Self determination on show

They came in their thousands, marching with their heads held high. On a vast parade ground atop Doi Tai Lang, stronghold of the Shan State Army (SSA) which is perched 1,500m above sea level, uniformed soldiers put on a robust show of force on Feb 7 to mark the 66th National Day of the Shan people.

In December 2011, the Myanmar government of President Thein Sein signed a ceasefire with the SSA, led by Colonel Sao Yodsuek, and agreed to reopen two checkpoints on the border between Shan State and Thailand. The Shan (whom Thais refer to as the Tai Yai) are an ethnic minority who have been conducting an armed struggle for independence from Myanmar for more than 50 years.

The ceasefire has allowed Shan people to move about more freely than before and this year around 1,000 of them travelled from other areas, including Thailand, to watch the National Day parade. The celebration lasted three days and included a demonstration of the SSA's fighting skills as well as traditional Tai Yai performances.

According to the SSA, there are now around one million Tai Yai people and their descendants living in Thailand.

The most common way to cross into Shan State from Thailand is via a checkpoint in Pang Ma Pha district, Mae Hong Son province. From there it's only a short journey to Doi Tai Lang.

A soldier stands guard near the army demonstration.

Because of the ceasefire agreement, around 1,000 Tai Yai people travelled from different areas to Doi Tai Lang.

A traditional performance of Tai Yai likay is part of the celebration.

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Writer: Patipat Janthong