LOI TAI LENG, Shan State — With Sunday’s dawn came the quiet chanting of Buddhist monks in Loi Tai Leng, the remote mountain headquarters of the Shan State Army-South (SSA-S).
But later that day, the camp’s central grounds would be overwhelmed with nearly 6,000 visitors and residents commemorating the 69th Shan National Day with traditional musical performances and a military parade.
For 17 years, Loi Tai Leng has served as the main outpost of the SSA-S and its political wing, the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS). It is also host to a number of ethnic civilians, most of whom are unrecognized refugees who have sought safety on the border after being displaced by civil war throughout Shan State; year after year, residents with the means to do so have set up permanent concrete settlements on the steep mountain range bordering Thailand.
The RCSS chairman, Lt-Gen Yawd Serk, addressed the crowd on Sunday and encouraged the diverse ethnic peoples of Shan State to be united. His speech emphasized public collaboration in implementing “genuine peace and prosperity.”
He also spoke positively of Burma’s controversial Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA), which was signed in October by eight of 15 ethnic armed groups involved in negotiations, including the SSA-S. The agreement also led to the RCSS’s removal from the country’s list of unlawful organizations.
“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,” he told The Irrawaddy. “When the public cooperates, it will be successful.”
The RCSS distributed NCA-related materials in Shan language to attendees of the national day events.
Also present were ethnic Akha, Karenni and Wa observers, as well as delegates from the Shan State Progress Party (SSPP), the political affiliate of the Shan State Army-North, a group which opted out of the NCA signing and has endured recent military offensives by the Burma Army.
“Keep yourselves informed of the current situation and keep up with your observations,” said Sao Pan Pha, a central committee member within the SSPP, in a short address to the public during the ceremony.
In his speech, Lt-Gen Yawd Serk also urged people to use social media, such as Facebook, productively.
“Today is the media era. Everyone now has access to it and it makes it easier for us to communicate,” he said. “So when we post or debate on social media, please keep your mind toward unity and peace.”
Nang Hnin May, a 25-year-old migrant worker in Bangkok originally from Shan State’s Moe Ne Township, expressed happiness at seeing Shan soldiers for the first time.
“It is different than previous celebrations which I have participated in [in Burma],” she said.
Like many in attendance, Nang Hnin May travelled to Loi Tai Leng specifically to take part in Shan National Day.