President Thein Sein called on the leader of the Shan State Army-South (SSA-S) Yawd Serk to remain committed to the union through “thick and thin” during a historic meeting in Naypyidaw on Monday.
As the government peace negotiators and the rebel delegation greeted each other, members of the SSA-S presented Thein Sein with a Buddha statue and traditional Shan apparel, which the president donned.
During the talks, Thein Sein stressed that the rebel group must not attempt to break away from the union, according to the SSA-S’s spokesperson.
“The president focused discussion on non-separation – for the [Shan] to not separate from the Union of Burma and to co-exist through thick and thin,” said Sai Lao Hseng.
“We replied that the SSA-S is willing to cooperate with the union government to bring about peace in the country and to live harmoniously.”
SSA-S leader Yawd Serk urged the president to see that the previous agreements signed in accordance with their ceasefire were honoured, which includes enforcing demarcation lines, appointing monitoring groups and building mutual trust.
“[Yawd Serk] said the [SSA-S] is joining the [peace] process in a welcoming gesture to the government that is opening the door for political dialogues,” said the spokesperson.
The 22-member rebel delegation also raised issues put forward by Shan civil society groups during a recent consultation session.
From the points hammered out with the civil society organisations, the SSA-S delegation pushed the government to provide Shan ethnic migrants and refugees living in neighbouring countries with ID cards and to include them in the 2014 census.
“Addressing our issues is one thing we aim to do, but that requires mutual trust among the two sides, so we are here for that first,” said the editor of the Shan Herald Agency for News and SSA-S advisor Khunsai Jaiyen.
“Then, once we’ve [established rapport] and mutual trust, then we can solve problems together.”
According to government peace negotiator Hla Maung Shwe, the president promised to hold further discussions with the state-backed Peace Making Work Committee regarding the propositions made by the SSA-S.
While the SSA-S and Naypyidaw signed a tentative truce in December 2011, the two sides have continued to clash.
Following a massive assault against an SSA-S position in May near the Sino-Burmese border, about 2,000 refugees fled, some of who remain across the border in China.
Over the weekend, more than 200 government troops clashed with the Shan State Army-North – a separate rebel group that has also signed a ceasefire with Naypyidaw – near Lashio, according to a report in the Shan Herald.
According to analysts, the ongoing clashes between ceasefire groups and the Burmese army raises questions over whether the quasi-civilian government is in full control of the military.
“The president delegation is doing something and the army is independent,” said David Tharckabaw, spokesperson for the United Nationalities Federal Council, which represents 11 of the country’s armed groups including the SSA-N.
“The president has no control over the army, so it does whatever it likes.”