For the past 65 years, the resistance against authoritarianism has persisted from one generation to another.
As we commemorate the 65th Shan Resistance Day, it is time that we evaluate the current status of Shan resistance organizations, which assert their dedication to fighting for the rights and nationality of the Shan people.
In the post 2021-coup situation, the resistance efforts by the People’s Defense Forces (PDF) against the military regime are escalating, while simultaneously there is an increase in armed confrontations between Ethnic Revolutionary Organizations.
The armed clashes, initially originating in northern Shan State, involving the Restoration Council of Shan State/SSA and the Shan State Progress Party/SSA, are now extending to southern Shan State.
Shan State stands out as not just one of the largest states in Myanmar but also as a region abundant in natural resources. Furthermore, it serves as a hub for the highest concentration of diverse armed organizations within Myanmar.
Even amidst the recent wave of the resistance movement, the initial armed attack by resistance groups targeted a police station in Mo Byae, Pekon township, situated in the southern part of Shan State under the administration of Taunggyi District.
Presently, the conflict between the People Defense Forces (PDF) and the State Administrative Council (SAC) has intensified, while tensions persist between the two Shan Ethnic Armed Organizations (EAOs/EROs) in central and southern regions of Shan State, including Laihka (Lecha), Kesi (Kyethi), Loilem (Loilen), and Lawksawk (Yatsauk).
Since the military takeover in 2021, the two Shan armed factions have not engaged the SAC militarily directly; instead, they have engaged in armed conflict with one another, which has fueled a lingering enmity.
As long as this enmity lingers and armed conflict persists, the people will not be able to live in peace, forcing them to flee and leave behind their homes, farms, and possessions.
“Unlike other armed revolutionary organizations and groups, who are fighting against the authoritarian SAC, but they (the two Shan armed organizations) are fighting against each other. Although they claim to stand for their own people, but now due to their fights, the people are having to flee their homes, and wonder if they enjoy seeing the suffering of people,” expressed a 45-year-old man from Laihka (Lecha).
In Southern Shan State, where landmine incidents were previously unheard of, there has been a concerning rise in such incidents since the onset of armed clashes between the two Shan rebel organizations.
Each month, on average, a landmine injures at least one person.
“Landmine incidents were quite rare in our area in the past. However, they have become increasingly frequent, and now people even encounter them on their way to their farmland. Tragically, some have lost their lives due to these landmines. It is only the people who continue to suffer,” added the 45-year-old man.
The Shan State Army was established by Noom Serk Harn (meaning Brave Young Warriors) on what is now known as The Shan Resistance Day, with the help of 31 Shan teenagers. These 31 people gathered on May 21, 1958, in Mong Ton township, close to the Nam Joot river. They swore steadfast loyalty to one another and started organizing the Shan resistance movement.
The Shan resistance movement, also known as the Shan State Army, was founded in 1958 as a direct reaction to the Burmese military government’s oppressive policies, violations of human rights, and systematic disrespect for the equal rights of the people of Shan State.
The original Shan State Army was founded in 1958, and today there are two Shan rebel groups, each of which is broken and separated. Unfortunately, their current lack of cohesion appears to eclipse their dedication to defending and fighting for the rights of the people they swore to protect.
As armed confrontations persist between the two Shan resistance organizations on the ground, a parallel conflict is unfolding on social media platforms. Supporters of each organization are launching attacks against one another, exacerbating divisions among the Shan people and further deepening the rift within the Shan community.
It is a matter of profound concern and reflection as to why the two Shan armed organizations, which share the same ethnicity, language, culture, and religion, are unable to engage in direct dialogue and negotiations with one another.
Following the February 2021 coup, the two Shan armed organizations were able to hold talks with the State Administrative Council (SAC), their shared enemy. However, despite having similar goals, they have had trouble holding talks with one another. Despite sharing ideas for starting a conversation and negotiations, there have been no face-to-face encounters between the two organizations as of yet.
“They can even communicate with or interact with the SAC, the military unit that carried out the coup. This implies that they are able to communicate with the adversary they have been battling for years. Then why can’t they communicate with one another?” A 35-year-old Shan activist lady said, “It must be because of their ego”.
She went on to say that the common enemy must be prioritized. Instead of depending on rumors or hearsay, the disagreement between the two groups should be settled through direct face-to-face dialogue. Shan communities, including the Shan “Sangha,” or monks’ community, have become divided as a result of the persistent hostility and conflict between the two armed organizations. The Shan activist stressed that the overall strength of the Shan resistance cause will be weakened if each organization continues to be firmly rooted in its own ego and claims to be the only authority and leader of the resistance movement.
Therefore, a lingering question and puzzle arise amongst Shan youths: Are they truly fighting for the national cause and the well-being of the people, or are they driven by their own self-interests?
“We lack a culture of meetings and discussions on subjects relevant to our national interest or development issues, which is one of the reasons why there is a significant split between the two Shan military organizations,” said the recipient of the Sao Thusandi Leadership Award. “We have been mired in a culture of rivalry and conflict, with each group thinking they are the only ones who are ‘right’ and ‘mighty.’ It is feasible to prevent the disputes between the two groups if we genuinely value the welfare of society and our nationality.”
The Shan youth expressed their concerns, highlighting that the armed conflicts between the two groups were a result of a fundamental lack of mutual understanding and cooperation in pursuing the collective interests of their nationality.
A young man residing in the area impacted by the tensions between the two Shan armed organizations expressed his opinion, stating, “If everyone genuinely comprehended the importance of our national affairs, there would be no reason for conflict among us. Furthermore, those who truly grasp the military and political dynamics would not be swayed by the words of others and rumors.”
As we re-assess the Shan resistance movements that have endured for 65 years, it becomes apparent that their focus and direction may have shifted towards the preservation of their own power and self-interest, rather than the advancement of the Shan nationality and the struggle for equality. If this trend continues, the primary objective of achieving equality and advancing the cause of nationality may become even more elusive.
Hence, it is crucial for the Shan resistance organizations to revisit and uphold the original aspiration of the Shan resistance movement, initiated by a dedicated group of 31 Shan youths under the leadership of Sao Noi (aka) Saw Yanda. The core principles they pledged were centered around achieving equality and well-being of the people in Shan State.
Despite being able to meet with their enemy, the SAC, in pursuit of peace and stability for Shan State, the two Shan organizations have struggled to engage with each other. This raises the question of why they cannot extend the same willingness to meet and discuss among themselves. The Shan people earnestly appeal and pray for these groups to transcend the cycle of insults and mutual blame. It is crucial for them to set aside ego, hostility, and resentment, and instead come together at the negotiating table.