Burma’s military has intervened in plans for Shan National Conference (SNC), insisting that state capital Taunggyi cannot be used as a venue for the forum and instead directing organizers to smaller townships.
According to Col. Sai La, an official with the Restoration Council of Shan State/Shan State Army (RCSS/SSA), which is hosting the event, his group met with Tatmadaw [Burmese military] representatives at talks mediated by the government-led Union Peace Dialogue Joint Committee (UPDJC) on February 15. He said that the Tatmadaw offered only a restricted shortlist of options for holding the SNC, which is the last forum where ethnic Shans may gather to express opinions and make decisions ahead of the national peace talks known as the 21st Century Panglong Conference (21CPC, which is slated to be held in mid-March.
“The Tatmadaw said we could hold the conference in Mongpan, Mongtaw or Nam Pan Kun townships,” he told Shan Herald on Friday.
The three towns are each underdeveloped and inconvenient in terms of travel, accommodation and hospitality, he said.
“We requested permission to hold the SNC in Taunggyi,” said Sai La. “They responded by saying that only the Tatmadaw could stage official meetings in the state capital. Other than the three towns put to us, they would not budge in discussing the matter further.”
The RCSS spokesman said that, the following day, the Shan armed group sent a letter to Lt-Gen Khin Zaw Oo, a Tatmadaw representative at the UPDJC. However, he replied saying that he could not interfere in what the military had ordered.
Sai La said he then wrote to State Counselor and head of the UPDJC Aung San Suu Kyi on February 19. Her office responded the next day, advising the RCSS to take up the matter again with the relevant military officials. Suu Kyi’s office further said that it could not intervene in the situation.
“Again, this time on February 23, we sent another letter to Aung San Suu Kyi in her capacity as both State Counselor and chairperson of the UPDJC,” Sai La said. “We told her it would be impossible to host the SNC in those towns because they were not equipped to accommodate at least 400 or 500 persons.
“We again requested permission to hold the event in either Taunggyi or Panglong Township.”
He said that if they could not successfully hold a Shan national conference how could the people’s voice be presented at the second round of the 21CPC in a few weeks’ time.
“This national conference is not only for us [RCSS/SSA],” Sai La added. “It is for all Shan people. We will have to listen to their voices to reach a consensus.”
He reiterated: “Taunggyi is the state capital, and Panglong is a historical city. They should allow us to hold it in either of those places.”
The RCSS/SSA was one of eight ethnic armies that signed the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement with the President Thein Sein government in October 2015.
By Shan Herald Agency for News (SHAN)