The Divisions Within
covering burma and southeast asia
Tuesday, June 25, 2019


The Divisions Within

By Bertil Lintner APRIL, 2006 - VOLUME 14 NO.4


Ethnic divides continue to cause friction in Southeast Asian countries


Ethnic Conflicts in Southeast Asia, edited by Kusuma Snitwongse and W Scott Thomson. The Institute of Security and International Studies, Bangkok, and the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore; 2006. P173.

This must be the first book about ethnic conflicts in Asia in which all the contributors come from the countries they write about. Rizal Sukma, of Jakarta’s Center for Strategic and International Studies, analyzes the causes behind ethnic conflicts in Indonesia. Miriam Coronel Ferrer, a professor at the University of the Philippines, examines the Muslim issue in the south of the Philippines, as well as insurgencies and movements among the Cordillera peoples on the northern island of Luzon. Chiang Mai University’s Chayan Vaddhanaphutti describes the multi-ethnic nature of Thai society, and how the various groups have been assimilated into what resembles a nation state—with the main exception of the hilltribes in the northern mountains. Zakaria Haji Ahmad, of HELP University College in Kuala Lumpur, and Suzaina Kadir, a professor at the National University of Singapore, deal with the very sensitive issue of ethnic and national identities in Malaysia. Tin Maung Maung Than, a Burmese senior fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore, looks into state building and ethnic conflict in Burma.


Sukma’s contribution stands out as an excellent overview of “horizontal conflicts” within Indonesian society, as well as “vertical conflicts” between the state and local ethnic groups. The first type of conflict is caused by the old, controversial government policy of “transmigration” (i.e. when the state encouraged people to move from the crowded islands of Java and Madura to lesser populated areas such as Kalimantan and West Papua) which led to the marginalization of indigenous peoples in those parts of the country, and communal clashes between them and the newcomers. “Vertical conflicts,” by contrast, exist in Aceh and West Papua, where local independence movements want to break away from the Indonesian state. Given the inability of Indonesia’s new democratic leaders to address satisfactorily the issues at stake, he fears that the situation in Indonesia “will once again provide another opportunity and ‘conducive climate’ for authoritarianism to re-emerge.”


The chapters on the Philippines and Malaysia are equally lucid.

1  |  2  next page »

more articles in this section