All eyes have been long on the inter-ethnic conflict between the two Shan armies in northern Shan state, even though the initial spark of it was started out by a Palaung, also known as, Ta’ang resistance group, when the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) ambushed the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS) troops returning from their base in Loi Taileng, near the Thai border in the south, in Namkham area in November 2015.
The RCSS said it has retained its presence in the area ever since 2005, long before TNLA was formed and become active and that it has the right to operate all over Shan state as it is a Shan army. But the TNLA doesn’t buy the argument and said that it is its operational area in which the RCSS is encroaching and thus must leave the place. And since then, the fighting between the RCSS and TNLA have been ongoing until today.
The conflict takes a new turn late last year when the Shan State Progress Party (SSPP) another Shan army in the north, political ally within the seven-member Federal Political Negotiation and Consultative Committee (FPNCC) joined in from side of the TNLA, reportedly to evict and sent the RCSS back to where it originally belongs, so goes the argument.
Prior to this the FPNCC has taken decisions more than once in Panghsang among its members to help TNLA in its endeavor to root out the RCSS from northern Shan state. While the decision wasn’t implemented in the form of physically involving itself in the armed conflict as an alliance group, the SSPP individually openly opted to side with the TNLA, which is quite unique and surprising at the same time. No one quite really know why the SSPP has embarked on such a decision.
But at any rate, the Shan-Shan conflict involving the two Shan armies have contributed to the most armed clashes occurring in northern Shan state last year, more than with the arch enemy the Burma army. And with it both sides suffered heavy casualties and as well, created thousands of displaced Shan and Palaung in the contending areas.
However, after several months of armed clashes between the two Shan armies, repeated pleas of the Shan people, Sangha (Monks), Shan political parties and the civil society organizations might have dawn on them, as both sides agree to withdraw last month, on April 20, from front-line areas and vowed to negotiate a durable ceasefire on May 11, with a joint statement of SSPP and RCSS. It also stated the agreement in all anti-narcotics undertakings which is also an embedded policy of both parties.
Although this has come about because of the repeated pleas from the Sangha, the people and Shan political parties, the real breaking point to end the armed conflict was believed to be because of the respected Shan monk Phra Khuva Boonchum, also known as, Mong Phong Sayadaw. He was reportedly and openly telling the audience, a few weeks before he was about to embark on a marathon mediation of three years, three months and three days in a cave in eastern Shan state, that it is a sin to be going against each other, especially of the same kind and that he would permanently migrate to Bhutan if the two Shan armies wouldn’t stop fighting.
Phra Khuva Boonchum although widely well known and respected amassed additional prominence in Thailand and Burma during the Tham Luang cave rescue by accurately predicting when the trapped twelve boys and their coach would be discovered and that they would be found alive.
Whatever the case, the two armies have ended the animosity and that is what counts. Another step would be to consolidate and reconcile. Of course, this is easily said than done. Thus a lot of efforts have to be put in, in order to achieve understanding between the two armies.
But if both really want to serve the people, as they professed it to be their main endeavor, there is no other way than to cooperate and coordinate, although fusion might not be feasible for the time being.
Finally, the highest goal cannot be more than the aim to achieve the aspirations of the people. And they are none other than freedom, equality, human rights, rights of self-determination and democracy. If the two Shan armies’ leadership can keep this big picture in mind, all could be overcome, including personal rivalry and policy differences. After all, tolerance and compassion are two qualities which are needed to achieve happiness, as Khuva Boonchum has time and again preached in all his sermons.
It is now high time for the Shan leadership, armed and unarmed, to make a further step and strive for national unity and reconciliation that will encompass all ethnic groups residing within the Shan state.