A powerful ethnic Shan rebel group in Myanmar called on the government in talks Friday to repeal a law used to detain a regional politician linked with the group in the midst of nationwide cease-fire talks.
Leaders from the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS) and its military wing the Shan State Army-South (SSA-S) made the demand to abolish the law during peace talks in Yangon with the government’s top peace negotiator Minister Aung Min.
The call followed the month-long detention of Sai Jan, a village representative for the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD), who was charged under a provision of the 1908 Unlawful Association Act.
He was charged under Article 71/1 of the law for his association with the RCSS/SSA-S.
SSA spokesman Colonel Sai La said the leaders had complained to Aung Min that Sai Jan should not have been punished for his ties to the RCSS/SSA-S, which has a cease-fire agreement with the government.
The leaders told the negotiators it should not be considered illegal for individuals to associate with any rebel groups who have peace agreements with the government and are involved in the nationwide cease-fire talks, he said.
“We discussed today on the problems that are not supposed to happen, such as the charge against Sai Jan,” he said.
“We came here to discuss preventing further problems including people being charged under 17/1 while all ethnic groups are collaborating for cease-fire and peace.”
“It is the government’s responsibility to abolish these laws [and] not consider us banned groups.”
“The government should announce that all political parties, ethnic armed groups, and individual who are working together for peace are free from [being considered] unlawful associations.”
Article 17/1 of the Unlawful Association Act sets out prison terms of between two and three years for being a member of an “unlawful association,” making contributions to one, or assisting its operations.
Sai Jan, SNLD chairman of Nanlinmine Village in Shan state’s Kyaington Township, was charged on May 5. But the charges were withdrawn on May 29 following an outcry from the RCSS/SSA and he was freed from Kengtung prison.
The Unlawful Association Act was used during the decades of military junta rule to detain those linked to rebel groups.
President Thein Sein’s reformist government has been racing to end decades of conflict with the country’s ethnic rebel groups and pushing for them to jointly sign a nationwide cease-fire agreement.
The RCSS/SSA-S has not joined the Nationwide Cease-fire Coordination Team of 16 rebel groups hammering out the joint accord, but has attended government-NCCT talks and expressed support for the endeavor.
Meanwhile near the Shan state capital Taunggyi, a village representative for Myanmar’s main opposition party was found shot to death on Thursday morning.
The man, Sai San Tun, a local representative for the National League for Democracy (NLD), had campaigned for the return of land grabbed by the Myanmar military in an area where government troops, the SSA-S, and an ethnic Pa-O militia are known to operate.
Reported by Kyaw Thu for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.