Shan State Army

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Shan State Army
Chairperson Sao Nang Hearn Kham
Merged Shan National United Front
Shan State Independence Army
Founded 1964 (1964)
Dissolved Mid-1976
Ideology Independentist
Shan nationalism
Colors Red, Yellow and Green
Later formed Shan State Army – S
Shan State Army – N
Party flag
Shan State Army flag.png

The Shan State Army, or SSA, was one of the largest groups which operated to resist the activity of the military government of Burma in Shan State. SSA was formed in 1964 by a merger of existing resistance groups, and recruited and trained thousands of local Shan people. Although their initial purpose was to fight autonomy in Shan state, their battle extended to fighting against the Communist Party of Burma (CPB), and resolving internal divisions and former Kuomingtang (KMT) merchants coming from China. The Army could not fulfil its purpose, as it dissolved in 1976 and later reformed into Shan State Army-South and Shan State Army-North, and continue their opposition to the government.


Formation of Shan State Army[edit]

Sao Nang Hearn Kham in 1947

By 1964, there were four major Shan State rebels groups:

  • Noom Suk Harn: established in 1958, as the first Shan resistance organisation.
  • Shan State Independence Army (SSIA): established in 1961.
  • Shan National United Front (SNUF): established jointly with SSIA.
  • Tailand National Army (TNA): established in 1963 by a faction which broke away from SSIA.

Following the arrest of Sao Shwe Thaik of Yawnghwe in the Burmese coup d'état in March 1962 by the Revolutionary Council headed by General Ne Win,[1] his wife, Sao Nang Hearn Kham (Mahadevi of Yawnghwe) fled with her family to Thailand in April 1962. Sao Shwe Thaik died in prison in November the same year and while in exile his wife participated in the independence struggle of the Shan State.In 1964, Sao Nang Hearn Kham became the leader of SSIA, and tried to unify the four rebel factions. However, she could not make Noom Suk Harn and TNA to agree for unification, therefore, SNUF merged with SSIA and formed Shan State Army (SSA).[2]:18 The formation took place at the headquarters of SSIA in the mountains near the Thai border. It aimed to expand its forces to a state-wide organisation by incorporating other rebel groups.[3]:220

Since its formation, SSA had attracted widespread intellectual and rural support.[3]:333 In 1961, there were no more than 1,500 Shan rebels in total, which by 1987 grew to 7,000 to 9,000. The battles were so fierce that in 1978, 20 to 30 casualties suffered daily in Shan State alone.[2]:59 SSA eventually established four large base areas across Shan state, north to south and on the west to the bank of Salween River.[3]:333


The highest organ of SSA was the Shan State War Council (SSWC), which composed of:

  • Chairperson: Mahadevi of Yawnghwe
  • Vice chairperson and Chief of staff: Moherng of Laikha and Muang Kung area (Former commander of Noom Suk Harn and broke away to form SNUF)
  • Vice chief of staff: Sai Pan, Khun Thawa and Jimmy Yang (or Chao Ladd, who joined in 1966)
  • Other member: Sai Myint Aung

As combats, local Shan people were recruited. A leadership school was set up in 1969 and taught basic geography and history, basic government, the fundamentals of military organisation and operations, intelligence gathering and reporting, political system and theories, and an introduction of international politics.[2]:132–4

In 1971, its political wing, Shan State Political Party (SSPP) was formed in order to tackle various problems SSA faced.[3] Shan Unity Preparatory Committee (SUPC) was also formed to unite other Shan rebel groups. It planned to merge SSA with SSA/East, which TNA renamed itself, and Shan National Independence Army (SNIA), which Noom Suk Harn renamed itself. However, it did not work out, as SNIA collapsed which its leader set up a new organisation to fight against communism.

