Fighting and fear of the COVID-19 virus is making it difficult for leaders of the Restoration Council of Shan State/Shan State Army (RCSS/SSA) to organize public consultations to discuss political dialogue before the 21st Panglong Conference.
Col Ohm Khur, the RCSS/SSA spokesperson, told SHAN, they are waiting to see what will happen before committing to talks but will try before the 4th round of the 21st Panglong Conference. The government intends to hold the peace conference the first week of April.
“I’m not sure whether it will happen. We have to wait and see how various things play out, including the spread of the coronavirus and political affairs,” Col Ohm Khur told SHAN.
Sai Lek, the spokesperson for Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD), told SHAN he wants the RCSS/SSA to postpone talks with the Shan community and various civil society organisations.
“If we rush to hold talks and participants are infected with the coronavirus, we will be criticized. All over the world it’s being encouraged to cancel face to face meetings.”
The Shan State government is cancelling public meetings, including traditional festivals, to try to prevent the onset of COVID-19. Burma hasn’t confirmed a single case of the virus despite infections have already spread to more than 100 countries.
An RCSS officer said whether or not public meetings go ahead depends largely on the outcome of current negotiations with the Burma Army.
“I think the RCSS will meet with the Tatmadaw (Burma Army) soon and we will have to see what’s the outcome of this,” the RCSS officer told SHAN.
Of the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) signatories, only the Karen and Pa-O have been allowed to conduct official public consultations about political dialogue they want to have with the government.
In 2018, the RCSS/SSA attempted to meet with the Shan community to discuss what items should be tabled for political dialogue with the government but Tatmadaw soldiers that arrived fully armed shut down the public consultations. Until now, there hasn’t been a community meeting by the Shan to discuss political dialogue with the government.
Military tensions remain high between the RCSS/SSA and Burma Army after fighting that started on February 27.