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Assessment for Mons in Burma

Publisher Minorities at Risk Project
Publication Date 31 December 2003
Cite as Minorities at Risk Project, Assessment for Mons in Burma, 31 December 2003, available at: [accessed 30 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.
Burma Facts
Area:    676,552 sq. km.
Capital:    Rangoon
Total Population:    47,305,000 (source: U.S. Census Bureau, 1998, est.)

Risk Assessment | Analytic Summary | References

Risk Assessment

The Mon have three of the six factors that increase the chances of future rebellion: territorial concentration; recent repression by state authorities; and a history of lost autonomy. Since the late 1980s, more than 15 ethnic groups, including the Mon, have reached ceasefire deals with the military junta. These agreements generally provide for some local control and promises of economic development. Whether these provisions are fulfilled will also likely influence the prospects of future rebellion.

Protest is unlikely to go above verbal opposition, given the repressive nature of the regime and the weakness of Mon political organization.

Analytic Summary

Most Mon live in eastern Mon state although there are group members in neighboring Thailand. The Mon's residence in Burma predates the arrival of the dominant community, the Burmans, who first attempted to conquer the Mon in the 11th century. The Burmans subsequently absorbed many Mon cultural practices including their religion, Theravada Buddhism (RELIG1 = 7). There has been little group migration across the country's regions.

Linguistically and culturally related to the Khmers in Cambodia, the Mon speak Mon-Khmer dialects while the country's official language is Burmese which is spoken by the Burmans. Group members share the social customs of the Burmans, and although they are of a different racial stock, there has been substantial intermixture (RACE = 2).

Until the Burman conquest in the mid-18th century, the Mon had their own independent state (AUTLOST = 1). Burman control over Mon areas was displaced following the third Anglo-Burman war and the establishment of British colonial rule (1886-1947). There is little information available on Mon political activities until the mid-1970s when the rebel New Mon State Party (NMSP) was formed. Protest actions by group members first arose during this period; however, a lack of information could be responsible for the inability to find data on rebellion until the mid-1980s (PROT75X = 2; REB85X = 2).

In 1995 the New Mon State Party signed a ceasefire agreement with the junta. A number of factors likely influenced this decision including the government's superior military force, the loss of half of Mon territory to the military, increased dissension within the movement, and desires for economic development. Since the late 1980s, the Burmese military has more than doubled, reaching a force of 400,000. Chinese military assistance, in the form of arms and training, has been critical. In addition, Thailand had begun to repatriate Mon in refugee camps, despite a liberal policy of allowing long-term stays. Some analysts indicate that Thailand's decision was based on its desire to increase economic linkages with Burma, especially to further a natural gas agreement reached in 1995.

Demographic stresses that confront group members include deteriorating public health conditions, declining caloric intake, dispossession from their land, and forced resettlement by state authorities. Many villagers were involuntarily relocated in Mon state to facilitate the construction of a natural gas pipeline from Burma to Thailand. In addition, as with the country's other ethnic groups, the Mon have been forced to provide unpaid labor for infrastructure projects, although there are no reports of forced labor between 2001 and 2003.

Historical neglect and/or restrictions account for the group's economic status, although there are no public policies that focus on improving their material well-being (ECDIS03 = 2). Political restrictions include limits on freedom of expression, free movement, political organizations, and recruitment to civil service positions. These are largely the result of social exclusion by the Burmans (POLDIS03 = 3).

The Mon are seeking broad autonomy in group-majority areas along with greater political rights at the federal level (SEPX = 3). They also want a greater share of public funds and economic opportunities along with safeguards to protect their land from being used to benefit other groups. The right to use their language for schooling and in interactions with the government is also a key concern. In 1998 the military ordered the closure of all Mon-language schools that were administered by the NMSP. The language of instruction in all state schools is Burmese.

Until the mid-1990s, militant groups primarily represented Mon interests, but by the end of the decade these were being advanced through broad-based conventional organizations. Political activism in recent years has been minimal (PROT01 = 1, PROT02-03 = 0; REB98-00 = 0). Some factions of the NMSP formed the Beik Mon Army in 1996 and temporarily resumed the armed conflict (REB96-97 = 3; COHESX9 = 3). The following year, the BMA surrendered. In recent years, Mon have cooperated with Karen forces (REB01-02 = 1).


Bauer, Christian, "Language and Ethnicity: The Mon in Burma and Thailand," in Wijeyewardene, Gehan (ed.), Ethnic Groups across National Boundaries in Mainland Southeast Asia (Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 1990).

The Europa Yearbook, Far East and Australasia 1993.

Keesings Record of World Events, 1990-93.

Minorities at Risk, Phase I, overview compiled by Monty G. Marshall, 06/89.

Lexis-Nexis news reports, 1990-2003.

U.S. Department of State. Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Burma. 2001-2003.

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