Burma’s most populous ethnic minority group, the Shan, will hold a conference in November to discuss solutions for peace in the eastern Burmese state. The event will be attended by Shan military figures, representatives of civic groups and community leaders from across the region, Shan sources said.
The workshop will collate all the represented opinions and will, hopefully, help to produce an agreed common strategy to settle peacefully the ongoing conflicts in the region, one source said.
“We are organizing this large workshop because we want the people to participate and share their ideas,” said Hkun Htun Oo, a prominent Shan leader who is helping to organize the conference.
Hkun Htun Oo is the chairman of the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy. He was arrested in 2005 for opposing the military regime and was sentenced to life in prison, but was released earlier this year in a presidential amnesty.
Speaking to The Irrawaddy on Monday, he said that the debate is only open to ethnic Shan people, but will include representatives of the Shan Shan State Army-North, the Shan State Army-South and other militias.
He added that he is currently working to form a committee to oversee the Shan conference.
Burma’s President Thein Sein has publicly asked for help from Hkun Htun Oo and other prominent Shan leaders to cooperate in working with his government to find peaceful solutions to the conflict. Hkun Htun Oo confirmed that the upcoming Shan conference has the president’s blessing.
“We have signed a ceasefire agreement, but the fighting goes on,” said Hkun Htun Oo. “We must find a way to reinvigorate the peace process and ultimately secure peace.”
The Burmese government has answered many critics this year by drawing their attention to the fact that it has signed ceasefires with 10 ethnic armed groups—the Kachin rebels being the most notable exception. However, observers point out that despite the truces, hostilities have continued or even increased in many parts of eastern and northern Burma.
According to Hkun Htun Oo, many of the Shan armed groups and civic society organizations are demanding a federal system in Burma, similar to many of the other ethnic groups in the country.
He told The Irrawaddy that some representatives of the government have approached him to discuss the federal union issue, and to confirm that Shan ambitions of federalism are not akin to secession.
He said that the issue at hand is what kind of federal system should be discussed, and the need for ethnic peoples to have equal rights.
Meanwhile, an alliance of 10 political parties, including five ethnic parties, plans to raise the issue of federalism in Parliament. The alliance parties are proposing that all 14 states or regions in Burma be awarded equal rights and administration. The alliance said it will submit a draft outlining its proposal and will submit it to President Thein Sein as well as raising the issue for debate in both houses of parliament.+
The parties involved were named as: All Mon Regions Democracy Party; National Democratic Front; Rakhine Nationalities Development Party; Shan Nationalities Development Party; Chin National Party; Democracy and Peace Party; Democratic Party (Myanmar); Phalon Sawaw Democratic Party; Union Democracy Party; and the Peace and Unity Party.