SHAN STATE ARMY, SHAN POLITICAL GROUPS AND THE SHAN INSURGENCY

SHAN INSURGENCY AND POLITICAL GROUPS

The Shan insurgency has been fighting for autonomy and independence from the Burma (Myanmar) government since the 1960s. They have a flag and a national anthem.

In 1962, an ethnic Shan and former prince named Sao Shwe Thaike, who had been Burma’s first president, tried to launch talks for better treatment of those living in the ethnic states. The government responded by clamping down on the ethnic groups, nullifying promises for more autonomy and arresting Sao Shwe Thaike, who died in jail under mysterious circumstances. The Shans were angry about this and a numbers of militia’s, political groups and anti-government organizations were created to fight the Burmese government.

Out of the numerous faction and groups three major ones existed in the early 2000s: 1) the Shan Nationalities League of Democracy, allied with Aung San Suu Kyi NLP; 2) the Shan Democratic Union, founded by Shan exiles; 3) and the Shan State Army.

The Shan Nationalities League for Democracy, a Shan political party that came second in the 1990 election was participating in the 2010 election as the Shan Nationalities Democratic Party. The SNDP won 3 seats with 1.33 percent (496,039 votes) of the total vote. The party is headed by Sai Aike Paung. Another Shan party, the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD), is headed by Hkun Htun Oo;

Shan State Army

The Shan State Army was a fighting force created by drug warlord Khun Sa to protect his territory and drug empire from the Myanmar government and rival groups. It was made up of mostly of Shan fighters and in its time was well armed. It was supposed to disband after Khun Sa retired and made a peace agreement with the Myanmar government, however it continued to fight the government.

The Shan State Army is based in the Shan State in eastern Myanmar. It has its headquarters in Doi Tai Lang and has been driven to a few remaining strongholds near the Thai border.

In recent years the Shan State Army has allied itself with the Myanmar government and helped them fight against the United Wa State Army. The United Wa State Army and the Shan State Army have traditionally battled one another over control of the Myanmar opium and heroin market. The Shan State Army is allied with the Thai government.

Many fighters have been children and teenagers who hadn’t known anything other than war. Some have been orphans who have lost their families. Older one sometimes moved to and from the battle fronts with their families.

History of the Shan State Army

Various militias united and evolved into the Shan State Army, which at one time was divided into three factions---the central, northern and southern wings---each with its own history. The southern faction has a political component called the Restoration Council for the Shan State, which said it was committed to “to establishing a Shan States an independent nation not as part of a federal union.”

One of the militias that opposed the Burmese government came under the control of a drug lord named Khun Sa.

After Khun Sa retired, the Shans said they had abandoned the opium trade and began seeking international support but thus far they have had a hard time getting to much sympathy because of their past involvement in the drug trade. The Myanmar government insists that the Shan State Army is still involved in drug trade. It is not clear how much truth there is to these allegations.

The Thai army supported the Shan State Army to stem the flow of drugs. Some soldiers who worked for Khun Sa went to work for the Thai army. An Australian television networks did a piece claiming that Thailand was training and supplying Shan guerillas. This is quite a change from the old days when the Shan insurgents were regarded as public enemy No. 1 for their involvement in the opium trade.

Shan State Army South

The Shan State Army South (SSA-S) is one of the largest armed groups still fighting the Myanmar military regime (Tatmadaw), under the umbrella of an organization called the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS). RCSS/SSA-S officials declare that their regular military strength is 5,000 soldiers, with approximately 5,000 local militia under the control of village heads.

The Shan State Army was a fighting force created by drug warlord Khun Sa to protect his territory and drug empire from the Myanmar government and rival groups. It was made up of mostly of Shan fighters and in its time was well armed. It was supposed to disband after Khun Sa retired and made a peace agreement with the Myanmar government, however it continued to fight the government.

