17 May 2016.

(24.) Khan won is a Burmese word that is also used in the Karen area. The Mon term for the letter is Dont katoi piung.

(25.) English translation of sign for village rules,

Village Rules

1) It is strictly prohibited to buy and sell intoxicating substances.

2) It is strictly prohibited to spend money on gambling.

3) If guests are staying overnight, it has to be reported to the village administration.

4) If you speak disrespectfully to someone in the community, you will receive a strict punishment.

5) When you drive in the village, you have to drive on the right side and you are not allowed to speed.

6) It is strictly prohibited to let animals roam in the village during the summer and monsoon seasons.

7) It is prohibited to compose or sing a song that is disrespectful towards persons in the community (this prohibition applies also to youth and elderly groups).

Remark: Anyone who breaks these seven rules will be punished.

--Village Headman

(26.) Indeed, the NMSP was compelled to sign the NCA in 2018 as a result of external pressures, among which were the fear of conflict with the KNU as well as harassment from the Tatmadaw. See also Lawi Weng (2017).

(27.) On the particular difficulties of EAO jurisdictions and village dispute resolution in mixed KNU and Government of Myanmar controlled areas, see Kyed and Thitsar (2018).

(28.) Interview with KNU judge, northern Karen state, 29 September 2016.


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Annika Pohl Harrisson and Helene Maria Kyed (1)

Annika Pohl Harrisson is Department Coordinator at the School of Culture and Society, Department of Anthropology, Aarhus University, Moesgard Alle" 20, 8270 Hojbjerg, Denmark; email:

Helene Maria Kyed is Research Coordinator and Senior Researcher in the Department of Peace, Risk and Violence, Danish Institute for International Studies, Ostbanegade 117, 2100 Copenhagen, Denmark; email:

DOI: 10.1355/sj34-2c
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Title Annotation:New Mon State Party and the Karen National Union
Author:Harrisson, Annika Pohl; Kyed, Helene Maria
Publication:SOJOURN: Journal of Social Issues in Southeast Asia
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:9MYAN
Date:Jul 1, 2019
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