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Three Shan armed groups and two major Shan political parties—the Shan Nationalities Democratic Party and the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD)—wrapped up a meeting in Bangkok on Friday that was designed to craft a common vision to the peace process and Burma’s 2015 elections.
The event, entitled “Towards a Common Understanding – Shan Leaders Consultation”, was held on 2- 4 October. In addition to the two political parties the following Shan ethnic armed groups attended the conference: Shan State Army-South (SSA-S), Shan State Army-North (SSA-N), and a lesser-known Shan militia group allied with the government which is based in the northern Shan state town of Hsipaw.
The meeting was also attended by Aung Min, who has been leading peace negotiations with armed ethnic groups on behalf of the Union government as deputy head of the Union Peace-making Work Committee (UPWC).
Sai Lek, secretary of the SNLD, said the groups discussed the delays which have bogged down negotiations on the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA). The Shan groups also agreed that armed conflict can only be resolved through political dialogue, and that certain guarantees should be granted by the government prior to singing a ceasefire.
Sai Lek said one of the main causes of delays in the peace process has been a lack of trust between Burmese government forces and armed ethnic groups.
“One of the main reasons for delays in the peace process has been a breakdown of trust. The government—especially the Burmese army—doesn’t have much confidence in the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team [the delegates negotiating the NCA on behalf of armed ethnic groups]. At the same time, armed ethnic groups have started to seriously doubt the sincerity of the government because its position has become more intransigent ever since Burmese army officersjoined the talks,” said the SNLD secretary.
Sai Lek also expressed doubts regarding the claim that continued fighting between the Burmese army and armed groups in Shan state was due to the absence of a code of conduct regulating the opposing armed forces, and he speculated that the government forces might be taking advantage of the peace process by deliberately launching attacks on armed groups.
“Some people cited the lack of an agreed-upon code of conduct as the reason for the continuation of clashes, but if that is the case then these clashes should only be sporadic. However, from what we are seeing they look more like a planned offensive, intentionally carried out by the Tatmadaw [Burmese army],” he said. “But it may or may not be true.”
On the second day of the meeting, the groups released an open letter to President Thein Sein denouncing an offensive last week in which over 1,000 troops Burmese troops attacked SSA-N positions in Ta Pha Saung Village in Shan state’s Kehsi Mansam Township as a violation of previously-signed tentative ceasefire agreements; and they called on the government to solve political problems via political means.
At the end of the meeting, the Shan groups released a joint statement containing the following a three-point agreement pledging: to join hands in negotiating with the government on matters relating to the future of the Union and Shan State; to cooperate for the purposes of enhancing peace-building efforts in Shan State and across the Union of Burma; and to continue negotiating and using political means to resolve political issues.