The Shan State Army is based in the Shan State in eastern Myanmar. It has its headquarters in Doi Tai Lang and has been driven to a few remaining strongholds near the Thai border. In recent years the Shan State Army has allied itself with the Myanmar government and helped them fight against the United Wa State Army. The United Wa State Army and the Shan State Army have traditionally battled one another over control of the Myanmar opium and heroin market. The Shan State Army is allied with the Thai government.

Shan State National Army and Shan State Army Merger

In May 2005, Sai Wansai, General Secretary of the Shan Democratic Union, wrote: The “Shan State National Army (SSNA) led by Col Sai Yi and Shan State Army South (SSA -S) led by Col Yawd Serk merged and agreed to struggle for the restoration of sovereignty and rights of self-determination of the Shan State together. It is significant for the SSNA has been a ceasefire army, which has agreed to find political solution peacefully together with the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) or the ruling military junta for almost a decade. Col Sai Yi said that it wasn't the SSNA who had thrown the ceasefire agreement overboard and that the SPDC's pressure to surrender or disarm his troops, coupled with its rejection of federal solution has prompted him to join the SSA -S, which is in open armed conflict with the SPDC. [Source: Sai Wansai, General Secretary, Shan Democratic Union Reuters, May 24, 2005 ::]

“The detainment of Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD) leader Khun Htoon Oo and other prominent leaders in February is a systematic crackdown or dismantling of the Shan and other non-Burman ethnic nationality groups' genuine federalism aspiration and their wish for peaceful political settlement. It is an open secret that the junta is determined to hold on to political decision-making power and is in no way accommodative to the establishment of a genuine federal structure with equality and rights of self-determination for all peoples residing within the country. Nevertheless, the political parties, ceasefire armies and community leaders have opted to give the fake SPDC's overture of democratisation process a try, which - even the chances are slim - might evolve into a more inclusive participation of all stakeholders. ::

“Now even the pretence of SPDC's reconciliation is gone and projecting its overall supremacy and an all out elimination of its oppositions is beginning to unfold. Its pressuring of the ceasefire groups to surrender, without political settlement, is a part and parcel of crushing all Burman democratic elements and the non-Burman ethnic nationalities' resistance to its rule. Another factor is that the SPDC is deliberately creating a sort of common enemy for the Burma army to overcome the division within its rank and file, due to the dismantling of General Khin Nyunt's military intelligence set-up, a few months ago. There was even suggestion that the dismantled military intelligence units could be behind the recent bombing in Rangoon, even though they are not the only suspects that could have a hand in it. ::

“Given such circumstance, the multi-faceted conflicts within the country are programmed to escalate, if the SPDC refuses to mend its way of "total elimination" and projecting "political dominance at all cost". It is high time that the SPDC starts to think optimistically and safeguard the welfare of the people by conducting an all-inclusive dialogue with the democratic oppositions and non-Burman ethnic nationalities. The United Nations, the European Union and even the ASEAN have time and again made known that they will be only too happy to help make this reconciliation process a reality. But if the SPDC insists to hold on to power at all cost, without accommodating the people's aspiration for democracy, equality and rights of self-determination, Burma will continue to be the backwater of the region and might even be on its way of becoming a "failed state".” ::

Shan State Army South and Child Soldiers

Many fighters in the Shan State Army South have been children and teenagers who haven’t known anything other than war. Some have been orphans who have lost their families. Some have moved to and from the battle fronts with their families.

