To Hopeland and Back (Day 1)

Near Mae Suay, half way to Mae Sai, our pick-up was stopped by a police checkpoint. The officer took a look at the driver, a frail looking young man who has never failed to fool authorities, and invited him to take a urine test. A few minutes later, he came back smiling. “They found nothing,” he said.

Just before we left the checkpoint, we saw young travelers in other trucks being herded into the same outpost.

At Maesai, the driver who also happened to be my son, handed me over to Captain (retired) Win Thein who took me across the Friendship Bridge that connects the two countries.

Once at the Tachilek airport, I bought a ticket at the Air Bagan counter, 69,000 Kyat (B 2,300) and waited at the air-conditioned Yangon Airways office with Sai Oo, Shan liaison officer in Taunggyi, who was on the same flight, until our plane landed.

He told me several clashes has taken place during the past week. “Since the ceasefire was signed (on 2 December 2011), the local people have been more open with the Burma Army,” he said. “Naturally, they have more accurate information about where our troops are stopping for the day.”

The reason for the Burma Army’s attack was the Shan State Army (SSA)’s levying of tax on the local people, according to Lt-Gen Aung Than Tut, Commander of the Burma Army forces in Shan State. “I never knew there were exceptions to the ceasefire,” Sai Oo said. “We have liaison offices, but they never notify us about their movements. They have also never discussed what they want from us.”

Earlier, U Aung Min, Vice Chairman of the Union Peacemaking Work Committee (UPWC), delivered a 6 point demand from the Burma Army to the SSA representatives:

  • Not to kill civilians
  • Not to levy taxes on the people
  • Not to collect recruits
  • Not to meddle with government administration
  • Not to meddle with the (Burma Army-run) People’s Militia Forces (If they have committed crimes, it is the Army’s job to take action against them)
  • Not to set up camps in contested areas

“We should sit down together to discuss them, instead of issuing demands,” SSA leader Yawdserk told me at the time.

We boarded the plane after Sao Aung Myat, Chief Minister of Shan State Government, and his party, who were coming from Taunggyi to preside over the two sister cities trade fair in Kengtung. (Kengtung, or Chiangtung to Thais, and Chiangmai were founded by King Mangrai of Chiangsaen during the 13th century.)

He didn’t take notice of me but Col Aung Thu, Shan State Government Minister for Security and Border Affairs, did and we exchanged ‘Mysoong Kha’ with each other.

It was already 19:00 when we arrived from Heho (Haiwo in Shan) to Taunggyi Hotel at the foothill of Taungchun or “The Spur”, Taunggyi’s natural emblem. I checked in after the reception found my name on her list.

She asked me whether I would like to join the International Peace dinner party being thrown downtown. I politely declined, saying I was up since 04:00 that morning.

Taking stock of the day, I found that I had missed meeting U Aung Min who was there since yesterday together with the opening session of the Shan-Kayah-Mon Trustbuilding for Peace forum today, the reason for my coming to Taunggyi.
Fortunately, there were two more days for me to listen and make up my mind which information I had would be useful for the participants.

With this comforting thought, I treated myself to a hot shower, took some notes and went to bed.


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