The Myanmar government will allow ethnic organizations in Shan state to hold regional-level political discussions on April 23-25 in the run-up to national-level talks, a military official said on Thursday.
But the government has decided not to permit preliminary talks among ethnic Shan groups in the volatile state where some local militias are engaged in hostilities with the national army, said Lieutenant Colonel Sai Nyin, spokesman of the RCSS.
The government military originally decided that the talks could be held in Mangpan, Monehtaw, and Nantpankhon townships, but the Restoration Council of Shan State/Shan State Army (RCSS/SSA), one of the dominant ethnic organizations in the region’s north, requested that they be held in the state capital Taunggyi because of difficulties in traveling to the others areas, he said.
“We requested that the government hold national-level political talks [for Shan State] in Taunggyi, but we haven’t received a response yet,” he told RFA’s Myanmar Service. “But the government invited us for the regional level talks in Taunggyi.
“The RCSS’s Peace Working Committee will hold a meeting today, and we will decide on whether we will participate in these talks or not, and how many representatives we will send if we attend,” Sai Nyin said.
Sai Nyin insisted that national-level political talks among Shan ethnics must be held first before the regional talks can take place, he said.
He also said he believes it is the country’s powerful military rather than the civilian government of de facto national leader Aung San Suu Kyi that is not permitting Shan ethnic discussions, because it fears that the RCSS will dominate the talks.
The RSCC has been involved in recent clashes with the government military as well as hostilities with another ethnic militia—the Ta’ang National Liberation army (TNLA)—in northern Shan state.
“But the RCSS alone can’t lead the talks,” he said. “All Shan groups and organizations together will hold them,” he said.
“We are thinking that it could be difficult to participate in regional-level talks without holding ethnic-level talks [first],” Sai Nyin said.
Five topics—politics, the economy, security, social issues, and land and environmental issues—must be hammered out among the Shan people before starting regional discussions, he said.
“We will know what Shan people want on these topics only after we hold ethnic political talks,” he said.
“The government won’t allow Shan ethnic-level political talks, only regional-level ones,” he said. “It is not good for the Shan people.”
It will also be difficult for Shan representatives to attend the second round of the government’s nationwide peace talks known as the 21st-century Panglong Conference without holding ethnic-level political talks beforehand, he said.
Aung San Suu Kyi has been preparing for the second round of talks, which the government has postponed twice since February, in a bid to end decades of ethnic separatist civil wars that have plagued the country and prevented it from further political and economic development.
Eight armed ethnic groups, including the RCSS, signed a nationwide cease-fire agreement with the government in October 2015, but the RCSS has been accused of violating the pact’s terms.
Clashes in Shan state and neighboring Kachin state have resulted in an increase in the number of internal refugees and civilian deaths and have stymied Aung San Suu Kyi’s efforts to bring warring ethnic militias to the negotiating table.
Reported by Thiha Tun for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Khet Mar.