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The Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS) and the Shan State Progressive Party (SSPP) must one day unite under the same banner, according to the leader of the former, who said that such a merger was ultimately necessary given Burma’s current political situation.
An RCSS delegation led by chairman Lieutenant-General Yawd Serk met with journalists in Rangoon on Friday, when he said the RCSS and SSPP are already cooperating in political ways as both being members of the Committee for Shan State Unity (CSSU), a coalition that also includes political parties and civil society organisations focused on Shan State.
The RCSS and SSPP are also known as the Shan State Army-South and Shan State Army-North, respectively, reflecting their territorial strongholds in Burma’s biggest state.
According to the RCSS leader, further discussions between the two ethnic armed groups about aspects of cooperation “as one family” are needed before any formal joining of their forces might take place, but he stressed that such a union was desired by both the ethnic Shan community, and RCSS and SSPP leaderships.
Sai Ngai, secretary No. 3 of the RCSS, told DVB on Friday that the RCSS and SSPP are working together through the CSSU but that cooperation between the two groups has been hindered due to the fact that the SSPP is not a signatory to the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA).
In July, for example, the CSSU planned to hold a meeting in Thailand but the Thai military informed organisers that the Burmese military attaché in Bangkok had asked the Thai government to prevent the meeting from taking place.
“The reason was the Unlawful Associations Act. The SSPP is still an unlawful association because they haven’t yet signed the NCA. It is one of the difficulties. However, we have a plan to cooperate with them,” he said.
The SSPP has not signed the NCA and fighting between its forces and the Burma Army in 2015 led to the cancellation of general election voting in Kyethi Township, the location of the ethnic armed group’s headquarters, and neighbouring Mong Shu Township.
Just eight of the country’s non-state armed groups are NCA signatories, the RCSS among them. More than a dozen more are not signed on to the accord, which was inked in October 2015.
DVB attempts to contact SSPP representatives were unsuccessful.
Regarding a less conventional conflict of recent years — in which troops from the RCSS and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) have engaged in hostilities — the RCSS leader said the two sides were seeking a meeting “soon” to de-escalate tensions in northern Shan State, where both claim territory.
Yawd Serk told DVB on Friday that the inter-ethnic conflict persists and that the leaders of the RCSS and the TNLA were willing to meet somewhere in the near future, though a location and date has not yet been agreed upon.
“We planned a lot of times to meet with them but it didn’t actually happen. Now, we are still arranging to meet with them,” he said.
The RCSS delegation met with State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and Burma’s deputy commander-in-chief, Vice Senior-General Soe Win, in Naypyidaw last week to discuss the country’s ongoing peace process.
Part of those talks broached the subject of an as-yet-unrealised “national-level dialogue” that has not been held in part due to a dispute over the venue. The RCSS and Shan community leaders have pushed since earlier this year to have Taunggyi, the capital of Shan State, host the dialogue, but the government has resisted.
There did not appear to be any resolution of the impasse to come out of last week’s meetings.
“We asked them [the state counsellor and deputy commander-in-chief] but didn’t get the reason why they prevented the political event,” said Yawd Serk.
During the RCSS delegation’s trip, its members met with officials from the embassies of the United States, Britain, Switzerland and the European Union’s Burma delegation to discuss the ongoing peace process. The RCSS representatives also met with members of the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD), one of the country’s most influential ethnic political parties.