RANGOON — Four members of the Shan State Army-North (SSA-N) have been detained since Nov. 4 in Shan State’s Mong Nong Township amid the Burma Army pressure on the group to sign the country’s nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA).
“They were not carrying guns and were not even wearing army uniforms, but they have been detained. This is pointless,” said the SSA-N’s Col Sai Phone Han.
The men were first arrested by the Burma Army at a road checkpoint before being handed over to police. Sai Phone Han added that another member of the ethnic armed organization was detained under similar circumstances in October.
Based on a 2012 ceasefire agreement signed by the SSA-N and the government, members of the SSA-N are allowed to travel throughout Shan State as long as they do not do so in uniform and remain unarmed.
“As we are building trust, they should not act like this,” Col Sai Phone Han said of the Burmese authorities.
The detainees were charged under Article 17(1) of the Unlawful Association Act, which calls for prison sentences for individuals found to have links to organizations deemed illegal; leaders of ethnic armed groups that have signed ceasefire pacts with the government argue that they should be exempt from such charges.
The SSA-N is one of seven members of the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC), a coalition of non-state armed groups that opted out of signing the 2015 NCA on the grounds that it lacked inclusivity: some of the UNFC member groups were not invited as signatories.
The UNFC’s Delegation for Political Negotiation has recently engaged in talks with the civilian-led government representatives regarding the NCA.
State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has urged UNFC members to sign NCA this month before the government initiates a national political dialogue. Those groups which have not signed NCA will not be able to participate in the dialogue; according to ethnic leaders, the government plans to proceed with the plan “with or without them.”
Gen Sao Hso Ten, of the SSA-N, spoke at a meeting for the Committee for Shan State Unity in Rangoon at the end of October regarding the prospects for his organization signing the NCA.
“The ethnic people [of Burma] have faced so many issues in the past,” he said. “We have learned bitter lessons, both in politics and in war,” Gen. Sao Hso Ten said at the meeting, as was reported by the Shan Herald Agency for News on Nov. 2.
Referencing a 1989 ceasefire and attendance at a national conference in 1993, the general described these events in retrospect as “fake.”
“In order for us not to be cheated again, we have to protect ourselves…We have to have ownership in this peace process and decide by ourselves whether to sign the agreement. If we cannot decide this by ourselves, we should not sign the agreement,” Gen Sao Hso Ten explained.
“If we do not have ownership of the peace process, we will be bullied again,” he added. “If we do not want to be bullied, we have to own it,” he added.
Sporadic clashes between the Burma Army and the SSA-N—the armed wing of the Shan State Progress Party—have been ongoing. The most serious offensive occurred in Nov. 2015 when the Burma Army attacked Wan Hai, the SSA-N headquarters.