YANGON — The Committee for Shan State Unity named the Shan Nationalities Democratic Party (SNDP) its new chair at its annual meeting last week in Shan State’s Mong Pan Township.
It takes over the role from the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS), one of the state’s ethnic armed groups.
The committee — a coalition of Shan political parties, armed groups and civil society organizations — formed in 2013 to work toward achieving peace in Shan State. Its chairmanship rotates annually.
SNDP Chairman Sai Aik Pao, a former Shan State minister on mining and forestry, was not able to attend the Feb. 1-2 meeting for health reasons.
SNDP General Secretary Sai Boe Aung, the committee’s new spokesman, said the alliance will continue to try to achieve unity among Shan State’s many ethnic groups and to focus on building peace and a federal union.
He told The Irrawaddy that residents of the state have become more politically aware as a result of the committee’s work.
“The people in our state are collaborating more because they are taking part in the peace process of the country more. So it is a good sign that we, the indigenous people of Shan State, will be more involved in Shan State affairs,” he said.
The committee has repeatedly urged the two Shan political parties, the SNDP and Shan Nationalities League for Democracy, to merge. Though divergent policies continue to keep them apart, Sai Boe Aung said they would try to work together on the goals they share.
The group usually meets in Yangon or Chiang Mai, Thailand, but has been obstructed by the Myanmar military in both locations over the past two years. This year’s annual meeting was its first in Shan State.
“We always wanted to hold such talks in our own state, but for many reasons we could not do so,” Sai Boe Aung said.
The committee had to cancel public consultations on the peace process in December, in part because the Myanmar military objected to the participation of the Shan State Progressive Party/Shan State Army North, a committee member. Sai Boe Aung said the committee would continue trying to hold the consultations, which are meant to inform their national-level dialogues on the peace process.