Myanmar

Shan army to hand over drugs

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Ceasefire negotiations between the Shan State Army–South (SSA) and government will continue to the next stage after the two sides agreed a tentative truce late last year. Additional conditions of the agreement include the handing over of cachés of drugs seized by the group.

More talks will take place between 15 and 20 January in the Shan capital of Taunggyi as both sides push for lasting peace in the volatile state. These would be the highest-level talks to date after negotiations on 19 November brought to a halt 15 years of fighting.

The group’s spokesperson, Sai Lao Hseng, told DVB that they had agreed to give up narcotics seized from the Wan Pang militia last year, as well as cooperating with the Burmese government over the elimination of drugs.

That latter pledge will attract scepticism given ongoing accusations that Burmese officials are heavily involved in the drugs trade – the Shan Drug Watch released a report in November claiming that at least seven MPs in Burma’s three parliaments are complicit through their ties with militias in Shan state.

How the ceasefire will affect the SSA is unknown: part of the agreement will see troops from both sides able to move around unarmed in one another’s territory, while it’s likely the SSA were offered business concessions along the Thai border and into Shan state.

The SSA’s base along Burma’s border with Thailand and their use of Thai territory was quietly allowed by the Thais due largely to the work they did in stopping Burmese drugs entering Thailand. Thai support was crucial to the SSA’s ability to remain afloat during 15 years of conflict with government forces.

The government under President Thein Sein has made several pushes over the past few months for dialogue with Burma’s multiple ethnic armies, following years of stalled talks and a recent upsurge in violence, particularly in Kachin state.

While some have met with success, fighting still rages in parts of Burma– the Kachin conflict is thought to have been some of the most intense and bloody seen in Burma since the mid-1990s, while talks to bring an end to protracted fighting with the Karen National Liberation Army have so far failed.

The government has also approached the Chin National Front (CNF) in northwestern Burma for peace talks, although little is known of the discussions. The CNF took up arms after the 1988 uprising, and last year joined the United Nationalities Federal Council, an umbrella group of ethnic armies.