CHIANGRAI TIMES – A Shan State Army-South (SSA-South) delegation has left the ethnic armed group’s headquarters at Loi Tai Laeng for the latest round of peace talks with the government.
According to Sai Lao Hseng, the group’s spokesperson, the 22-member delegation is led by Brig-Gen Sai Pong Key.
During previous union-level talks, the two sides discussed local development, deciding where the group’s bases will be located and plans to set up liaison offices.
This will be the first time the SSA-South has met with a new peace team formed by the Burmese government earlier this month.
The new peace team will also meet with the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) in Chiang Rai, northern Thailand, on May 21, according to a Thai military intelligence source.
Burmese Railways Minister Aung Min, who is also the government’s chief peace negotiator, will meet Gen Gun Maw, the deputy military chief of the KIO’s armed wing, the Kachin Independent Army (KIA), the source said.
The Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS) and its military wing the Shan State Army South (SSA) urged funds to be made available to poppy farmers who abandon the crop and for traffickers to be punished.
“RCSS wants total eradication of narcotic drugs,” the group said in a document released with the SSA after the latest round of peace talks with the government.
“As the ethnic armed groups and the government have made ceasefire(s) to solve the political issues … the RCSS will cooperate with the government through the drug eradication plan.”
Burma’s multiple ethnic rebel organisations generally use profits from narcotics, among other resources such as teak and jade, to fund their operations, analysts say.
Shan state was labelled a production hub for drugs by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) last year, which also branded Mynamar a “major source of methamphetamine pills and opiates in Southeast Asia”.
Methamphetamine is a boom industry in impoverished Myanmar, and much of the production ends up in Thailand where “ya ba” is a huge social problem.
Saturday’s statement was a rare recognition by the rebels of soaring output.
The rebels also pledged to cooperate with neighbouring China, Laos and Thailand to “control” the cross-border movement of chemicals used to make the pills, often in small, easily hidden jungle factories.
Central to drug-control efforts, the group said, is “uplifting the living standards of the poppy farmers”, who should be given crops or livestock and offered training to find new revenue sources.
It also urged punishment for “persons or armed groups protecting, owning, trading, producing and carrying narcotic drugs”.
Earlier General Soe Win, the deputy commander-in-chief of the army who is leading the government delegation at the discussions in Kengtung, Shan State, expressed hope of a “beneficial agreement” being reached.
The Shan State Army South agreed to a ceasefire with the government in December in response to peace overtures from reformist President Thein Sein.
It had been one of the biggest rebel groups fighting the army, mostly from guerrilla outposts bordering Thailand. The movement’s exact demands are not clear, but they have been fighting for greater autonomy for decades.
The mainly Buddhist Shan are the country’s second-biggest ethnic group, accounting for about 9% of the population, and Shan State covers a vast area of northeastern Myanmar.
Myanmar is the second largest opium poppy growing country after Afghanistan.