The SSA-S previously informed Human Rights Watch that prior to 2001 the group had a policy allowing conscription of able-bodied males ages 16 to 45, but in February 2001 this policy was changed to establish a minimum recruitment age of 18. At the RCSS fifth Annual Conference in December 2004, the group released four policy directives, number four of which stated, "The practice of recruiting 'Child Soldiers' is not only abusing children rights, but also damaging the future generation and the RCSS policy is against and will do the utmost to stop this practice." Since that decision, the SSA-S continued to practice conscription of able-bodied men between 18 and 45. Under their "wartime constitution," which is distributed widely to monks, community leaders, and village heads throughout their area of operations in Shan state, recruiting children is expressly forbidden. [Source: Human Rights Watch, Sold to Be Soldiers, October 31, 2007 **]

RCSS/SSA-S officials interviewed by Human Rights Watch claimed that background checks are required for all recruits, with affidavits from their village heads and parents. Recruits are instructed to sign a form stating their date of birth, and affirming that they voluntarily join the army (which is oxymoronic in a system of forced recruitment). Rules of war and SSA-S regulations are issued to every recruit, with illiterate men being made to memorize them. These rules include prohibitions on the recruitment of child soldiers. Punishment for recruiting child soldiers can include demotion for NCOs and officers. **

In literature and video footage seen by Human Rights Watch, teenage girls and young women are seen wearing SSA-S uniforms and carrying assault weapons during ceremonies. Officials contend that this is just "fashion," but admit that a program called nang harn ("brave girls") does exist to give basic military training (including rudimentary weapons training) for teenage girls. They claim these girls are never used in a combat role, and this program is an adjunct to regular schooling. Likewise, male orphans are not permitted into the regular forces until they turn 18. **

In January 2006 a report appeared in Burma's state-run media alleging that a group of SSA-S soldiers had surrendered to the Tatmadaw, and provided details including names of several underage soldiers who stated in the report that they had been forcibly conscripted to the SSA-S. In September 2006 the SPDC made further allegations of the forced recruitment by the SSA-S of three boys ages 17, 16, and 15 in southern Shan state. RCSS/SSA-S officials interviewed in September 2007 claim that in response to a list of questions provided to them by Human Rights Watch in August they had initiated an inquiry with the chief of staff of the SSA-S, the headman of the village where the incident had allegedly occurred, and the head of the orphanage of the Loi Tai Leng base area. None of those contacted reportedly had heard of the incident, and Human Rights Watch was unable to independently verify these cases. **

Witnesses with recent experience in SSA-S areas in various capacities told Human Rights Watch in July and August 2007 that the SSA-S still practices conscription, but that if the SSA-S still has any soldiers under 18 they are probably kept in rear areas away from fighting. They went on to tell of specific cases where boys under 18 had volunteered but were sent to school by the SSA-S at Loi Tai Leng or Loi Kaw Wan base areas instead of being recruited. After completing school at Loi Tai Leng and Loi Kaw Wan, students usually choose between civilian service (such as teaching or health work) and soldiering in the SSA-S. It appears that the SSA-S does not use child soldiers widely, and that it appears serious about its 2004 policy to end the practice. However, given the increased pace of recruitment in its area of operations in southern and eastern Shan state, Human Rights Watch believes that closer monitoring and investigation of the recruitment and use of child soldiers by the SSA-S is warranted. **

RCSS/SSA-S officials we interviewed expressed a desire to cooperate with U.N. agencies and the office of the special representative of the secretary-general on children and armed conflict. The officials told Human Rights Watch they had never had discussions with international actors on this issue before, and while arguing that their army had no soldier under the age of 18, also agreed to explore the possibility of signing a Deed of Commitment formalizing an agreement not to recruit or use child soldiers. **

Shan Nationalities People's Liberation Army

The Shan Nationalities People's Liberation Army (SNPLA) is the armed wing of the Shan Nationalities People's Liberation Organization (SNPLO), a small multi-ethnic resistance group based in southern Shan state that entered a ceasefire agreement with the Tatmadaw in 1994. In June 2007 the SNPLO split into three factions, with one small group of approximately 100 members led by Chairman Tee Sawng breaking the ceasefire and marching to the Burma-Thailand border, arriving on June 28. A second faction was forced to surrender its weapons to the SPDC on July 26, while the third faction led by former chairman Tha Kalay remained at their base near Taunggyi in southern Shan state. [Source: Human Rights Watch, Sold to Be Soldiers, October 31, 2007 **]

