Burmese government peace negotiators held peace talks with Shan rebel leaders in Thailand on Tuesday and, in a sign of the growing trust between the two sides, they agreed to meet again in Burma’s capital Naypyidaw in the near future, according to a Shan rebel spokesman.
Government peace negotiator Aung Min, a minister from President Thein Sein’s Office, met with Lt-Gen Yawd Serk of the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS) in Chiang Mai, northern Thailand. During the meeting he invited the Shan leader to another round of talks in the capital.
“They invited us for a visit to Naypyidaw someday in the near future. We will find out the date when we both sides are free for the talk,” RCCS spokesperson Maj Sai Lao Hseng told The Irrawaddy by phone.
RCSS is the political wing of the Shan State Army South, the largest ethnic militia in Shan State.
“Our chairman accepted the offer. He agreed to travel to Naypyidaw with the aim of building trust with the government and in order to work together for the peace process. It is a trust-building step,” said Sai Lao Hseng, who had attended the meeting.
It would be the first time that a Shan leader visits the government capital, as ethnic rebel leaders were under constant threat of arrest in the past.
Aung Min’s delegation contained Burma’s Livestock and Fisheries Minister Ohn Myint, Immigration Minister Khin Yi, Deputy Chief Attorney-General Tun Tun Oo and representatives from the government-founded Myanmar Peace Center. The RCSS team included Yawd Serk, Sai Lao Hseng and his deputy Sai Murng.
Sai Lao Hseng said RCSS representatives asked the government delegation to review the current ceasefire agreement and urged them to open a political dialogue with the Shan in the near future. In the long term, the Shan hope to gain political autonomy within a federal structure.
“We also discussed the establishment of a joint peace monitoring group in order to monitor peace process in Shan State. The RCSS delegates suggested that both representatives from the government and the RCSS participate in the peace monitoring group,” said Sai Lao Hseng.
Government negotiators asked the RCSS to “be patient” on this issue as they were discussing the implementation of such monitoring operations with other government authorities, according to Sai Lao Hseng.
He added that the peace team verbally agreed with the RCSS’ request for government-issued national ID cards for internally displaced Shan and Shan refugees, when they return to their home villages.
However, no timeframe has been set for the refugees’ return and the Shan who live in northern Thailand feel it’s still unsafe to return home, while it remains uncertain when there will be permanent peace in their state.
“Civilians still have doubts about our peace deal with the government as there was some fighting in the wake of the ceasefire agreement. And we still can’t form a peace monitoring group and the government hasn’t withdrawn their troops,” said Sai Lao Hseng.
The meeting between the RCSS and the government peace team took place one day before the government peace team was due to meet an alliance of 11 ethnic armed groups known as the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC).
The RCSS is not a member of the UNFC, although another rebel group—theShan State Army North—is.
During the meeting with the UNFC leaders on Wednesday, the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) will also join and the ongoing conflict between the government and the Kachin rebels is likely to be discussed.
The KIO is currently chairing the UNFC. Representatives from other ethnic groups, including the Mon, Karen, Karenni and Chin, will also join the UNFC delegation.
The Kachin rebels are one of the major ethnic armed groups that have not reached a ceasefire agreement with the government. The group held ceasefire talks with a government delegation on Feb. 4, but without any major results.