Ethnic youth from across Shan State spoke to S.H.A.N. about the region’s political future after the historic but controversial nationwide ceasefire agreement expected to be signed by eight ethnic armed organizations today in Naypyidaw.
After more than 60 years of civil war, the nationwide ceasefire (NCA) has been praised by international observers but met with criticism from civil society groups like the Women’s League of Burma, who released a statement on Tuesday describing the agreement and the negotiations as “non-inclusive” of women and ethnic groups.
Youth voices have also largely been absent from the process, despite requests to be present during negotiations as observers.
There are more than 20 ethnic armed groups in Burma; 15 were originally invited to join the ceasefire negotiations. The groups currently committed to signing the peace accord include the Restoration Council of Shan State/Shan State Army-South (RCSS/SSA-S), Karen National Union (KNU), All Burma Students Democratic Front (ABSDF), Pa-O National Liberation Party (PNLA), Karen National Liberation Party-Peace Council (KNLA-PC), Democratic Karen Benevolent Party (DKBA), Chin National Front (CNF) and Arakan Liberation Party (ALP).
On Monday, the Ministry of Home Affairs released a statements revealing that the All Burma Students Democratic Front (ABSDF), the Karen National Union (KNU) and the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS) and had been removed from the country’s list of unlawful organizations. Another statement was clarified that the ABSDF and RCSS had also been removed from the government’s list of terrorist organizations.
“The government’s peace means that behind the peace is always fighting. It has been like this for a long time.”
- Rain, 20, Shan political party member from Kutkai Township
“It is happening too fast. In the past [ethnic armed groups] signed ceasefires with the Burma Army, but they were broken. Many, many years have passed. We can’t be too quick to believe these things. How do we know this time it will benefit us?”
- Nang Hla, 26, Shan café employee in Thailand, from Hsipaw
“The northern and eastern parts of Shan State still have fighting. The aim of the NCA is to bring together every ethnic group. But now the government might push out other groups who don’t sign it. They might come and attack them and make more conflict…Even if every armed group signed the NCA, I don’t expect it will make a big change. It will take four or five elections to get a federal system.”
- Name withheld, 25, Kachin, former civil servant, from northern Shan State
“The government is using the NCA to attract the ethnic armed groups…even though it’s signed, it won’t change anything. In Shan State, there are two big groups: the SSPP and the RCSS…it will create a problem between them. If the armed groups are united, it will not be a problem.”
– Sai Kham, 19, Shan student from Taunggyi
“The ethnic groups are not united…if they want to get peace, they can sign [the ceasefire] altogether, or not sign, altogether. I think in the next three to five years, [the armed groups who sign the NCA] will get some advantages, but later there will be problems. The eight groups who sign the ceasefire…their legal status will help those who want to start businesses. Once they become legal, investment will come to them. I hope they don’t forget about the people.”
- Name withheld, 23, health worker from central Shan State
“I want to ask a question to the armed groups: if you win the battle with the Tatmadaw, how are you going to manage your state? Do you have any policies? Do you have a plan?”
- Name withheld, 25, teacher from Lashio
“Because the armed groups are not signing the NCA altogether, it can’t become a structure of peace. If [the government] really wants the ethnic people to sign, [they should] stop the war and call all the people to sign it together. Even though we signed the draft [ceasefire agreement], the Burmese soldiers still come into our villages… people are still running away from their homes.”
- Name withheld, Shan political party member, 23, from northern Shan State
“The government gives us a ceasefire like they give snacks to the children: we give children snacks so they don’t cry. The government wants the ethnic armies not to fight them. If we do sign [the ceasefire], the government should take their army out of Shan State. But there are many soldiers…more and more.”
- Feel, 18, a southern Shan State high school graduate
“Based on the request from every armed group for equality, self determination and the management of our resources… If we get this kind of authority, it will end the war.”
- Sai Fah, 24, Shan student and teacher from Namkham Township
(All views expressed are the individuals’ own. Due to the sensitive political situation in Shan State, identities have been protected at their request. Photos are the copyright of Shan Herald Agency for News.)
By SAI AW and SIMMA FRANCIS / Shan Herald Agency for News (S.H.A.N.)