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Mon State: Past, Present, and Future of Peace for a Multi-national Society

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Banya Hongsar, Canberra, 6 October 2011 – Mon State is small and beautiful with its natural lands and rivers. It has been a land of peace and tranquility for Buddhist monks and the community for the past two thousand years. The people of Mon State and the population of lower Burma live simple lives with basic shelters, rice, and carts. Mon people are predominantly rural farmers with small numbers based in towns as public servants. Mon State’s past, present, and future will never be predicted on its own fate due to the nature of social and political conflicts in Burma’s political history.

I have made some good efforts for better understanding of my native land, people and my native country for over twenty years, but I am pretty much blind due to the unpredictable nature of geo-politics and Burma’s conflict. However, I never shy away from making my own assertions if the argument is relevant and worth a call. This is my reflection of the past twenty years of Mon State, my native land and country of birth with a sense of hope and sense of achievement for peace and liberation of the new generation. A growing local population within the Mon native people along with an increasing number of inter-state migration from upper Burma to lower Burma such as Mon and Karen States will be faced in both social and cultural integration of the Mon State. I seek peace with the purpose of political rights because the Mon Nation is visible within us.

Mon State was constitutionally established in 1974 under the new Union of Burma constitution amidst the high peak of the Mon nationalist’s movement for self-determination of Mon people in lower Burma. 37-year-old Mon State has never been ruled by Mon leaders or political institutions under the guidelines of the constitution. The newly formed Mon State Government of March 2011 neither represents the desire of the Mon people nor principally governs for the best interests of the local population in terms of social, cultural and political identity. The new government only comprises two representatives of the Mon State Assembly in the ministerial appointment while the rest of the appointments are totally controlled by former Burman military leaders. It is questionable to the desire of President Thein Sein’s promise for ‘good governance and clean government’ in Mon State. Twenty years have passed with hope and despair among local Mon activists and politicians with unpredictable nature of local and national modes within the Mon population and other ethnic people at large. Moulmein, the third largest city of Burma and the capital city of Mon State, increased its population in the late 1990s because many Mon traders and middle class moved in from farmlands and villages for new opportunities. Most of my friends are now stationed in Moulmein city with families and homes based around business for survival. A few of them can use the Internet at shops, but the majority of them do not own a mobile phone.

A non-Mon controlled Mon State Government and its military institution in the last thirty years is a point that should be seriously questioned by Mon leaders and the new Mon generation on what prospect that a Mon State could prosper under the new constitution. It is a hard question in both prospects of the peace process and the signing of a new cease-fire agreement between the new government and the Mon armed force, the Mon National Liberation Army. The armed force’s leading organization, the New Mon State Party, has little chance or choice unless it receives popular support from the Moulmein-based political forces. The stakes are high, but the process is not smooth for Mon leaders and community-based civil rights activists unless the Mon State Government tolerates freedom of expression and freedom of association under the new direction of ‘changes in the air’ claimed by the Federal Minister in recent weeks.

A hope for new peace talks is a new test for both sides of Mon State’s political operators. The military personnel-dominated State Government and Mon leaders cannot afford to make mistakes in this process. Both sides (Mon and non-Mon politicians) in Mon State seek legitimate power from now to the next election. Young Mon and non-Mon population in the state has been informed by local, national and international media on this process. A dishonest act of these leaders will not be rewarded in the next election. Currently, presidential nominated local peace-brokers are searching for local solutions through the links of former members of New Mon State Party, namely Nai Tin Aung (Head of Party’s Foreign Affairs), Nai Soe Myint (Chairman of District) and Nai Lawi Oung (aka Nai U Myint Swe) (MP) at the Mon State Assembly. This insincere approach neither works nor achieves peace or national unity in Mon State or Burma at large due to the ill-informed process by the Union Government. However, the most respected new Mon generation leader in post 1990s, Nai Hongsa, General Secretary of the NMSP, clearly condemned the approach of local Mon State’s Chief Minister on this informal process while he asserted that the peace process is a matter of the Union Government under the effort of the President, and not a process that local Chief Ministers could accommodate. He added that armed conflict is not a matter of State; it is a matter of the National Government’s Head of State’s duty for the whole process. Nai Hongsa warned that those who are pursuing this process must act with logical assessments of the conflicts of the past, the present, and sustaining peace for the whole nation.

