The Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS) would never consider integrating its forces into the Myanmar military or disavow its right to secede from the Union without consulting the Shan community, the group said on Friday.
The group issued a statement Friday clarifying its position on two points discussed at a meeting with leaders of the Myanmar military (or Tatmadaw), the government, Parliament and ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) in Naypyitaw on Oct. 15-16.
“The issue of non-secession from the Union involves all ethnic Shan; therefore we will stand with the Shan people and would never make [such a promise] without the consent of all our people,” the group said in the statement’s first point.
“Regarding the establishment of a single national army, we would accept it based on international practices and principles. But we will [only] fully accept the creation of a single army once all sides have fully agreed on how to settle security sector issues. Until we can reach a security agreement through negotiated settlement, we will not accept an integrated army,” the statement’s second point reads.
Colonel Sai Oo, a spokesperson for the RCSS based in Taunggyi, the capital of Shan State, told The Irrawaddy on Friday that, “We cannot ignore the desires of our ethnic people. Therefore, we will continue to stand with them,” he said.
Regarding the creation of a single army, Col. Sai Oo said, “We need to look at how the current Tatmadaw was formed, and study international practice on integrating armed forces. There should be a Union army in our country.”
However, “We cannot accept the establishment of a single army as an attempt to disarm us,” he said.
The RCSS has signed the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement with the Myanmar government and participated in peace negotiations along with other EAO signatories.
RCSS chairman General Yawd Serk participated in the Naypyitaw meeting but was not happy with the discussions of non-secession and integrating the military, according to some EAO leaders. Such was his dissatisfaction that at one point he even decided not to attend the second day of the meeting, though he later relented.
Some ethnic leaders believe the Myanmar Army proposes the two points for discussion at peace talks as a way of extracting concessions from EAOs without having to use force.
This approach will never lead to lasting peace in Myanmar, they said, because it favors one side (the Tatmadaw) while asking the other (the EAOs) to disarm.
Myanmar’s peace process has deadlocked over the two issues. Sao Khun Sai, a political adviser to the RCSS based in Chiang Mai, Thailand, said the Myanmar Army would have to decide whether it wants to pursue a win-win peace process or one that was “win-lose.”
If the Myanmar Army is the only side that gains from the peace process, there will be no peace, he said. The result will in fact be a “lose-lose” process, he said.
Other EAOs, including the Karen National Union (KNU), are similarly unhappy with the Tatmadaw’s proposal to create a unified army and its demand that the organizations agree never to seek secession. While the KNU has not published its opposition in a formal statement, two senior leaders of the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) told the Karen Peace Support Network that they disagreed with the Tatmadaw’s proposal on military integration.
KNLA commander General Saw Johnny the network on Oct. 22 that in a democratic country, the Army should be under the control of the president. However, he said, the Myanmar Army was under the control of neither President U Win Myint nor the country’s de facto leader, State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.
“We all know they protect the 2008 Constitution, and took 25 percent [of the seats in] Parliament. They want a single army, but that won’t happen within the next 20 years. A federal army will only be created when all people live in peace and stability. All ethnic armed groups should be able to participate in it,” Gen. Saw Johnny said.