The Shan State Army-South (SSA-S) and government peace negotiators kicked off another round of informal talks in Thailand yesterday as skirmishes broke out with another armed Shan group in northeastern Burma.
The SSA-S delegation, led by the group’s leader Lt-Gen Yawd Serk, sat down for an hour and a half with the government’s peace team in a hotel in Chiang Mai to discuss future political talks.
“We discussed matters relating to the political dialogue: how to move forward and how to facilitate a peace discussion that is inclusive for all ethnic nationalities as well as to find peaceful solutions to various issues ahead of the dialogue,” said SSA-S spokesperson Major Sai Lao Hseng.
“We have mentioned that we will discuss politics consistent with the people’s desires – the people’s wish for equality, self-determination, a true federal union and peace – we will be joining the discussion based on these four points – based on the Panglong spirit.”
According to the major, the SSA-S delegation asked the government to seek peaceful solutions to ongoing grievances in Burma’s northeastern state, which included an end to the harassment of civilians who have alleged connections with the group.
The SSA-S, which signed a ceasefire deal with the government in December 2011, reported in January that their troops clashed with government forces that entered their territory near Mae-Aw village in Homein sub-township.
While no official agreement or decision was signed yesterday, President’s Office Minister Aung Min reportedly invited Lt-Gen Yawd Serk and representatives from the group’s political wing, the Restoration Council of Shan State, to visit the government capital Naypyidaw.
Clashes in northern Shan state
While peace negotiators spoke with representatives from the SSA-S, the Shan State Army-North (SSA-N), a separate group that holds swaths of territory in northwestern Burma, said government troops began assaulting one of their positions in northern Shan state yesterday.
SSA-N spokesperson Major Sai La said the skirmish lasted for more than an hour in Tangyang township when the Burmese Army’s 322nd Light Infantry Battalion launched an assault on Loilan hill station, which is manned by SSA-N troops.
“The [Burmese Army] are stationed at the 7-mile camp in Pangyang township where fighting took place in the past and they came to attack the hill point stationed by the [SSA-N]’s 199th Battalion under the 36th Brigade,” said Major Sai La.
“It’s dubious that the [Burmese Army] are now attacking us after they stopped fighting in Kachin. The clashes are a hindrance to further [peace] talks.”
According to SSA-N sources, more fighting broke out near Loilan earlier today.
Tensions have been rising near the hill station after a Burmese military patrol was struck by a booby trap in the area, which allegedly killed four government troops, according to a report in the Shan Herald News Agency earlier this month.
The SSA-N, despite reaching a ceasefire agreement with the government last year have reportedly clashed with the Burmese military dozens of times since signing the deal.
Government peace negotiators are currently meeting with representatives from the United Nationalities Federal Council, of which the SSA-N is a member, in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Under President Thein Sein’s tutelage, the government has signed tentative ceasefire agreements with ten of the country’s 11 major armed groups. However, the agreements remain tenuous as clashes continue to erupt in the country’s border regions and armed ethnic minority groups continue to call for a political dialogue before entering into further formal talks with Naypyidaw.
Ko Htwe and Nang Mya Nadi contributed reporting