On Patrol with the Shan State Army
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Tuesday, September 21, 2021


On Patrol with the Shan State Army

By Michael Black and Roland Fields/Loi Taileng, Southeastern Shan State JULY, 2006 - VOLUME 14 NO.7


Morale is high among Yawd Serk’s ill-paid soldiers: “We are the strongest opposition force to the regime”


It was a scene straight out of Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now.  To a background score of psychedelic electric guitar cords piercing the night, soldiers in Burmese army fatigues berated and appeared to beat a helpless monk while bemused spectators looked on. It looked sickeningly authentic but was as theatrical as Coppola’s movie—one of several staged events commemorating Shan Resistance Day at the Shan State Army-South’s fortified headquarters on the ridge of Loi Taileng, in eastern Burma.


The Burmese soldiers were Shan rebels, enacting scenes of Burma Army brutality. “Everyone can relate to this show,” said an SSA-S official.


This year’s Shan Resistance Day was the 48th annual commemoration of the start of Shan armed resistance to Burmese government rule. On May 21, 1958, a group of 39 Shan, frustrated by 10 years of inconclusive negotiations between their leaders and the Rangoon regime, took up arms against government forces at Mong Kyawt in southeastern Shan State, opposite the Chiang Dao region of northern Thailand. They became known as the Noom Suk Harn, or “brave young warriors.”


The group eventually grew into a strong fighting force, the Shan State Army. Its political wing is the Restoration Council of Shan State, consisting of 300 members, drawn from the military and civilian life. A central committee of 21 elected members meets twice a year. A complaints and suggestions box in the center of the Loi Taileng camp yields much material for discussion.


It’s a democratic kind establishment—“Even the Colonel is not immune from criticism,” said the SSA-S official. “The Colonel” is Yawd Serk, charismatic leader of the SSA-S force. He rose to prominence after the surrender of drug lord Khun Sa and the dissolution of his Mong Tai Army in 1996. Yawd Serk and his men, a more effective fighting force than the MTA, took over much of Khun Sa’s arsenal. “Only the oldest and broken weaponry was relinquished to Rangoon, Yawd Serk kept the best armaments,” said a former Khun Sa aide.


The SSA-S maintains that Khun Sa had to buy the loyalty of his MTA men, while Yawd Serk commands total respect through the force of his personality and his commitment to the Shan cause. There isn’t enough money in the SSA-S coffers to pay his men their lowly wage of 200 baht (US $5) a month regularly or to improve their meager rations and equipment, but still morale is high.

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