Communities attending public meetings across Shan State voiced their despair at ongoing abuses committed by the Burma Army despite the fact that a peace process has been underway for over a year.
Various community groups, including the Shan Women’s Action Network (SWAN) have highlighted the concerns of many Shan communities in the midst of instability in Shan State.
SWAN members travelled for nearly three weeks to meet Shan communities in Taunggyi, Nongkhio, Kyaukme, Hsipaw, Lashio, Kesee, Hsenwi, Kutkai, Namkham, Muse and Kengtung.
Villagers in these areas raised concerns about land confiscation and environmental degradation from investment projects, continued fighting – despite ceasefire agreements, and ongoing human rights violations, including sexual violence, by the Burma Army.
According to SWAN, despite being closely monitored by military authorities, hundreds of people joined the public meetings, hosted by members of the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD), the Shan Nationalities Democratic Party (SNDP) and Shan Literature and Culture Associations.
Shan women also urged SWAN to continue speaking out about military impunity for sexual violence. “The rapes reported by SWAN are just the tip of the iceberg. There are many more cases that are untold. We want to work with SWAN to bring justice for our people,” said a woman in Kyaukme.
Sexual violence is a grim aspect of the ongoing cycle of unrest and conflict between Burma’s military and ethnic armed groups.
Villagers also spoke out against China’s laying of oil and gas pipelines through their lands in northern Shan State.
SWAN joined with over 300 farmers, monks and Members of Parliament in a prayer ceremony in Bawgyo, Hsipaw, on December 5th, to protest the safety threat posed by the pipelines to the area.
Locals, who have to rebuild the bases of their houses caused by salt corrosion each year, fear that the pipelines may rust, rupture and explode, therefore depriving them of an income to make a living.
“People in Shan State are asking what sort of peace is this, when they are losing more and more of their lands and livelihoods,” said Ying Harn Fah, a SWAN spokesperson.
Communities consistently voiced the urgent need to end militarization in ethnic areas, so that people can participate freely in the peace process.