The sudden resignation of Lieutenant General Yawd Serk, leader of the Shan State Army-South ethnic armed group, has sent shockwaves throughout the Shan community, both here and overseas.

After steady progress toward a nationwide ceasefire, and with no obvious successor in sight, supporters have voiced questions and regret about the general’s decision.

“I’m sad about this news. I love him and respect him,” said 25-year-old Ko Sai Naw, responding to reports of the resignation first carried by the Shan Herald Agency for News (SHAN).

The news agency reported on January 15 that Lt Gen Yawd Serk would resign as leader of the Shan State Army-South (SSA-S) and as chair of its political wing, the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS/SSA).

Lt Gen Yawd Serk, 55, has led the armed group for 18 years since the SSA-S was founded in 1994.

SHAN quoted him as saying, “I want to hand over to a new leader. But it doesn’t mean that I would stop working. I would support the new leader until he could work well.”

Ko Sai Naw, who lives in Yangon and works as a designer, described Lt Gen Yawd Serk as an “unselfish and dedicated leader”. He first met the general last June in Nay Pyi Taw.

The visit marked the first time a Shan ethnic armed group leader met with Myanmar government officials, including the president. The meeting followed a similar visit by the Kayin military leader, Mutu Saypo.

Under Lt Gen Yawd Serk’s leadership, the RCSS/SSA entered into a political dialogue with the government and received promises for the economic and social development of the Shan, said Ko Sai Naw.

For U Sai Htwe, chair of the California Shan Social and Cultural Society, who lives in the United States, the resignation announcement came as a shock. Citing the “charismatic” general’s contribution to the ceasefire, he said, “Lt Gen Yawd Serk is greatly respected by his comrades.”

The RCSS/SSA signed the ceasefire agreement in 2011.

U Sai Htwe questioned the reason given by the general for his resignation at a critical juncture in the peace process when all ethnic armed forces were discussing a nationwide ceasefire agreement.

“I don’t accept that 18 years as chairman of the RCSS/SSA is too long,” he said, suggesting that the general had doubts about the sincerity of the Myanmar Peace Center but would not withstand public pressure to pursue the peace process.

According to the RCSS/SSA, the group has reached 31 agreements on a range of military, economic, social and cultural matters since signing the ceasefire. However, the group’s spokesperson, Col Sai Hla, told 7 Days News Journal last November that only two of those agreements had been implemented.

The Myanmar Peace Center’s U Hla Maung Swe said the general was an important person in the peace process. “I want him to continue his role as a chairman, but I respect his decision,” he said.

On January 25, SHAN reported that Union Minister U Aung Min had written to Lt Gen Yawd Serk asking him to keep working for a lasting peace.

U Aung Min has described Lt Gen Yawd Serk as his “benefactor”.