During a consultation session with political parties, civil society organisations and fellow armed groups in Thailand’s Chiang Mai last weekend, the Shan State Army-South (SSA-S) agreed to push for a nationwide ceasefire to open the path for a political dialogue with the government during a sit-down meeting with President Thein Sein later this month.
At the two-day conference, the SSA-S spoke with more than 20 different organisations, including the Shan State Army-North, the Shan National League for Democracy and the Shan Nationalities Democratic Party, to discuss issues of mutual concern amongst the groups.
“We may be different parties concerning intra-state affairs,” the SSA-S’s Lieutenant-General Yawd Serk told the meeting, according to a report in the Shan Herald Agency for News. “But concerning our state rights we must all speak with the same voice.”
After signing a ceasefire with the government in December 2011, the SSA-S has maintained a fragile peace with Naypyidaw. But following an assault against an SSA-S position near the Sino-Burmese border last month, approximately 2,000 refugees fled across the border to China. Many of the refugees are too afraid to return home.
In response to the ongoing attacks from government troops, SSA-S leader Yawd Serk sent a message to President Thein Sein requesting a sit-down, which was later accepted.
“Mainly, [the attendees] decided to stress issues including the implementation of agreements reached previously for a sustainable ceasefire, to drop names of ethnic armed groups from the unlawful association list and to bring about a nationwide ceasefire to implement a political dialogue,” said SSA-S spokesperson Major Sai Lao Hseng.
According to the spokesperson, many of the groups urged the SSA-S to push Thein Sein to guarantee the safety of local livelihoods where massive infrastructure projects are being developed.
In addition, the Shan-affiliated organisations asked Yawd Serk to discuss the possibility of implementing a federal system of governance in Burma and to inquire about the resettlement of Shan refugees who fled to Thailand during the numerous military offensives in the restive state.
While President Thein Sein has been lauded for striking ceasefires with several of the country’s armed ethnic groups since taking the reigns of power in 2011, many analysts have questioned the government’s ability to bridle Burma’s massive military as it continues to assault rebel armies who have signed truces with Naypyidaw.
As the Kachin Independence Army signed a new seven-point agreement with the government last week, chief government peace negotiator Aung Min said that Thein Sein will hold a nationwide meeting with all of the country’s rebel groups in either June or July to discuss opening a poltical dialogue that aims to bring an end to the myriad civil wars that have plagued the country since independence.