The SPDC has reportedly been forming and supplying a new paramilitary group based in Putao in Kachin state, referred to variously as the Rebellion Resistance Force, Taung Kyan ("Anti-subversive"), or Adang's Group (after one of its leaders). It reportedly had 100 troops in 2006, grew to approximately 200 by mid-2007, and plans to expand further to 400. It is nominally led by Hukwi Pung and Tanggu Dang (a.k.a. Adang), who were formerly with the New Democratic Army-Kachinland, but they report to a Tatmadaw major. **

Shan Nationalities People's Liberation Army and Child Soldiers

SNPLO leaders interviewed by Human Rights Watch denied that the group had child soldiers in its ranks even before the breakup. Col. Hkun Thu Rein, secretary of the SNPLO splinter group that reached the Burma-Thai border, stated that the SNPLO did not expand much during the ceasefire period due to restrictions on recruitment under the ceasefire arrangement. The assertion that the SNPLO did not have child soldiers was corroborated by two SNPLO soldiers interviewed by Human Rights Watch, both of whom had been members for three to four years, had been recruited when they were in their twenties, and said that there were no children among the approximately 250 soldiers in the pre-breakup SNPLA. A 16-year-old with the splinter group claimed to have joined the SNPLA at 14, but under further questioning admitted that he is actually a camp follower who wants to be a soldier but has not been accepted or registered as such, and that he has not engaged in military activities. Other soldiers in the group confirmed that this boy was not a soldier.[Source: Human Rights Watch, Sold to Be Soldiers, October 31, 2007 **]

According to a community leader interviewed by Human Rights Watch the SPDC paramilitary group based in Putao has many children in its ranks. In each company there are 20 to 30 soldiers including seven to eight enlisted men, and in each platoon there are typically seven soldiers, including three NCOs and three or four privates. He estimated that in the units with which he was familiar, 90 percent of the privates and 20 percent of the NCOs are under age 18. Some companies have been accused of sexual abuse and stealing from nearby villages. Further detailed information on the group's recruitment and treatment of its child soldiers was not immediately available, but this group is clearly of concern. **

Abuses by the Myanmar Military in Shan Areas

Between 1996 and 1998, some 1,500 villages in central Shan State were essentially shut down and the 300,000 or so people who lived there were forced to relocate to “strategic hamlets.” The former home territory of these people became “free-fire zones” where Myanmar security forces could pursue Shan insurgents without a bunch of villagers in the way. The purpose of the effort was to deprive the insurgents of supplies, support and places to hide.

The Shan that were forced to relocate suffered great hardships. Some fled to refugee cams in Thailand. Some were killed and raped and forced to do forced labor by Myanmar security forces. Others, fearing retribution from Myanmar security forces, escaped to villages under control of the Shan Army.

Shan Human Rights Foundation and the Shan Women’s Action Network detailed rapes of at least 625 girls and women by Burmese army troops in the Shan state. A U.S. State Department investigation corroborated the reports.

Myanmar’s government army has committed numerous rights abuses, many of them targeting women, during its offensive in northern Shan State in 2013, according to a new report. The report, focusing on ethnic Palaung areas and released by the Palaung Women’s Organization and Ta’ang Students and Youth Organization, accuses the army of raping female villagers and forcing young girls and other civilians at gunpoint to guide and porter for Burmese troops. It also says that villagers have been killed by landmines while tied up. [Source: The Irrawaddy, May 17, 2013]

The Myanmar government has also accused the Shan rebels of atrocities. In June 2008, AFP reported: “Eight people who worked at a saw mill in eastern Myanmar were hacked to death by ethnic Shan rebels, state media reported. The government mouthpiece New Light of Myanmar blamed the attack on the Shan State Army (SSA). About 25 SSA rebels attacked the saw mill in southern Shan State, the paper said, adding that they "seized nine saw mill workers, hit and slashed to death eight of them". The mill was set on fire, while the eight workers were killed in a nearby gorge. One man survived and was hospitalised with multiple stab wounds, it said. Myanmar rarely admits to attacks along its borders. [Source: AFP, June 1, 2008]

