Bangkok – Myanmar’s ethnic woes look set to worsen after a Shan rebel group announced that it had broken a ceasefire agreement with the ruling junta and merged with an erstwhile rival group to pick up the armed struggle.
The merger between the Shan State National Army (SSNA) and the Shan State Army (SSA) was announced by their leaders at a ceremony on May 21 at a rebel base in Doi Talaeng, near the Myanmar-Thailand border.
SSNA’s Colonel Sai Yi said he was bringing along some 5,000 troops to the union. In return, SSA’s chief, Colonel Yawd Serk, agreed to make Col Sai Yi the top leader of the merged Shan group.
The two leaders called on the ethnic Shan people in Myanmar and overseas to stand united and fight the military junta.
The SSNA signed a ceasefire agreement with the Myanmar junta in 1995 after pulling out from the now-defunct Mong Tai Army (MTA).
Col Sai Yi accused Yangon of being insincere in pushing for the peace process and failing to honour the agreement. "The junta has broken the agreement and taken away our key members. Now they want us to lay down arms. If we did, they could have us killed any time,'' he said.
Col Sai Yi noted that the merger had been considered for some time but the timing had not been right until now. The Shan State Army expects fierce attacks fromMyanmar troops following the merge, he said.
He added that the border situation on Doi Kormuang, an SSA base opposite a district in Thailand’s Chiang Rai province, is heating up, with the Myanmar army putting in four battalions as well as heavy weapons at its base which is about 200m away from the SSA's camp.
The Thai government will be watching the developments with much concern. It already has to deal with some 200 to 500 people, most of them Shan, fleeing intoThailand daily to escape the fighting. The people claimed that they were escaping from attacks by Myanmar government troops, who were burning down entire villages.
* Shan armies join against junta (The Bangkok Post, May 22)