Myanmar's Speaker Holds Talks With Shan Leaders, Armed Rebel Groups

An ethnic Wa woman carrying a child at a religious ceremony of the Shan rebel group in Shan State, May 24, 2013.

Myanmar's Parliamentary Speaker Shwe Mann held talks this week with government leaders and rebels in northeastern Shan state amid plans for a nationwide cease-fire agreement to end conflicts with the country’s numerous ethnic armed groups, officials said.

The talks came as the central government approved a license for an exile Shan media group to run a newspaper in Taunggyi, the capital of Shan state bordering China to the north, Laos to the east, and Thailand to the south.

Shwe Mann, who took over in July as overall leader of the two chambers of Myanmar’s legislature, had met with the chief minister of Shan State, state legislators, political parties, nongovernmental organizations, community-based groups, and rebels groups, including the United Wa State Army (UWSA), Myanmar's largest ethnic armed group.

Shwe Mann, who is head of the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), indicated that parliament was striving to get armed groups to sign a nationwide cease-fire agreement.

But some Shan groups were more interested in a comprehensive political solution to the decades of war between the ethnic groups and the Myanmar military.

“They said there will be an event at parliament to sign an 'absolute' nationwide cease-fire agreement," said Sai Hla, spokesman for the Shan State Progress Party/Shan State Army (SSPP/SSA) (North), after the group's leader, General Tsay Htan, held talks with Shwe Mann at the Myanmar army's northeastern regional command headquarters in Lashio.

But Tsay Htan replied that a political solution is more critical than a cease-fire agreement for the Shan, Myanmar's second-largest ethnic group after the Burmans, Sai Hla said.  

"The plan is to sign the agreement, and then a political solution will be arrived at in the parliamentary process," he said. "But our desire is to negotiate a political solution first, and then parliament can vote and approve the solution."

Shwe Mann said he would pay "great attention" to Tsay Htan's proposal.

The Speaker, during his meetings with Shan groups, also supported a federal system of governance to end conflicts with the country’s numerous ethnic armed groups, officials said.

Shwe Mann last month called for greater parliamentary involvement in peacemaking efforts now led by the government negotiation team headed by President’s Office Minister Aung Min.

Strengthen peace process

The meeting between the Shan groups and Shwe Mann would help strengthen the peace process, Sai Hla told RFA's Myanmar Service.

He said Shwe Mann also discussed a federal system of governing the country as well as issues such as ethic equality and right to self-determination which ethnic minority groups have been demanding for years.

Sai Eik Pong, a Shan state minister and lawmaker, said he proposed at the talks that the central government allocate 50 percent of all taxes from the extractive industry to the coffers of the state government.

Some local leaders however were skeptical about Shwe Mann's trip, saying he may be in the state to test the waters ahead of the 2015 general elections in which he could make a bid to become the country's next president.

Sai Ywad Hong, the local head of the Shan National Democratic Party (SNDP), felt Shwe Mann may be assessing his own party's chances in Shan state.

"This trip and meetings imply that this is political charm offensive," said Sai Laik, spokesperson for the Shan National League for Democracy Party (SNLD).

Meanwhile, the exiled Shan Herald Agency for News or SHAN will publish its first weekly paper in the Shan capital following government approval of a license for the Thailand-based group.

Sai Meng, a SHAN editor, told RFA that the group applied for a license early Friday and the government’s central press monitoring agency gave the approval in the evening.

“This morning we went there to fill in the application form, and they asked for [various particulars]. We said we had all of them but have no [endorsement from the police]. They said it's OK and then approved it on the same day,” Sai Meng said.   

"The government is working for national reconciliation and development, and we also want development and to work for the people in the state. That is why we want to publish a weekly local Shan paper based in Taunggyi," Sai Meng said.

The SHAN news agency was established in December 1991 in Chiang Mai, Thailand by Shan intellectuals. It publishes Shan-related stories online in Shan, Myanmar, English, and Thai languages.

It is also a member of BNI, Burmese News International, which consists of a dozen Myanmar ethnic national media groups in exile.

Reported by RFA's Myanmar Service. Translated by Kyaw Min Htun. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.


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