National Democratic Alliance Army-Eastern Shan State and Mong La

In September 2009, the Washington Post reported: “The maps say that the town of Mong La is in Burma, but to the casual observer, it could be China. The shop names are in Chinese. The shopkeepers are mostly Chinese, and they accept only the Chinese yuan. A suggestion of a meeting at 4 o'clock is met with a question: "Burma time or China time?" Mong La is the capital of an area known as Shan Special Region No. 4, one of 13 autonomous enclaves carved out of Burma's mountainous east over the past 20 years as part of cease-fire deals that armed rebel ethnic groups have signed with the generals who run the country. [Source: Washington Post, September 25, 2009 >>]

While central Burma has been driven into penury by economic mismanagement and sanctions, areas such as Mong La have thrived, along with the National Democratic Alliance Army-Eastern Shan State, which controls it. The region has over the years profited from drugs -- it lies at the heart of the opium-producing Golden Triangle -- and more recently from gambling. In rebel territory, late-model Japanese sedans ferry Chinese punters from Mong La to the neon oasis of Mong Ma, 12 miles away, where they sip French brandy and play baccarat with stacks of 10,000-yuan chips. On the way, they pass the neoclassic pile that Sai Leun, commander of the National Democratic Alliance Army, has built for himself, complete with a golf course.

But Mong La's days as a tributary to the river of China's economic growth could be ending. Last month, a few hours to the north of Mong La, government troops attacked Special Region No. 1, which was run by the Kokang militia, driving about 37,000 residents over the border into China. Today, 80 percent of the shops in Mong La are shuttered, and their owners, taking refuge in China, are waiting to see whether Special Region No. 4 will be the government's next target.” >>

Fighting in Shan Areas in the Early 2000s

In 2001, the Shan State Army seized several government outposts in heavy fighting near the Thai border. They killed and captured some Myanmar soldiers and seized a large cache of ammunition, The Myanmar government answered back with an offensive against Shan Army positions. Wounded Shan State soldiers were treated in a makeshift bamboo hospital. Many of the patients were treated for diseases and exhaustion rather than battle wounds.

In June 2002, Reuters reported: “Myanmar rebels fighting near the Thai border have seized two more government outposts after days of fierce fighting that has fuelled tension between Yangon and Bangkok, military sources said. The Myanmar army has poured 1,500 reinforcements into the area and is expected to launch a fresh offensive in coming days at the rebel Shan State Army's headquarters, opposite Thailand's northern Mae Hong Son province, said Thai army officers stationed on the border. The Shan army seized on Friday the Si Kieu and Doi Kom Kiew outposts, previously manned by a joint force of Myanmar troops and their allies the ethnic United Wa State Army soldiers, the officers told Reuters. [Source: Reuters, June 8, 2002 |||]

''The Myanmar army is expected to launch an attack at Doi Tai Lang, which is the Shan State Army's headquarters, in coming days,'' said one senior Thai officer. Myanmar troops and the Wa, an ethnic army blamed by Thailand for producing much of the Golden Triangle's output of heroin and methamphetamines, launched an offensive earlier this week to try to capture four border outposts taken earlier by the Shan army. Myanmar accuses Thailand of supporting Shan rebels backed up against the border -- a charge Bangkok denies -- and has warned of retaliation if Thai troops get involved in the fighting. |||

“Tensions between the two countries flared last month after Thailand moved thousands of troops to its northern border. The troops were ostensibly there for a training exercise, but military sources said they were preparing for a strike on Wei Hsueh-Kang, a notorious drug baron who commands a faction of the Wa army. Thailand withdrew the troops after protests from Myanmar but relations between the two countries have hardly improved. Myanmar sealed major border crossings last month and its state-run media have bitterly criticised Thailand. The junta has so far rebuffed Thai requests for talks.

