About 80 people from 16 community-based organizations in Shan State held a forum recently to discuss the current political situation in the state, especially the on-going peace negotiation process.
Shan communities remain in daily fear of the expanding Burmese Army, which now numbers over 180 battalions in Shan State, said the group in a joint statement.
It said the 2010 elections and the introduction of democracy “have not improved the lives of the people of Shan State, as the 2008 pro-military Constitution puts the Burma Army outside the law and elected representatives have no power to curb the army’s abuses, or to protect the rights of local communities.”
The current cease-fire talks with various armed groups in Shan State have not yet resulted in political dialogue to address the structural root causes of the conflict, it said, and specifically the lack of rights for ethnic peoples, it said.
“The structural political problems are directly impacting the economy of Shan State, particularly our most important sector, agriculture, as the majority of our people are farmers,” the group said. “The combination of the pervasive Burma Army presence and lack of power of the state government to protect farmers, their lands, and their freedom to farm is one of the main problems in Shan State.”
It said the current cease-fire process with the armed groups, where ‘development,’ i.e. large-scale economic investment, is being encouraged before a political solution, will further damage the agriculture sector.
“Without legal protection, such developments will cause more people to lose their lands to mega-development projects such as oil and gas pipelines and hydropower dams, as well as mining and other large-scale extractive industries, it said. Such abusive investments will only further fuel conflict,” it said.
The current government structure at the state level is also too weak to push for the right for ethnic languages and culture to be taught in schools in Shan State, it said.
While Burmese Army troops continue to commit human rights violations with impunity, it is not safe for displaced persons and refugees to return to their homes in Shan State, said the statement.
The group recommended
- That the 2008 Constitution be revised because it is an obstacle to resolving the social and political problems in Shan State and Burma.
- The government should reduce the number of its troops and withdraw from conflict areas in Shan State, which will allow civil society to take a leading role in the peace process to ensure sustainable peace in our land.
– Foreign governments and donor organizations wishing to support the peace process should be neutral, and should not use their funds to pressure ethnic groups to come under the 2008 constitution.
- The Burmese government and foreign investors must immediately stop all large-scale resource extraction projects currently underway in Shan State, including oil and gas pipelines, large hydropower dams, and mining and logging ventures. Only after there is a genuine political settlement of the conflict, and proper safeguard policies for local communities are in place, should such projects be reconsidered.
The group members included:
(1) Koung Jor Refugee Camp Committee
(2) “Lin Mawk Mai” (Land Regeneration) Group
(3) Migrants Worker Federation
(4) Shan Education Committee
(5) Shan Farmers Groups
(6) Shan Health Committee
(7) Shan Human Rights Foundation
(8) Shan Relief and Development Committee
(9) Shan Sapawa Environmental Organization
(10) Shan State Organization
(11) Shan Women’s Action Network
(12) Shan Youth Power Group
(13) Shan Youth Network Group
(14) Shan Youth Power
(15) Workers’ Solidarity Association
(16) Youth from Shan State