By The Myanmar Times / 20 January 2017
The Red Cross was denied permission to run a training workshop this week at the headquarters of an ethnic armed group.
The International Committee of the Red Cross was scheduled to lead the legal workshop on January 16 in Wan Hai, the Shan State Army’s base.
ICRC communications coordinator Jean-Yves Clémenzo told The Myanmar Times that the intention of the workshop was to train members of the Shan State Progress Party/Shan State Army (SSPP/SSA) in human rights laws, and especially the Geneva Convention.
“It is true that we have recently been denied authorisation to access this area. However, we had been granted authorisation to travel to this same area on multiple occasions in the past,” he said by email yesterday.
“We organise such workshops with parties [involved in]the conflicts in Myanmar, [including]the Myanmar army and armed groups,” he said, adding that the trainings are aimed at protecting those affected by the conflict.
He declined to comment on who had cancelled the Wan Hai training, or to speculate on why it was called off.
However, Sao Naw Leik, a spokesperson of the SSPP/SSA said it was not his group, but the Tatmadaw’s Eastern Central Command, that had stopped the training.
A Myanmar language media outlet called The Ladies’ Journal quoted Colonel Sai Phone Han, another SSPP/SSA spokesperson as saying that the ICRC had sent a request for permission to the Shan State authorities, and the command turned it down.
“The ICRC was able to access Wan Hai to help IDPs in the past. But I heard that the ICRC was denied permission this time due to the current situation,” he told the journal.
The SSA and the Tatmadaw were engaged in fighting in October and November 2015. The conflict ended within six weeks, but prevented Kyethi township from participating in the historic November 2015 election. Three seats for the township are open in the upcoming April by-election, and the election commission has said it expects polls to go ahead with the SSPP’s cooperation.
Deputy director general of the President’s Office U Zaw Htay said he was not aware of the cancelled ICRC training in Wan Hai. General Aung Ye Win, a spokesperson for the Tatmadaw, said, “I don’t know about that. I’ll have to ask the Eastern Central Command.”
Mr Clémenzo said that the ICRC intends to reapply for permission to access Wan Hai to hold the planned training.
“We will resubmit a notification to [access]the area after a discussion with the relevant Shan State authorities,” he said.