The Shan National League for Democracy (SNLD) has warned that the alleged arbitrary arrest and torture of a party member in Shan State’s Kengtung Township last week could affect the peace process between ethnic rebels and the Burmese government.
“Such kind of incidents will not only affect the ceasefire agreement and the peace process which the Union Peace-making Work Committee and RCSS/SSA are committing to implement, but will also cause ethnic armed groups not to trust the government,” said a SNLD statement on Thursday.
“We sincerely do not want such incidents, like the small misconduct between local-based troops, to hinder the process and to damage trust-building between ethnic nationalities and the government.”
“The leaders of the ethnic groups and the government are meeting at the higher national level. But if local troops and authorities treat the local [ethnic] people in a different way it would disturb the peace process,” SNLD spokesman Sai Leik told The Irrawaddy.
Aik Kyein, chairman of a village-level SNLD branch in Kengtung Township, was taken from his home by government soldiers on May 5 and detained for several days. He was beaten and accused of having a gun given to him by the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS)/Shan State Army-South (SSA-South), the SNLD claims.
The party said soldiers searched his house but found nothing. The army then turned Aik Kyein over to police in Kengtung who charged him under the Unlawful Associations Act for supposed contact with the RCSS/SSA-South.
The SNLD said he had been forced to sign a paper and was charged with Article 17.1 of the law, which sets a minimum prison sentence of 2 years for aiding or having contact with “an unlawful association.”
Sai Lone Wan, a peace negotiator with the RCSS/SSA-South, alleged that Aik Kyein has been badly injured as a result of being tortured, adding that he was being detained in Kengtung prison.
An officer at the Kengtung Police Station told The Irrawaddy that he did not know about the case.
Khun Htun Oo, SNLD chairman, said the actions by the military and police need to be clarified. He said ethnic rebel groups such as the RCSS/SSA-South had signed a ceasefire with the government and were involved in negotiations for a nationwide ceasefire with Naypyidaw, and their status as “unlawful associations” were no longer being applied in a strict sense.
“There remain questions about whether the RCSS is still an illegal organization,” he said, “And in ethnic areas, it is hard to keep ourselves away from ethnic armed groups under the circumstances.”
Last week, another SNLD member denied that Aik Kein had been in contact with the Shan rebels.
The colonial-era Unlawful Association Act was widely used by the former military regime to punish any group or individual who was involved with ethnic insurgents. It outlaws any connection with, support for or participation with associations deemed illegal by the government.
Since peace talks began in 2011, most major ethnic armed groups have signed ceasefire deals with the government. As a result, few people have been prosecuted for communicating with unlawful associations.
However, in Kachin State, where fighting continues to rage between government troops and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), the law is still used regularly against local people.
Additional reporting by Nang Seng Nom.