Over 3,000 ethnic Shan IDPs in Hsipaw, northern Shan State have signed a petition calling on two rival Shan armed groups to stop fighting and enter peace negotiations, according to local sources. The IDPs sent the petition to the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD)’s office in Hsipaw town on Jan. 22. It is the second such petition sent to the groups this month.
Sai Lao Hseng, secretary of the SNLD office in Hsipaw, told The Irrawaddy on Monday that “Local people often have to run away from fighting. In their villages, they cannot work to earn enough money to eat. They want to go back to their villages as soon as they can. Therefore, they signed a petition asking the two armed groups to stop fighting, and to enter peace negotiations.”
Fighting between the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS) and Shan State Progress Party (SSPP), the two Shan armed groups, escalated recently in Hsipaw Township over a territorial dispute. Previously, the RCSS had fought only against the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) in northern Shan State, but fighting broke out between the RCSS and SSPP last year over disputed territory.
Some local Shan were killed and some wounded, included children, in fighting in the township in December. At least two clashes have broken out this month in Hsipaw Township between the two armed groups, leaving local people feeling unsafe in their homes.
“We want them to sit down together at the negotiating table, because our people have been suffering a lot,” Sai Lao Hseng said.
There are five IDPs camps in Hsipaw catering to over 1,000 people. Some IDPs are sheltering at Buddhist monasteries. Sai Lao Hseng went to some IDP centers on Monday to distribute supplies along with a group of local donors from Kyaukme Township.
Sai Lao Hseng said it saddened him to see the conditions in the camps. “I only visit the camps occasionally. I cannot bear to see the condition of the IDPs in the camps,” he said. “When you look at their faces, you feel bad for them.”
The Committee for Shan State Unity (CSSU) is the main group working to broker peace between the two armed Shan groups. Other Shan organizations including the SNLD are working with the CSSU to help find a political solution to the conflict in Shan State.
On Jan. 11, more than 4,000 IDPs signed the first petition calling for peace between the groups, according to the SNLD. The signatures were first sent the SNLD’s headquarters in Yangon, and from there to the two Shan armed groups.
Sai Leik, a senior leader of the SNLD who has worked to try to bring the two Shan groups to the negotiating table, told The Irrawaddy on Monday that his party had sent the signatures to the two armed groups but had yet to receive a reply.
“We sent them to the two armed groups. The first time we sent over 4,000 signatures. We sent over 3,000 the second time,” Sai Leik said.
According to the SNLD, neither armed group has responded with even so much as a phone call. Nor have they offered proposed dates for a meeting. The CSSU wants the two groups to meet in early February.
“We want them to stop fighting each other. Mainly, we are worried about the children and elderly people who are IDPs,” Sai Leik said.
The children need to study, but they cannot go to school, as they have to stay at the IDP camps, he said.
The SNLD leader added that the group wants the EAOs to resolve their territorial dispute in order to stop fighting.
For a long time the RCSS’s base has been in southern Shan State. After signing the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) in 2015, the group tried to move its troops to northern Shan State. To do this, it needed to take territory around Namtu Township, but this territory is claimed by the SSPP, leading the groups to attack each other.