Other fights[edit]

Against communists[edit]

Communist Party of Burma (CPB) have been active along the borders of Kachin and Shan with China since 1967.[2]:29 They became a threat to the SSA from early 1970s, as they operated exclusively in the lowlands and delta regions and by the mid-1970s, it had occupied the town on Shan-Chinese border, Kiu-khok or Wanting, and other places, in total 15,000 square miles of the Shan State. As holding a position of anti-communist and pro-West, SSA leaders saw the expanding forces of CPB as a problem.[3]

As the Burma Army was also fighting against CPB, it came up with a policy in 1963 to combat them by using forces of the ethnic groups on the borders, which was called Ka-kew-ye (KKY) policy. This was to call local rebels to join the KKY forces to fight off CPB, and in return, would be permitted to engage in cross-border trade with Thailand and Laos. Many units of SSA defected to this policy, which led to an internal division in the beginning of 1970s.[2]:126–131 By August 1968, 1,500 insurgents shifted to KKY forces and eventually over 20 KKY units were formed.[3]:221 As the policy boosted drug trade along the borders and increased international criticism against it, KKY policy was abandoned in 1973.

Although most Shan rebels were anti-communists, smaller rebel groups, such as Shan Nationalities People’s Liberation Organisation (SNPLO), trained with the CPB and adopted communist ideologies.[4]

Relationship with ex-KMT merchant-warlords and armies[edit]

After Mao Zedong took power in 1949, KMT troops fled to northern Burma and started to establish bases in Shan state with the support of the United States, without permission by the Burmese government.[4]:19 These bases served various purposes, such as “listening posts for Taiwanese and American intelligence from which agents were sent into China; opium storage and refining centres; opium buying stations; storage and distribution points for points for contraband goods; and private fiefdoms of local commanders”.[2]:124–5 They occupied about one-third or around 20,000 square miles of Shan state. Many Shan rebels worked with them, and in return obtained arms and ammunitions and funds. The business by ex-KMT merchants have still left its legacy in Shan State, as Burma is the number two opium producer in the world. Armed forces, such as the Burma Army and Shan resistance groups, as well as local villagers, are engaged in production and trafficking of narcotics.[5]


As the struggle became fierce in the Shan State, SSA units in the north approached CBP for support, which CBP responded with military training and arms provision. On the other hand, the SSA in southern Shan opposed to the alliance with CBP, therefore, led to an internal split in SSA- the north and the south.[6] Further internal divisions, such as in 1966 two units breaking away and setting up their own nationalist front,[3] and external pressures for not being able to unite Shan rebels as more fights intensified with the Burma Army, CBP, other rebels and drug trade, SSA collapsed in the mid-1976. About 4,000 switched loyalty to the CPB and others joined other rebel forces.[2] Later, SSPP reformed a pro-communist army known as Shan State Army-North (SSA-N) and continued its fight, until the fall of CBP in 1989, when it signed the ceasefire agreement with the Burmese government.[7][8] In opposition to ceasefire, a faction that broke away formed Shan State Army-South (SSA-S), or Restoration Council of Shan State/ Shan State Army in 1996. However, in 2011 SSA-S signed a ceasefire agreement with the Burmese government.[9] Although the Burmese government accomplished in signing ceasefire with two of the largest armed rebel forces in the Shan State, there still has been reports of clashes. According to the Shan Human Rights Foundation, in October 2014, shells were fired in villages of Shan State, which caused over 180 villagers to evacuate.[10] Between 1996 and 2001, there has been reports of 173 sexual assaults in Shan state by Burmese troops and between 1996 and 1998, 300,000 villagers had relocated.[10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Donald M. Seekins (2006). Historical Dictionary of Burma (Myanmar). Rowman & Littlefield. pp. 410–411. ISBN 9780810854765. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Yawnghwe. C. T. (1987). The Shan of Burma. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Smith, M. (1991). Burma - Insurgency and the Politics of Ethnicity. London and New Jersey: Zed Books.
  4. ^ a b Fink. C. (2009). Living silence in Burma: Surviving under military rule. New York: Zed Books Ltd.
  5. ^ "Free Burma Rangers". 
  6. ^ Mong. S. K. (2007). The Shan in Myanmar. In Ganesan. N. & Hlaing. K. Y. (Eds.), Myanmar: State, society and ethnicity (pp. 256-277). Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.
  7. ^ "Golden Jubilee of Shan State Army founding to be held at SSA HQ". Shan Herald Agency for News. Associated Press. 2014-04-18. Retrieved 2014-10-28. 
  8. ^ Administrator. "Shan State Progress Party/ Shan State Army". 
  9. ^ Administrator. "Restoration Council of Shan State/ Shan State Army". 
  10. ^ a b "Shan Human Rights Foundation". 

External links[edit]