Fighting in Shan Areas Between Shan and Wa fighters in the Mid 2000s

In May 2005, from Doi Tailang, Myanmar, Reuters reported: “Lau Wee feels lucky to be alive after a bloody month of clashes in Myanmar's long-running ethnic wars. The 26-year-old soldier in the Shan State Army was caught in a barrage of mortars fired by troops of the Wa army, a rival ethnic group allied to the military junta in Yangon. "They bombarded us with lots of mortars, but I was lucky to survive," Lau Wee told Reuters as he rested at the SSA's remote headquarters on the Thai-Myanmar border. [Source: Reuters, May 24, 2005 <<]

“But Lau Wee, dressed in plain plants and a shirt, hardly looks the guerrilla fighter who left Bangkok two years ago to join Myanmar's ethnic Tai in their five-decade struggle for an independent Shan State. "I heard the news on TV that our Tai soldiers were fighting the Burmese, so I left my factory job in Bangkok and joined the SSA," Lau Wee said with a broad smile. He and other young Tai men say they joined up after hearing of the brutality of Yangon's troops against their people. <<

Most left behind families or jobs in Thai border towns or travelled from remote corners of Shan State, home to the country's biggest ethnic minority. Pran Prai, 23, joined the SSA after he watched Burmese soldiers torture his relatives. "I don't care about money, I do it out of revenge," said Pran Prai, whose on-the-job training began four years ago when he ambushed government troops guarding a roadworks crew. "We had seven and they had 150, but I killed three of them," said Pran Prai, who now works as a psychological warfare officer, broadcasting Shan independence messages over the radio.

Shan leaders expect more Wa attacks after the SSA and Shan State National Army (SSNA) formed an alliance. "We expect another major offensive operation soon," SSA leader Yod Suk told reporters after showing off an arms cache seized from the Wa during their last offensive in April. Entrenched in hilltop positions, Yok Sud said his men had killed 337 Wa soldiers and wounded 332 during three major attacks the previous month. Six SSA men were killed, he said. "We didn't want to fight the Wa, whom we consider our brothers in the Shan State. But they attacked us because they believe we ambushed their bases and give drug tipoffs to Thai and American drug agencies," Yod Suk said.

The Wa troops -- led by Chinese drug lord Wei Hsueh-kang, with a $2 million U.S. bounty on his head -- operate in what is know as the Southern Military Region of Shan State. Thai security officials say Yangon pressed Wei into action as part of its stepped-up campaign against Shan separatists. The drug lord was also an ally of former prime minister Khin Nyunt, who had negotiated ceasefires with several ethnic rebel groups before he was purged last October. "Yangon has ordered Wei Hsueh-kang and his troops to fight the SSA or be handed over to the United States," a Thai security official told Reuters. Thai and U.S. anti-drug agencies say the SSA are also involved in narcotics. But Yod Suk insists their war is financed by taxes on logging, the cattle trade and movement of vehicles.

The military government has reached ceasefire agreements with 17 major ethnic rebel groups since 1988, allowing most of them to keep their weapons in exchange for stopping hostilities. But the SSNA says the regime is now putting pressure on ethnic rebel groups to surrender unconditionally and disarm. Myanmar's state media have paid particular attention to Shan separatists in recent weeks, including denouncing a prominent exiled Shan leader who issued a "declaration of independence" for Shan State last month. Tensions had risen in February when 10 Shan political leaders were arrested, prompting some Shan groups to pull out of the junta's constitution-drafting National Convention.