Peace will never be achieved in Mon State and beyond unless an act of honesty is proven by the two sides of politics in Burma. A Mon political thinker in the new era, Nai Siri Mon Chan, Spokesman of Overseas Mon Affairs, warned the peace-brokers by saying, “The weakness in the past was that [the NMSP] could not understand the Burmese regime’s strategies due to insufficient analysis of the political situation at that time. For example, to crush pro-democracy groups, [the Burmese regime] signed cease-fires with the ethnic armed groups one-by-one. Now, we have a lot more experience and facts to be careful about in the current political environment.” Siri Mon Chan is a key player of Overseas Mon Affairs in recent years where he contributes to the process of peace and national unity in Burma.

Ethnic leaders have acted with sincerity on peace and national unity processes for over sixty years. Recently, leaders who are based in major ethnic states from Chin, Mon, Pha-lon, Shan and Arakan areas signed a letter dated 2 October to the President (in Burmese) for a further peace process with inclusiveness. The letter urged the President for peace talks with the appointment of nominated prominent ethnic community leaders during the consultations. After two months of official announcement for peace talks on 3 August, ethnic leaders were disappointed that armed conflicts in Kachin, Shan and Karen States have broken out without any clear signs of peace for the future.

The peace process is a journey for democracy and national unity under the principle of human rights that guarantees constitutional rights for all citizens of Burma with the self-determination of each ethnic state in the 21st century. Mon leaders from both the heartland and overseas must draw at least a ten-year peace process plan that sustains the best interests of the Mon and other local populations in lower Burma on education, health, economy, security and freedom of political participation in Mon State and Region. A new Mon State government must equally elect and appoint Mons for each ministerial portfolio and other heads of the departments. A future Mon State government must not be dominated by non-Mons or other military appointed officials that destroy chances for the peace process and national unity. Mon State must be ruled by majority Mon leaders and people if the president truly seeks peace and unity within Mon and non-Mon populations in lower Burma. Peace is for all, not for peace-brokers’ personal interest for business deals and rewards like the 1995 cease-fire deal. This lesson must be learnt by new Mon leaders.

Historical conflicts between the Mon and Burman are deeply rooted in the last five hundred years of social, cultural and political rivalry as accorded in the history books of Mon, Burmese, and English literatures. A Buddhist-practicing Mon community invaded upper Burma in the 13th century, but the Mon kings reluctantly ruled the Burman’s heartland Mandalay (aka In-wa) despite the victory. However, the Burman’s king invaded the Mon heartland, Pegu, La Goon (aka Rangoon), and Moulmein cities in late 1757 with brutal massacres. The end of Mon sovereignty with its royal dynasty was destroyed by the late Burman warrior U Aung Ze Ya. The new Burma Empire commenced from the late 15th century to date despite its failure in principles. A small Mon population, estimated a three million in Mon State and four million in other areas of Burma and over one million in Thailand, has never lost hope for reclaiming the identity, sovereignty and self-determination at the post invasion of the last Mon capital, Pegu. The two rivalries live and die together for over ten centuries but the Burman’s brutality marks the darkest history of past and present conflicts.

Historically, the Mon leaders or kings are honest for good deeds despite Mon capitals being attacked and destroyed by the Burman in the last centuries. Peace deals between Mon and Burman delegates can be dated back to the 13-14th centuries when both sides appointed senior monks, community leaders and mentors of the king in history. According to D.G.E. Hall, Professor Emeritus of the History of South East Asia, University of London, “At last in 1751, having assembled a large army equipped with arms procured from European traders at Syriam, Tala Ban (Mon Royal Commander in Chief) made a full scale invasion of Upper Burma which culminated in April 1751 in the capture of Ava (aka Inn-Wa) and deposition of the last king of the Toungoo dynasty.” However, the honest Mon king and his commander only proved victorious for six years. The Burman’s last hero, U Aung Ze Ya from Moksobomyo, reunited the Burman troops and then attacked not only Ava, but also the Mon’s last capital Pegu. The last Mon kingdom was utterly destroyed.

A new peace process must not be blinded by personal benefits for economy or border trade, and the long rivalry of the Mon and Burman peoples must be in mind of the leaders. Mon State’s constitution written by Mon leaders in recent weeks must be amended by the President of the Union of Myanmar if he truly seeks peace and national unity.

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