Ethnic Issues

RCSS Chairman: ‘We Are Ready to Work With the NLD Govt’ 

By Nyein Nyein 15 February 2016

LOI TAI LENG, SHAN STATE — The Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS), the political wing of the Shan State Army-South (SSA-S), became one of eight ethnic armed groups to sign a so-called nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA) in October 2015. On the 69th annual Shan State National Day, commemorated on February 7, the group’s leadership spoke publicly about a desire to build unity and a federal state system. The RCSS claims to have turned its efforts toward the development of Shan State, but the region’s stability has been marred by recent clashes with the ethnic Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA).

The leader of the approximately 7,000-strong armed group has become more vocal with the media and the broader public since signing the NCA. During a recent visit to the RCSS/SSA-S headquarters on the Thai-Burma border, reporter Nyein Nyein of The Irrawaddy spoke with chairman Lt-Gen Yawd Serk about inclusion, lessons from abroad and future political collaboration with Burma’s new leadership.

How do you envision the role of RCSS in the future, since security sector reform (SSR) and disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) processes are supposed to follow in accordance with the nationwide ceasefire agreement?

Perspectives on SSR and DDR differ on both sides. RCSS will practice security sector reform first, and only after it is in a stable situation, will DDR follow. RCSS will continue with our political policies. We have to work together for unity amongst the diverse minorities in Shan State. We have to work to implement federalism and development in the region.

How would you unify the diverse public in Shan State, which is now also experiencing fighting?

Signing the NCA is a way to unity, as it is signed between the government and the armed groups of both sides who think for the public. When the public cooperates, it will be successful.

Why is social media important for building unity, as you described in your address to the public [on Shan State National Day]? 

Today is the media era. Everyone now has access to it and it makes it easier for us to communicate. So when we post or debate on social media, please keep your mind toward unity and peace.

What is RCSS doing to reduce the Burma Army’s practices of forced labor in the region?

We are waiting for a response from the government so we can collaborate on this issue. So far we can only collect the information and document cases of abuse.

Many women soldiers were seen in the military parade and taking responsibility for security [on Shan State National Day]. What is the RCSS/SSA’s policy on the representation of women in decision-making?

We have had a place for women in our organization since we formed. They have been taking on roles in healthcare and information documentation sectors for years. It is all based on a person’s ability regardless of their gender.

How helpful was your federalism study tour of Switzerland last month, as Switzerland is less populated than Burma—and even Shan State—and has a different ethnic makeup?

The division of power will be applicable to Shan State and Burma. The language learning is freer in their schools, even at the district level. They are more advanced in democratic practices, but we are way behind and cannot compare.

In what ways do you expect to collaborate with the new NLD government?

The new government has yet to announce their policies, as they have not formed them yet. We have to wait [until the end of March] and see what their policies will be and whether they will invite us to collaborate. If they do, we are ready to work with them for the benefit of the people in many ways.