Burma’s Shan State stands up for autonomy
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Burma’s Shan State stands up for autonomy

Burma will celebrate its 63rd anniversary of independence on January 4. Burma gained its independence from Britain on January 4, 1948. But the country tried out with democracy until 1962, when the military seized power to which it has since clung.

The current military junta has come out in 1988 after violently suppressing mass pro-democracy protests. It held a general election in 1990, but refused to recognize the results after a landslide victory by the National League for Democracy (NLD) led by Aung San Suu Kyi, who has released from house-arrest recently. She was under detention for more than a decade and a half and freed on November13.

Some ethnic Shan leaders believe that the then Shan’s leadership decision to depart the British colonialism on February 7,  1947 had paved the way to Burma’s Independence light of day on 4 January 1948. The decision was taken by the Shan States Council, comprising the ruling princes and people’s representatives of Shan States, as Shan State was known then, at the Panglong Conference from 3 to 12 February 1947.

So, up to this day, Shan community believe they deserve autonomy as a free people. However, Burmese military regime has no attitude to allowing equal status to the ethnic nationalities of Burma including the Shans. The major disagreement between junta and the opposition NLD led by Aung San Suu Kyi is no other than to give equal category to all ethnic groups.

For instance, prior to this year’s UN General Assembly, Shan State Joint Action Committee (SSJAC) secretary Sai Lake said United Nations special envoy on human rights in Burma, Tomas Ojea Quintana, should present to the UN the cases of seven detained Shan political prisoners.

Sai Lake said, “We want the junta to review the cases fairly under the pressure of the UN. Unless the victims are guilty, the junta must free the detained leaders immediately.”

Quintana has been meeting with Burmese pro-democracy activists in Thailand since August 6 in order to collect information to submit to the UN General Assembly in November. Nine Shan leaders were arrested for high treason in February 2005 after forming the SSJAC.

One was freed after serving as a witness during the prosecution, while the rest were sentenced 70 to above 100 years in prison. One of the eight detained Shan leaders died in custody. General Hso Ten, 74, a leader of the Shan State Peace Council and patron of the Shan State Army-North is currently serving a 106-year term in Sittwe prison in Arakan State. He is in urgent need of medical treatment for an eye problem.

Hso Ten has been transferred to three different prisons within a week, according to his family. He has been in prison since 2005, and his health is deteriorating. He needs an emergency eye operation and is suffering from a heart problem and diabetes, family source said.

The example of nine Shan leaders including General Hso Ten who were arrested for high treason generates mistrust what the junta said about building disciplined democratic union of Myanmar. In reference to some critics, the NLD headed by Aung San Suu Kyi supports the 1947 Panglong Agreement that grants autonomy for every ethnic nationality while the military regime strongly opposed it. Thus, various ethnic leaders highlighted that they don’t have self-assurance in the new 2008 constitution as well as 2010 polls which will not create a authentic democratic federal union in any way.

Currently, people say that recent elections result exclusive of Aung San Suu Kyi cannot make a new Burma, but status quo under military rule.

News of armed clashes between the SSA and the Burma Army have become manifest steadily in these days. Burma Army soldiers based in Shan State East’s Mongton township on the Thai-Burma border were also ambushed by the SSA ‘South’ twice during the last weekend. The armed clashes were happened sporadically after a new-year meeting held by three armed ethnic groups.

The United Wa State Army (UWSA), the National Democratic Alliance Army (NDAA) better known as Mongla group and Shan State Army (SSA) North took an opportunity during Shan New Year celebrations in Mongla’s area. The Shan New Year festival was held from 30 November to 7 December. Former allies of the Burma’s ruling military, UWSA , NDAA and SSA-North had a good discussion for their future strategies.

The scenario seems starting a fresh war in the Shan State as the ethnic armed groups have a strong will in favor of their self-determination or autonomy. The junta’s recent polls become visible as sham and farce.