Kyaukme children fear going back to school in war zone

Some 300 students do not want to go back to school in their village of Tawsarng, Kyaukme Township, as they fear being caught in the crossfire of fighting between ethnic factions in the area, according to a local MP from the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD).

Sai Tun Ngan, the SNLD representative for Kyaukme Township Constituency No 2, said that even though the school in Tawsarng village has re-opened, the children do not want to return.

“Nobody can predict the situation here,” he said. “The kids are worried that they will have to evacuate the school again and run away.”

These children are among hundreds of families forced to flee their homes as hostilities intensified recently between the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) and the Restoration Council of Shan State/Shan State Army (RCSS/SSA) after clashes broke out in November last year. Some became displaced persons (IDPs) sheltering in camps, while others have fled the country to seek livelihoods elsewhere.

Shan Herald reported on September 13 that representatives of both ethnic militias had met in Chiang Mai, northern Thailand, to try to thrash out a solution.

However, clashes between the two armed groups are ongoing, according to the TNLA’s News and Information Department on September 25. The most recent bout of hostilities, it reported, has been taking place in the village of Manmai in Mantong Township.

According to Mai Aik Tun, a teacher from an IDP shelter in Metha Oo Way, many children are developing mental health problems due to the trauma of war.

“Actually, they do want to go back to their village and study at school,” he said. “But they are afraid because they do not feel protected.”

By Shan Herald Agency for News (SHAN)

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Soon one year NCA: Not all smiles, but not all frowns either

Less than a month from now, the signing of the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) will be one year old. Whether more EAOs (ethnic armed organizations) will follow suit this year will partly rest on the progress report by both the government and the 8 EAOs that had affixed their names to the 7 chapter - 33 articles treaty.

So far there are no reports about a combined statement by the signatories. But, one of them, the Restoration Council of Shan State/Shan State Army (RCSS/SSA), is already preparing one. 
The following is a summary from it.

Right  after the signing, the Joint Implementation Coordination Meeting (JICM) was called, as required by the NCA (Article 21 a), to form the Joint Ceasefire Monitoring Committee (JMC) that deals with military matters, and the Union Peace Dialogue Joint Committee (UPDJC) that deals with political matters. Terms of Reference (ToR) for all three bodies were drafted and approved.
Other requirements that had to be fulfilled by the signatories were:

·         Military Code of Conduct (CoC) within 30 days of the signing (Article11)
·         Framework for Political Dialogue (FPD) within 60 days of the signing (Article 20b)
·         Political Dialogue (PD) within 90 days of the signing (Article 21 c)

·         Accordingly, the first Union Peace Conference (UPC) #1 was held, 11-16 January 2016, followed by UPC#2, also known as 21st Century Panglong, 31 August -3 September 2016
·         Also, as stipulated by Article 26, the NCA was submitted to the Union legislature and ratified without dissent on 8 December

In addition, the signatory EAOs retain the right to bear arms and defend their people and areas (Chapter 3) and are exempted from the notorious Unlawful Association Act (UAA) which bans people from working with the EAOs (Article 24).
Other than those enumerated above, the RCSS that had signed 3 bilateral agreements also enjoys other dues which include:

·         Setting up of liaison offices in 7 major towns: (Mongton, Tachilek, Kengtung, Mongpan, Kholam, Taunggyi, and Muse)
·         Freedom to hold public consultations and meetings with political parties and CSOs
The outcome was the founding of the Committee for Shan State Unity (CSSU), a joint effort by two main political parties and two main EAOS of Shan State: Shan Nationalities Democratic Party (SNDP), Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD), Shan State Progress Party/Shan State Army (SSPP/SSA) and RCSS/SSA, in 2013.
Its main aim is to represent the common concerns and wishes of Shan State during the peace negotiations.

For the people at the ground level, the immediate blessings are: no more fleeing their villages, no more forced portering and significant reduction in the number of rights abuses. “Since the signing, there has been only 5 clashes,” states the draft. “Which means we still have a lot of work to do before complete ceasefire is achieved.”

The work includes demarcation, demining, expansion of network with CSOs, increased funding, setting up of a joint interim arrangement body which will deal with matters related to development and security in the EAO areas, such as health, education, environmental conservation, promotion of ethnic culture, language and literature, maintenance of rule of law, receiving aid from donor agencies and eradication of drugs (Article 25).

As to be expected, there are grievances too:

·         The unwanted fighting with the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) since November, which has the potential to blow up into communal strife

·       No economic development programs being implemented. “The government appears to be worried that if we become self-supportive, we, like the KIO (Kachin Independence Organization) and the UWSA (United Wa State Army), would be just as difficult to negotiate,” comments one of the RCSS top leaders

·     Different interpretations of both bilateral agreements and the NCA. “For example, the Tatmadaw believes all our troops should regroup and remain inside Homong and Monghta sub-townships,” explains a commander. “But, according to our understanding, the two said sub-townships are only for establishing RCSS administrative centers.”

·         Little cooperation between the two sides against illicit drugs. The two had signed an agreement in October 2012, but so far no implementation,

The result is that there is still a serious lack of trust between the two sides, which had fought several major campaigns in the past.

The best way to build trust is to be trustworthy, say experts. But there are other ways too, like meeting not only formally but also informally. Many of us know the NCA was signed after 9 formal meetings, but few of us realize they were complemented by hundreds of informal ones. Taking a cue from that it is likely we may need thousands of informal meetings before we can sign the Union Accord.

Happy Birthday, NCA!

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