The 16 Shan CBOs that came out in force yesterday at the press conference held in Chiangmai certainly have heard of King Canute trying to stem the tide rising up to the shore, but that did little to prevent them from calling out to the foreign investors rushing into Burma to “immediately stop” their operations.
“Only after there is a genuine political settlement of the conflict, and proper safeguard policies for local communities are in place,” reads one of their 4 demands, “should such projects be considered.”
There are several large-scale projects currently underway in Shan State, particularly China-sponsored oil and gas pipelines that come from Arakan State and are passing through, Mandalay and Shan State North.
“Even the first stage of President Thein Sein’s peace process is not completed yet,” said Charm Tong, well-known activist from Shan Women’s Action Network (SWAN) pointing out that both southern and northern factions of the Shan State Army (SSA), are still practically in a state of war with the Burma Army even though a ceasefire agreement was reached in December 2011 and January 2012 respectively. “And that doesn’t even count the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) that is fighting (against the Burma Army) in northern Shan State,” she added.
The first phase of President Thein Sein’s peace plan, announced on 1 March, is the signing of ceasefire agreements; the second, development, cooperation against drugs and acceptance of Naypyitaw’s 6 point political conditions; and the third, the signing of the final agreement in the parliament.
So far 12 armed movements have signed ceasefire agreements with Naypyitaw. At present, apart from the KIA, 4 other smaller groups are still at war against the Burma Army, some of them alongside the KIA: Palaung State Liberation Front (PSLF), PaO National Liberation Organization (PNLO), Wa National Organization (WNO) and Lahu Democratic Union (LDU).
Three other “recommendations” made by the Shan civil society are amendment of the 2008 constitution through negotiation “between political parties, armed groups and civil society”, withdrawal of the Burma Army from conflict areas and strict neutrality by “foreign governments and donor organizations wishing to support the peace process”. Moreover, they “should not use their funds to pressure ethnic groups to come under the 2008 constitution.”
“Right now, both sides are still recruiting and building up their manpower,” said another panelist Sai Khur Hseng of Shan Sapawa Environmental Group. “I have never heard that peace can be achieved while both belligerents continue building up their forces.”
Only the SSA South, among the 12 ceasefire signatories, had declared suspension of its conscription policy.