In Person

SSPP: 'We are Not Bloodthirsty Militants'

By Chit Min Htun 28 December 2018

Fighting has escalated recently between two rival Shan ethnic armed groups in northern Shan State. At the same time, the Myanmar military, or Tatmadaw, has announced a halt to its military operations across much of the country, including Shan State. The Irrawaddy interviewed the vice chairman of the Shan State Progress Party/Shan State Army-North (SSPP/SSA-N), Major General Khun Hseng, about these developments.

People are quite concerned about the clashes between the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS) and the combined forces of the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) and Shan State Progress Party. Why are the clashes happening?

When the government launched an offensive against us in 2011, the RCSS offered its help to our chairman. We didn’t ask for help from anybody. It is notable that we have not established a stronghold on either the Thai border or the Chinese border. We are only active in Shan State, inside the country, with the support of Shan people.

So the RCSS/Shan State Army-South (SSA-S) offered to help us fight back. We didn’t tell them to help us or not to help us. We said if they were really willing to help us, don’t let Tatmadaw troops cross the northern Shan State border at Panglong and Lai-Hka if they can. That’s all we said.

So the RCSS/SSA-S didn’t really fight the enemy. At that time the enemy was launching an offensive against our Wan Hai headquarters [in Kehsi Township]. From the very beginning, our troops were stationed across northern Shan State, since the Shan revolution in 1958, when the Shan State Army emerged. Our troops were stationed in Hsipaw, Lashio, Muse, Namkham, Kyaukme, Nawnghkio, and Mongmit townships, but not in Namhsan in northern Shan State, since April 24, 1964. People need to understand this fact, otherwise they will lose track of the history.

So when [the military launched its offensive] in 2011, we withdrew the troops stationed across Shan State to Wan Hai, and we carried out both defensive and offensive military operations to prevent losing Wan Hai. There were intense clashes in 2011. Even after we signed a Union-level ceasefire in 2012, the Tatmadaw launched an offensive against us in July the same year, and we lost control of some important bases. More than 1,000 troops took part in major clashes. Again in 2014, the Tatmadaw launched a massive offensive against us in important places near our Wan Hai headquarters.

We withdrew our troops at the request of [former] President U Thein Sein. But the Tatmadaw didn’t withdraw its troops. They are still stationed there. Again in 2015, the Tatmadaw launched a large-scale offensive with artillery fire and air support near Hai Pa in southern Shan State. Then we withdrew our troops from there. At that time we had only guerilla and administrative forces in northern Shan State.

Under these circumstances, the RCSS/SSA came to northern Shan State citing various reasons. It gave the excuse that it came to help us fight the military. But in fact there was no fighting at that time in northern Shan State.

While we were gathering our troops in Wan Hai, RCSS members in plain clothes infiltrated our bases in places such as Kyaukme, Muse and Namkhan in northern Shan State. Our local people had to bear the burden. They had to give them food and arrange accommodation for them.

We told them repeatedly to go back to the places where they were active before 2010. We also offered to hold talks with them to solve the political problem around the table. We went to their headquarters more than 10 times to hold negotiations. They only came to us three times.

After signing the NCA (Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement) in 2015, the RCSS clashed with the Palaung [TNLA]. The RCSS criticized us for not supporting it in the attack. It said we didn’t love the Shan race. We said we ethnic minorities should not fight each other because we are the oppressed.

In its latest statement, it asked us to surrender and join it or be attacked. (RCSS Chairman) U Yawd Serk said the RCSS would not be able to make progress with the SSPP/SSA. U Yawd Serk said the RCSS would fight the SSPP/SSA anywhere it encountered it. We have called for solving the political problems at the negotiating table in a peaceful way. This is our stance. We are just defending ourselves against the attacks of the RCSS. We have never declared war on the RCSS or made a formal decision to attack it.

The Tatmadaw has declared a ceasefire in five conflict zones for four months. Some say this will contribute a lot to the peace process next year. What is you assessment?

The civil war has been going on for some 70 years. Everyone knows that it was born with independence. So just think whether those problems can be solved in four months. In any case, we welcome the ceasefire declaration whether it is four months or four days or four hours.

We have issued a statement that four months is not enough to restore the trust that has been undermined for 70 years. We are not bloodthirsty militants. We are only making demands in accord with the Panglong Agreement. Without the Panglong Agreement, there would not be today’s Union.

What is the cause of the civil war that has lasted for 70 years? It is because the Panglong Agreement was not implemented. What we want is a federal democratic union that can guarantee equality for us based on the pledges of the Panglong Agreement and on reality. As for the four-month ceasefire, half a loaf is better than no bread.

The Myanmar Army called for signing the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement at the same time that it declared the ceasefire. Is the SSPP prepared to sign the NCA?

It depends on the Federal Political Negotiation and Consultative Committee (FPNCC, an alliance of armed groups of which the SSPP is a member). We still have to negotiate on the NCA and the political framework. The NCA is still incomplete and the political framework has yet to be changed. Section 33 of the NCA calls for the inclusion of all [major armed groups in the peace process]. Because it has not been implemented, we are in trouble today.

Why is the SSPP not ready to sign the NCA? Is it because the United Wa State Army is reluctant to sign it, as some have suggested?

As I’ve said, there is no problem if the all-inclusion policy is implemented. The principle of the FPNCC is to sign the NCA all together. We will sign it only if no group is left out. We should take an objective position rather than make unrealistic demands. Otherwise we will not be able to build trust. We have to consider our younger generations.

It appears that China is going to play a bigger role in Myanmar’s peace process. Do you believe China sincerely hopes that Myanmar will achieve peace?

It is in the mutual interest. No matter which country it is, if it acts for the sake of peace in our country, it is a good thing.

The Wa, Palaung and Pa-O are demanding self-administered states in Shan State. What is the SSPP’s take on this?

There are United Nations resolutions and conventions regarding the rights of ethnic minorities. We accept those rights and principles. But we, the SSPP/SSA, alone can’t make decisions. It calls for peaceful negotiations at the table between all political parties, ethnic groups and revolutionary armed groups in Shan State with magnanimity and a policy of equality.

We need not reject it [self-administered states] if it complies with international laws. But it doesn’t comply…. We are in a democratic era and we need to get the approval of the majority.

What is the SSPP’s take on the Myanmar Army’s demand for non-secession from the Union and a single army?

No country in the world argues about a single army. If we are to build a federal union, the army should be the federal army under the principle of equality. The military is meant to resist invasion from foreign countries, not to fight a civil war. I am okay with a single army if it is established based on equality and justice.

General Aung San pledged in the Panglong Agreement that ethnic minority states could secede after 10 years [of the signing of the agreement]. But nobody is demanding secession today. We won’t secede because we said we will build a federal union. But nobody can coerce us not to secede. There are two sides to self-determination. We don’t want a union that oppresses us for various reasons. It is important that equality is guaranteed.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.