Shan State Army-South Sign Cease-Fire, Which Quickly Breaks Down

In December 2011, a ceasefire deal was reached between the local government and the Shan State Army-South, Associated Press reported: “One of the main ethnic rebel groups battling Myanmar's government signed a preliminary cease-fire, websites operated by exiled journalists reported. The Shan State Army-South rebel group was one of the biggest not to previously sign a cease-fire with the government. The Thailand-based Irrawaddy website reported the rebels signed an agreement with Myanmar's official Shan State government. India-based Mizzima News and the Shan Herald Agency for News, a website close to the guerrillas, reported similar news. During a visit around the same time U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton offered modest incentives to the new government, while calling on it to end brutal campaigns against ethnic minorities. [Source: AP, December 2, 2011]

The Shan Herald Agency's report cited Shan rebel leader Lt. Gen. Yawdserk saying an agreement was reached on a cease-fire, political negotiations, development and cooperation against drugs. Myanmar's government in recent weeks has held high-level but low-profile talks with rebel groups with which it has never signed cease-fires, or had cease-fires that have broken down. The groups reportedly involved in talks include the Shan, Karen, Karenni, Chin and Kachin.

The cease-fire agreement was signed in January 2012. In August 2012, Saw Yan Naing wrote in The Irrawaddy, “Despite a peace deal with Naypyidaw still being in place, ethnic Shan rebels say that tensions with government troops are growing more acute as they are being forced to withdraw from certain economically strategic bases. “Light Infantry Battalion 149 and 150 asked us to withdraw our troops from our base in Mong Hsu Township. They claim the area does not belong to the Shan rebels. It seems that they want to control our areas which are economically and militarily important,” said Maj Sai Hla, the spokesperson for the Shan State Army-North (SSA-N). [Source: Saw Yan Naing, The Irrawaddy, August 22, 2012]

He told The Irrawaddy that the Burmese armed forces have already settled fresh troops in several bases that the SSA-N was previously instructed to vacate. “The government also deployed around 300 of their troops in areas surrounding many of our bases,” explained Sai Hla. “It seems they can attack our bases at anytime.” “It is time to build trust between each other. But they still conduct military movements,” he added. The SSA-N still control several bases in northern and eastern Shan State including Wanhai, Kyaukme, Hsipaw, Mong Hsu, Thibaw.

Sai Hla said dozens of clashes have been reported between government soldiers and ethnic rebels in Shan State since a ceasefire was signed in January. “We have confronted government troops more than 30 times after the ceasefire agreement. So we are always on alert to protect ourselves,” said Sai Hla. Burmese Railways Minister Aung Min, who acts as Naypyidaw’s chief peace negotiator, was quoted by the state-run The New Light of Myanmar on Tuesday as saying that recent Shan State clashes are because government and rebel forces have not yet finished repositioning their troops or set up sufficient liaison offices. And he expressed confidence that fighting between the government and Shan rebels will end permanently once all steps of the agreed peace process have been completed.

Ashley South, a Burma researcher who has been closely following the current negotiations, told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday that now “is the best opportunity in half-a-century to resolve ethnic conflicts in Burma. “However, the peace process is beginning to falter, and could fail unless the government is willing to discuss political issues at the heart of the conflict, and can bring the fighting in Kachin and Shan states to an end,” he added.

Shan Fighting in 2013

In May 2013, The Irrawaddy reported: “Renewed clashes between ethnic armed groups and Burmese government forces in Shan State, reportedly killed nine Burmese troops, leading more than 1,000 villagers to flee the fighting to the border with China. Burmese government troops launched an attack on a Shan State Army-South (SSA-S) base in Nam Kham Township, a mountainous region of Burma that juts out in-between China and Laos, in the early hours of Thursday morning. About 1,000 villagers fled to Nam Kham town, while more fled across the China border to the Chinese town of Rulli. [Source: The Irrawaddy, May 9, 2013 ^^]

