Speaking with a Hero of ShanPeople
Burma Digest 29/04/2007
Sao Yawd Serk
_ Interview with Sao Yawd Serk
_ carried out by Feraya & Dr. Tayza with the help of Sai Lernkham & Sao Yawd Muang
Sao Yawd Serk is currently the most powerful, and very highly respected, leader of Shan ethnic nationalities in Burma.
He also is the leader of Shan State Restoration Council RCSS and Shan State Army (South) SSA-S which is the main ethnic resistance force protecting Shan and other ethnic refugees and Internally Displaced People from SPDC military regime's ethnic cleansing and attempted genocide in the Shan State of Burma.
BURMA DIGEST: How did you first personally get into the Shan resistance movement?
Sao Yawd Serk: Three ordeals that took me personally involved with the armed resistance against the Burmese Army.
Firstly, when I was about 13-14 years old, I was still attending school and my friends and I had to take 40 minutes walk from home to school. One day, seven friends of mine and I went to school, we ran into a group of Burmese soldiers. The soldiers dragged my female friend who was only 14 years old. They raped her but we could not save her from the Burmese soldiers; we had to ask for assistance from our schoolmates. Since then, I dislike the Burmese soldiers.
Secondly, when I was 16 years old, I was forced to be a porter, I was told to take care of recruited horses. The porters were told to stay and eat in the military trucks. Burmese soldiers tied up 3-4 people together in a bid of preventing them running away. They treated the people as criminals. I saw that Burmese soldiers tortured our people, did not value the human dignity. I wanted to retaliate on their actions.
Thirdly, we have our unique nation and country but the Burmese Army illegally occupied our land. Therefore, we must fight back to get what it is belong to us, improve our people's lives, restore our rights and bring peace to the people.
BD: What are the long term aims for SSA-S/RCSS ?
SYS: RCSS has three plans: _
- To communicate with different organizations and parties with an aim for the unity and peaceful co-existence.
- RCSS will solve the political conflicts through political means. If it fails, the armed struggle is the final option for our country.
- After restoring our country, we will help our people to improve their lives, develop the country and live in harmony.
BD: Conflicts between the SSA-S and the Burma Army are reported occasionally. How frequently are there gunfights? How has the level of this activity changed in recent years?
SYS: There were fights between the SSA and the Burmese Army almost every month. The reason is the Burmese Army pressurised, tortured our people and displaced and burned down civilians' house, therefore we have to protect our people.
BD: The relationship with other 'non-ceasefire' groups (e.g. KNPP, KNU, WNA) is reported, but appears fragmented. What are the benefits or disadvantages of closer links with these other groups?
SYS: We try to communicate with armed and political groups those are opposing against the Burmese Army, as we have the common goal and common enemy. We also have contacts with ceasefire groups.
BD: Reports of clashes with the United Wa State Army have been frequent, but recently you have suggested closer links with the UWSA against the SPDC. Do you think that other 'ceasefire' groups (including Shan groups) may return to the armed struggle against the SPDC, and what reasons would they have?
SYS: SSA and UWSA used to open fires on each other annually. UWSA fighters had been forced to fight against the SSA by the Burmese Army. Sometimes SSA had to confront with them during the drug campaigns under the guideline of anti-drug policy. However, Wa and Shan are co-existed in the same land, SSA try to convince and communicate with them for the unity. We understand that the Burmese Army forced UWSA to attack the SSA.
BD: The SPDC makes regular allegations that the SSA-S is involved with the use of child soldiers, committing terrorist crimes and with the illicit drugs trade, and sometimes cited by reports by UN and other outside agencies. What do you do to present your own situation and responses to these allegations to the international community?
SYS: SSA has a policy of not recruiting villagers who are under 18 years old. Even if we recruit children, we only let them stay in the schools. Shan State children lack of human rights and have to flee away from their homes. Sometimes, these children have to defend themselves by shooting at the Burmese Army but they are not soldiers.
The SPDC claimed SSA of being a terrorist group because they do not like SSA and we are enemies. Actually, SSA was founded by the patriots who want to regain our lost country and restore our fundamental rights. We are not terrorists. In contrast, successive Burmese military regimes have terrorised people's lives for more than 50 years. We could judge by looking at the mess killings inside Shan State all these years, killings in Yangon(1988); and displaced villagers from their homes, thousands of people fled into Thailand. You can confirm it by interviewing with the people whether the SPDC is good or not.
BD: You have called for a peaceful solution and dialogue with the SPDC. How seriously do you press this with the SPDC? What response do you get from the SPDC?
SYS: RCSS-SSA opens the door for the political talks. Previously, we wrote to the SPDC for a peace talk but SPDC refused to accept the calls. From the point of justice and human rights value perspective, SPDC aware that it is in a lose situation and dare not talk to RCSS as RCSS-SSA will demand for the rights of Shan State people and the rights of regaining our land.
BD: You have recently said that the SSA-S will regain half the territory of ShanState over the next 3 years. Why are you so confident of such a dramatic improvement in your situation?
SYS: As Shan State people still has a desire to regain its country, we could materialize it within three years and that could be done only by the unity of our people and different parties.
BD: Loi Taileng has been described by some as a refugee camp and others as a military stronghold. How do you manage to cater for the needs of the civilian and military personnel in such a relatively remote place for healthcare, education, etc.?
SYS: Loi Tai Leng is a base where soldiers are trained. From the military point of view, people should not settle near the military camps for the security reasons. Our people have fled away from the Burmese Army, nowhere to go. People requests the SSA for protection for their safety. Moreover, SSA allows villagers to work on the farms, open schools for children to study. If children are educated, they will know how to make a living when they grow up. Children whose parents were killed by the Burmese Army are also under the care of the SSA. People believe that SSA is one of the foundations that they could rely on.
BD: The 'Shan Representative Committee' (SRC) has been hailed as a group that could unite the various Shan groups. What is your view for the role of SRC?
SYS: SRC was formed and united by the patriots of the Shan State who desire to regain our land. We really appreciate that unity.
BD: The split with the Interim Shan Government (ISG) and Col. Moengzuen has been reported over the last two years, with Col. Moengzuen's 'surrender' to the Burma Army last year. How do you think that the split can be mended?
SYS: The ISG was established by handful of people who are dreaming in daytime. When the dream failed to materialise, they bowed to the Burmese Army. It is not a surprise that it is one of the SPDC's plans to destroy the Shan unity.
BD: The SPDC claim that the National Convention will result in 'democratic' government for Burma in the next year or so, but many observers believe that it will leave the present regime in power. How do think that this political impasse can be broken? And what role can various parties play in this process (e.g. ceasefire groups, non-ceasefire groups, NLD, ENC, political groups outside Burma [of which there are a large number], ASEAN, UN, etc.)?
SYS: The National Convention held by the SPDC is an attempt to gain more time for the SPDC to reinstall its power and stick onto its seats of power. It is capable to transform into the democratic country. After the conclusion of the NC, there could be another mess killing.
BD: Finally, what messages would you like to give to the readers of BURMA DIGEST and to the International Community?
SYS: We would like to request to the international community that the Burmese regime and its army have governed the country for more than 45 years. Instead of improving people's lives, people face with the poverty, problems and fled into the neighbouring countries annually. If Burma is not stable, there will be no stability in Asia. It could effect on the region economy as a whole. Therefore, we would like to request the UN and ASEAN intervention to assist in solving the political conflicts in Burma and restore human rights for the people. Thank you.