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The Burmese government’s Union Peacemaking Work Committee (UPWC)—the body in charge of negotiating with Burma’s armed ethnic groups—has suggested setting up a joint liaison body with the Shan State Army-North (SSA-N) to prevent further hostilities in Shan State in the wake of renewed clashes between the Shan armed group and government forces.
The SSA-N met with the UPWC on Saturday at the Burmese army’s Northeast Regional Military Command headquarters in the Shan State town of Lashio, where lower house MP Thein Zaw from the UPWC proposed the government’s plan to form a liaison team that would include: regional police and military commanders; the minister for border and security affairs; and SSA-N officials.
Sai Naw Lek, a central committee member of the Shan State Progressive Party (SSPP)—the SSA-N’s political wing—said the Shan militia had asked the government to give them a week to decide on the proposal.
“At the meeting, UPWC member Thein Zaw proposed forming a liaison body … to monitor and prevent hostilities,” said Sai Naw Lek.
“Thein Zaw stressed that we meet again soon and that we give them an answer. We told them that we will get back to them in one week,” he added.
During the UPWC’s meeting with the SSA-N, the two sides also discussed the possibility of cooperating to develop the region and increasing the number of existing SSA-N liaison offices in Shan State towns.
SSPP central committee member Sai Naw Lek said the SSA-N told the government that Shan troops had already withdrawn from their positions in Kehsi Mansam Township’s Ta Pha Saung Village, the centre of recent fighting. The SSA-N indicated they withdrew in order to avoid further hostilities and urged the government to do likewise.
In response, the UPWC delegation promised to help the SSA-N liaise with government forces. But according to the SSA-N, Burmese army units were still in the area as of Monday and had even brought in reinforcements in vehicle convoys.
Khun Sai, managing director of an organisation which closely monitors the peace process known as the Pyidaungzu Institute, said: “The Tatmadaw [Burmese army] previously demanded that the SSA-N withdraw their troops from four areas, but if forming the liaison committee can get them to drop this demand it will be a positive sign.”
Khun Sai also criticised government forces of wrongfully accusing the SSA-N of infringing on government territories—an accusation which he says the government used as a pretext recently for launching another offensive against the rebels. As part of a recent preliminary ceasefire between the two sides, the rebels agreed to remain in their positions, Khun Sai added.
The UPWC delegation which met with SSA-N representatives on 18 October was led by parliamentarian Thein Zaw, Shan State Chief Minister Aung Myat and regional military commanders, along with their SSA-N counterparts led by SSPP General-Secretary Sai Khun Hseng.
The SSA-N reached a union-level preliminary ceasefire agreement with the UPWC in 2012, but since the agreement was signed the two sides have engaged in nearly 200 armed clashes.