As he concludes his final days as CSSU’s head, Sai Aik Pao reflects on his year as chairman, and ongoing conflict in Shan State.
Sai Aik Pao—head of the Shan Nationalities Development Party—has been serving as the chairman of the Committee for Shan State Unity (CSSU) for nearly one year. The CSSU is made up of ethnic Shan political parties, armed forces, and civil society organizations. It elects its central executive committee members and chairperson annually in February. With the elections approaching, SHAN’s Nang Seng Mauk Hom sat down with Sai Aik Pao to reflect on his chairmanship and the ongoing conflict in Shan State.
As the chairman of CSSU, what are you doing for Shan State unity?
Our two Shan armed forces have clashed. Local people cannot work on their farms. Civilians have been killed in the clashes. Until now, farmers cannot gather their peas, corn or sesame from their farms. There is no place for Shan people to work even though they are already poor. So Shan people will go to China or Thailand. Our Shan people are going to lose their place. As the chairman of CSSU, I already sent three letters to Gen Yawd Serk [of the Restoration Council of Shan State] and Gen Pang Pha [of the Shan State Progress Party]. The problems cannot be solved without a meeting between the two leaders. If the Shan don’t have a good plan, they will definitely lose everything.
Are you satisfied with your performance as chairman?
I am not satisfied with the one-year chairmanship term. I have repeatedly tried to implement the demands of Shan Sangha [monks] and Shan people regarding the merging of the two Shan armed forces and two Shan political parties. Unfortunately, I failed. Nothing is successful. Even though a Shan political party won [seats] in the general elections, Shan people have not been able to depend on them. That’s why I am not satisfied with the results of this year.
As the chairman, what did you achieve?
Nothing. Like I mentioned, I have tried for unity among us. We failed. We haven’t gotten any success. Therefore, CSSU is also not united. If we won’t work for unity among the Shan people and if there is fighting in a war, Shan youth will have difficulties in the future.
What is the CSSU’s future plan?
My term is over next month [in February]. We have not discussed who is going to take the over the chairmanship role after me. It’s better to have collective leadership among us. It will be easier to work together. Leaders must be honest. If they are not honest, it is not easy. How can we draft a future plan? If we are going to fight, look it the history. It’s already 70 years of war. There is no achievement. There is no development.
When is CSSU annual meeting to elect new leaders?
I think it is likely going to be at the end of February. We don’t know the exact schedule. Some people want to hold the annual meeting in Loi Tai Leng, the headquarters of the RCSS/SSA [Restoration Council of Shan State/Shan State Army]. Some people prefer to hold it in Taunggyi. If the meeting is held in Loi Tai Leng, it’s nothing if the SSPP/SSA [Shan State Progress Party/Shan State Army] doesn’t participate in it. If they won’t participate the meeting, they cannot discuss anything. That is why we want them—the two Shan forces—to hold discussions as soon as possible. We want them to have a good relationship again. We have never heard of Shan forces fighting each other in the past. Currently, civilians have to flee from clashes in Hsipaw Township. Civilians have gotten injured. Some people have been killed.
What do you want to do before your chairmanship term is over?
CSSU is the Committee for Shan State Unity. All people in Shan State must participate in it. It is not only for Shan people—it’s for all people living in Shan State. Currently, if Shan people don’t have unity, it’s difficult to build unity with other ethnic people. Neither the two Shan political parties nor the two Shan armed forces have any unity. I want to request that the two Shan armed forces avoid clashes.
The CSSU’s members are: Shan National Democratic Party (SNDP), RCSS/SSA, SSPP/SSA, Shan State Joint Action Committee (SSJAC – Shan National League for Democracy (SNLD), Eastern Shan State Democratic and Development Party (ESSDDP), Shan CBOs, New Generation of Shan State (NGSS),and the Tai Youth Organization (TYO).
The CSSU was formed in 2013 under the leadership of RCSS/SSA leader Gen Yawd Serk. Its objectives are to protect the rights of the Shan people, to pursue self-determination of the Shan people, and to draft a framework for political dialogue.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.