The Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS) is urging the government to rescind a provision of a law related to unlawful association so that ethnic groups in the area can more effectively carry out a political dialogue.
RCSS spokesman Maj Sai Lao Hseng said RCSS and Shan State Army-South (SSA-South) representatives raised the issue of Section 17/1 of the Unlawful Association Act, which allows for the arrest of anyone deemed a participant or linked to “unlawful groups,” during a meeting with Myanmar Peace Center chief Aung Min earlier this week.
Section 17/1’s removal was among a list of points first brought up at a meeting between government peace negotiators and the SSA-South in May of last year in Kengtung Township. That meeting saw the signing of an ostensible ceasefire agreement.
“For political talks, we also need to meet with the public,” Sai Lao Hseng said. “But the political parties are afraid to even communicate with us [due to the law].
“Aung Min said they would think about it when ceasefires can be reached nationwide. He said President Thein Sein was of the same mind.”
The rebel spokesman said even locals who merely provide food to the ethnic armed groups are being targeted, making “the ordinary people uncomfortable with having relations with [the RCSS and SSA-South].
“The government troops still use the old means to solve the problem in Shan State; they [the troops] raided and then treated the villagers badly, as you may know,” Sai Lao Hseng said, referring to an attack last week in Nam Kham Township, in which about a thousand villagers from three villages—Naw Ma, Naw Kham and Man Khum—were forced to flee to the nearby Sino-Burmese border.
Troops from the Burmese Army, also known as the Tatmadaw, took over the No. 701 base of the RCSS/SSA-S in Nam Kham on May 9.
“We have liaison offices in northern Shan State, they can talk to us,” said the RCSS spokesman. “If our troops run afoul, we can control [them]. But they [the Tatmadaw] just started the attack soon after they accused us.”
The attack was reportedly traced back to the alleged arrest of four Burmese citizens by Shan rebels.
“They still use the old method in Shan State. So the public is living in fear of military control. They are still afraid of having relations with us,” Sai Lao Hseng said.
Sai Mong, a senior journalist at the Shan Herald Agency for News, said clashes in Shan State have been frequent despite the ceasefire agreement between the government and ethnic armed forces in Shan State.
There have also been heavy clashes between government troops and the Shan State Progressive Party and the Shan State Army-North (SSA-North) over last two months, displacing thousands of villagers in Tang Yang Township even as the ethnic armed groups engage in peace talks with the government.
Fears have spread to the residents of Muse, not only due to the recent fighting, but also over a bomb blast that rocked the city on Thursday night, leaving one person dead. Local police said they were investigating the incident but have released no details. Another undetonated bomb was found on Friday morning.
A week after the government army raided the villages in Nam Kham, which is located in the district of Muse, the displaced have begun returning to their homes, according to local sources.
Some houses and grocery stores in the villages were reportedly destroyed by government troops. The township’s director, Aung Kyaw Soe, refuted those reports and said the military was only searching for weapons. He added that the villagers could now return to their homes as the fighting had ceased.
But a female resident from the village of Naw Ma, who is currently seeking refuge in China, said on Thursday that she “went back to the village yesterday [Wednesday], but the doors of our houses are destroyed.” She added that villagers were reluctant to return to their homes because they feared they might be forced to serve as porters for the Tatmadaw.
“So we are still living in China,” she said.
Lower house MP Sai Kyaw Ohm, from the Shan Nationalities Development Party, told The Irrawaddy on Friday that many villagers had returned to their homes and that authorities planned to pay for the restoration of those houses that were damaged.
The Irrawaddy reporter Nang Seng Nom contributed to this report.