On April 24, the Shan State Progress Party (SSPP) and its military wing Shan State Army (SSA) held an event commemorating its 55th founding anniversary at its headquarters Wan Hai. The SSPP was founded only in 1971 and thus the held occasion is more of the establishment of SSA in 1964, which originated from the Shan State Independence Army (SSIA) founded in 1960. However, the usual armed parade and show of its arsenal were suspiciously absent and instead performance of traditional martial arts and group’s representatives meeting with the people to discuss the problems were carried out.
According to its spokesman lieutenant colonel Sai Su: “The parade was dropped from this year’s event because we are working for peace, and holding it might be mistaken as a challenge to others. Only traditional martial arts demonstrations and other entertainment were included at this year’s event,” reported Radio Free Asia and also the Myanmar Times.
“We wanted to show the union government that we love peace, so the anniversary was celebrated as a happy commemoration of the founding of our troops,” he added.
Reportedly, the spokesman said that its traditional gun fire salutes to mark the anniversary was dropped to show sympathy with the victims of armed conflict and its group desire of wanting to stop the fighting and achieve peace.
According to “History of Shan State Army” published in Shan version on 2014 by SSPP/SSA information department its resistance movement is categorized in four stages.
The first stage is from 1956 to 1958, which emphasized the struggle within union parliamentary democracy system between the Bamar-dominated Anti-Fascist People’s Freedom League (AFPFL) government and the Shan people.
The second phase is the armed resistance from 1958 to 1971 that spread all over the Shan state during this period.
The third one is from 1971 to 1989 where SSPP was formed and led the revolutionary struggle.
The fourth stage is from 1989 to the present day in which “ceasefire and peace” initiative is emphasized while holding arms to protect itself and at the same seeking for solution through political dialogue.
While the Shan resistance was started on May 21, 1958, the forerunner of the SSA, the SSIA came into being only on April 25, 1960, which was formed in Loi La, Mong Yawn, Kengtung district with Hkun Maha as chairman and Sao Hso Hkarn as secretary general.
On April 24, 1964 Shan resistance forces formed the Shan State Army (SSA) with Sao Nang Hearn Kham (Mahadevi of Yawnghwe) as chairman. In 1971, the SSPP was established and its first congress was held on August 16, 1971. The SSPP signed a ceasefire agreement with the Burmese government in 1989.
In 2010 the Tatmadaw (Burma army) pressured the SSPP/SSA to transform into Border Guard Force (BGF) that would effectively come under the Tatmadaw’s control, which its brigade 3 and 7 yielded to the transformation the following year. However the brigade 1 led by colonel Pang Fa (now lieutenant general) resisted the pressure and instead rejuvenated the SSPP/SSA but kept the ceasefire agreement of 1989 although his troops were often attacked by the Tatmadaw starting from 2010 and throughout 2011. On January 28, 2012 state and union-level ceasefires were signed again with the government.
But despite all these, the Tatmadaw’s attacked its headquarters in Wan Hai in 2014 and large scale operation employing some 20 battalions, including attacks using heavy artillery bombardment, helicopter gunships and jet fighters in 2015 against the SSPP/SSA. The armed confrontations have been going on and off until today, even though there were also parallel talks going on now and then on how to deescalate the conflict and sign the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA), which is a precondition set by the government to be able to participate in Union Peace Conference.
It is headquartered in Wan Hai, Kehsi township, northern Shan state and its operational areas are Nam Kham, Langkho, Hsipaw, Kyauk Mae, Mong Hsu, Tang Yang, Mongyai, Kehsi, Lashio townships, with an
estimated strength of more than 8,000 troops.
The good will initiative of the SSPP on its 55th foundation of the SSA, its armed wing, could be seen as a contrast to the 30th United Wa State Army (UWSA) founding military parade that had recently being held in Panghsang (Pangkham) with pomp and ceremony.
The SSPP’s intention to forsake military parade and show off its arsenal were said to show the union government of its full endorsement for peace process and also because of its sympathy for the suffering people due to the armed conflict. Its professed aim is the establishment of federal union, while the UWSA strives for confederation and the seven-member political alliance Federal Political Negotiation and Consultative Committee (FPNCC) that it leads also toes the same line of thinking. Thus, the SSPP’s political aspiration is unclear whether it is for federalism or confederation, as it is also a member of the Wa-led alliance.
Before joining the FPNCC, SSPP was member of the ethnic alliance United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC), which aimed at achieving a federal union as its goal.
While the SSPP intention might generally be seen as a peaceful gesture for conducting political dialogue and reconciliation attitude, it can also be taken as a sign of weakness, especially by the Tatmadaw.
In the past the SSPP has been pressured to yield to the military government’s demand of BGF and it also actually yielded and agreed many times by withdrawals from its territories without a fight, reportedly in good will gesture and not to jeopardize the peace process. Moreover, the Tatmadaw’s attacks on its headquarters Wan Hai in 2014 and large scale operation in 2015 on the SSPP could be seen in this light of pressuring to accept the government’s condition of signing the NCA as it is without alteration.
In sum, whether the SSPP good will initiative will be taken as an affirmative gesture or in the light of inferior bargaining position by the Tatmadaw is unclear. But this lingering question will be definitely answered in the course of time.