Thursday, April 26, 2007

Ceasefire group poised between quitting and continuation

Aung Kham Hti ,The chairman of PaO National Army

Ceasefire group poised between quitting and continuation
24 April 2007 S.H.A.N

The PaO National Army (PNA) that had concluded a ceasefire agreement with Burma's ruling military junta 16 years earlier is in a quandary as the 2007 deadline to declare areas under its sway drug-free draws near, according to a reliable source in southern Shan State.

"PNA members were among some of the recent arrests made by the drug enforcement officials," said the source who requested anonymity, "and they have greatly embarrassed the group and its leader Aung Kham Hti".

Aung Kham Hti, a former Buddhist monk, is also one of the 3 patrons of the pro-SPDC southern Shan State's Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA) and one of the 5 chairmen of the National Convention's Other Invited Guests group.

The PNA, according to a report by World Food Program, has declared the group will be opium-free by 2007.

Accordingly, the group and its rival-turned-prot้g้ Shan State Nationalities Peoples Liberation Organization (SNPLO) had launched a poppy-destruction campaign during the last opium season that ended last month.

The result was mixed reactions by the public. "The fields in lowland area were destroyed after they had paid their taxes which infuriated the farmers," said Hkun Tetlu, vice chairman of the anti-SPDC PaO People's Liberation Organization (PPLO). "Fields beyond public view, on the other hand, were left untouched. It was nothing but a publicity stunt".

The source from the south related a meeting in 2005 between Aung Kham Hti and the villagers of Sawng Pyawng aka Chawng Plawng in Panglawng, a township west of the Shan State capital Taunggyi. "Aung Kham Hti, while exhorting the farmers to give up opium cultivation, also urged each family to have 6 children," he recounted. "A farmer with 12 children then asked him, 'Where do we get the money to feed them if we are not allowed to grow opium?' leaving him speechless."

The PaOs, formerly associated in the public eye with cheroot-leaves plantations have become known as opium producers, now that their cheroot-leaves trees are being substituted with poppy plants, according to a PaO women's newsletter.

The PNA and SNPLO had made peace with Burma's ruling junta the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) in 1991 and 1994 respectively. The PaOs, the largest minority in Shan State, have been given a self administrative status by the National Convention. To which a Shan activist leader had responded last year using a pseudonym: "The PaOs, with a population of 1.1 million, certainly deserve an autonomous homeland, but the granting of the status by the regime, itself an illegitimate entity, is a shameless divide-and-rule-scheme."

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