A ceasefire recently agreed between the government and the Shan State Army will be “meaningless” unless Burmese troops end exploitation and violence against civilians in the eastern state, the rebel group warned yesterday as hundreds gathered at its headquarters on the Thai-Burma border.
The two sides signed a pact last month that they hope will bring to an end decades of fighting in the volatile state, which is home to some six million ethnic Shan.
But the Shan State Army (SSA) has voiced concern about the finer details of the agreement, which includes allowing Burmese troops to pass through their territory. Moreover, they have demanded that the Burmese army end ingrained abuses practices in civilian areas that it has largely been able to carry out with impunity.
“If [the army] continues to oppress and commit crimes against the people, such as subjecting them to forced labour, forced relocation, rape and extrajudicial killing, and scorched villages, then the ceasefire will be meaningless,” said a statement read out yesterday at the group’s 65th Shan National Day at Loi Taileng.
The SSA is one of a number of ethnic armies to have signed truces with the government in past two months, although what was billed as a ceasefire with the Karen National Union (KNU) has been mired in controversy: the KNU’s leader, Zipporah Sein, said recently that no official agreement had been made, and that the team sent to negotiate with government officials on 12 January were not in a position to accept terms.
The SSA’s conflict with the central government stretches back nearly half a century. Shortly after it was formed in 1964 it split into two factions, with what came be known as the Shan State Army–North (SSA-N) allying itself with the government.
That relationship appeared to be on the rocks last year after fighting broke out between Burmese troops and the SSA-N, following the latter’s refusal to become a Border Guard Force.
But in late January the SSA-N also agreed a truce with the government, and both factions await further negotiations regarding territory, as well as deciding whether Burmese troops can move around in areas under its control.
Major Sai Min, a spokesperson for the SSA’s political wing, the Shan State Restoration Council, said that the group will assume responsibility for appointing administrative workers in SSA territory, although the extent of autonomy it will enjoy remains unclear.