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Shan political parties and armed groups, representing all ethnic nationalities from the diverse eastern state, are set to attend a historic regional assembly next month in a bid to promote ethnic unity and federalism in Burma.
At recent meetings, the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD) reached agreements with several parties and armed groups, including representatives from the Wa, Kokang and Palaung ethnic minorities, to gather for a regional conference in February. It builds on an earlier meeting held in Rangoon in November, where parties reiterated calls for “genuine” federalism in the former military dictatorship.
“We are preparing ourselves so that Shan state can be ready when it becomes a [federal state] under whichever group’s leadership,” said SNLD spokesman Sai Nyunt Lwin. “This is an inevitable step to go through.”
The SNLD has met with numerous political parties from Shan state over the past few weeks, including the Kokang Democracy and Unity Party, Wa National Unity Party and the Lahu National Development Party. They have also held a number of informal meetings with armed groups, such as the Shan State Army and the United Wa State Army.
“It is necessary for the political parties and ceasefire groups in Shan state to understand each other better and find mutual ground,” said Sai Nyunt Lwin. “The aim is to improve the trust that has already been established.”
He said the SNLD wanted all ethnic groups to be present at the assembly, even though some have no formal political representation. The conference is even reported to have approval from Naypyidaw.
The SNLD, which has close ties to Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy, won the second most votes of any party in the annulled 1990 elections. In 2005, its founder Khun Htun Oo was arrested along with other party leaders on charges of treason and “inciting disaffection toward the government”.
Burma’s many minority groups have long fought the military government for greater autonomy and ethnic rights. Earlier this month, the Shan Nationalities Democratic Party (SNDP) also emphasised the need for a “genuine” federal union in Burma, which is currently prohibited under the country’s controversial 2008 constitution.
This article was updated on 14 January.