“Sources at Nam Kham hospital said nine Burmese government soldiers had been killed in the fighting and eight are seriously injured, while Shan rebel sources told The Irrawaddy that the bodies 11 dead government soldiers had been recovered from the battlefield. One SSA-S fighter was reported dead and four injured, an SSA-S source said. Sai Kyaw, an MP in Nam Kham, described hearing the first salvo from Burmese army positions. “I heard heavy gun fire from around 4.30am. The fire came from the countryside. Now the government army is firing artillery rounds near Naung Ma village,” he said. “Villagers are fleeing their homes. Some are running into China, while some take refuge at their relatives’ homes in Nam Kham.” After a brief lull in artillery fire at about noon, sources in Nam Kham said shelling had resumed throughout the afternoon. “There shouldn’t be any fighting during ceasefire period,” Sai Kyaw added. “We should tackle disagreements through discussions.” ^^

“The expansion of fighting in Shan State, which broke out in early April between the SSA-North and Burmese military forces despite a ceasefire agreement, Maj Sai Lao Hseng said, shows the Burmese government is not serious about peace. “The fighting broke out at 4am. The government troops from Infantry Battalion 145 attacked our frontline base. They launched artillery shelling,” Sai Lao Hseng said. One of our soldiers died. All of the villagers from Naw Ma village tracts in Naw Kham Township have fled their homes. Some crossed into China. “As asked, we have been cooperating with the government in the peace process. But the government army has not obeyed the ceasefire, which is a part of the peace process. So we feel like the ceasefire is just a peace accord on paper. It doesn’t reflect the reality on the ground,” he added. ^^

“The battle for Nam Kham seems to have started over the alleged arrest of four Burmese citizens by Shan rebels. Naypyidaw requested they be returned to where they were last seen near the Chinese border, but Shan rebels denied knowledge of their whereabouts. The Burmese military in Shan State then requested an inspection on May 2 of another Shan rebel base in the area. Under the pretext of the inspection, Burmese army units burned down the base. There are fears that displaced villagers will be trapped by the violence, as China has reportedly sealed its border near the conflict zone. Residents in Nam Kham speaking to The Irrawaddy by phone said China was turning back refugees. Ferry gates leading from Nam Kham to China have now been closed. “I think people might be blocked in the war zone,” one resident said.

In April 2013, The Nation reported: “Just days ago, more than 1,000 Shan villagers from at least 16 villages in Yangyan township were forced to flee their homes to escape fighting between government troops and the Shan State Army-North (SSA-North), a rebel outfit that re-entered a cease-fire agreement with the government in January 2012. Reportedly, this latest round of clashes started when government troops ordered the SSA-North to withdraw from two strategic mountains. The rebels refused and the latest clashes are the result. The Shan Human Rights Foundation has accused the government troops of planting landmines and committing human-rights abuses against villagers. The accusation is all-too familiar, echoing decades of similar reports over the past two decades. [Source: The Nation, April 14, 2013 \\\\]

“The recent assault on the Shan rebels and the affect that it has had on ordinary villagers raises questions over whether Myanmar is serious about peace with its ethnic minorities. History suggests that Myanmar is using this opportunity - this half-baked cease-fire - to reposition itself militarily. "If they keep reinforcing their troops, it may lead to a major offensive. And the cease-fire could break down," SSA-North spokesman Major Sai Hla was quoted in The Irrawaddy as saying. He pointed out that there have been about 100 clashes between the two sides in recent years, even after they agreed to observe a cease-fire. \\\\

“According to The Irrawaddy, observers speculate that the Myanmar government wants to use the contested geographical area currently occupied by the Shan rebels to prepare a military offensive against the 20,000-strong United Wa State Army (UWSA), an ethnic army that entered into a cease-fire with the military government of what was then known as Burma in 1989. \\\

Image Sources:

Text Sources: Encyclopedia of World Cultures: East and Southeast Asia, edited by Paul Hockings (C.K. Hall & Company); New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, The Irrawaddy, Myanmar Travel Information Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, burmalibrary.org, burmanet.org, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated May 2014

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