The Mon State bridge, which has been the subject of controversy since the Union Parliament voted to change its name in March, has been open for a trial period since May 1. The May 9 ceremony will mark the official opening, which many in the government hope will put to rest the simmering dispute.
The Mon State Chief Minister, seeking to diffuse tensions, said that future naming decisions would be made differently.
“We named the bridge for Gen Aung San as a result of the current [Union] government’s policy. We have plans to build more bridges in Mon State and will not use the same name then,” said Dr. Aye Zan, the Mon State Chief Minister.He added that the Mon State government has plans to build two bridges spanning the Ataran in central Mon State, and would honor local input in naming them.
The General Aung San (Bilugyun) bridge connects the Mon State capital of Mawlamyine (Moulmein) to Bilugyun Island, spanning the Thanlwin (Salween) river. The Pyithu Hluttaw—the lower house of Myanmar’s (Burma) Parliament—voted in March to change the name from Thanlwin Bridge (Chaungzon) over local objections. The move sparked months of protests, including a March 19 demonstration that drew a crowd of over 20,000. Many in Mon State feel that the National League for Democracy (NLD)-led government is ignoring the needs of the minority ethnic groups in its coalition.
“We have already sent our petition to the Union Minister for Ethnic Affairs after collecting signatures, and we assume that they will contact us to meet soon to set up a meeting,” said Nai Mon Ra Ja, a bridge activist.
The bridge opened unofficially on April 27 but its official opening remained a matter of intense speculation. Two tentative opening dates in April came and went, and rumors about General Aung San’s daughter Daw Aung San Suu Kyi attending the ceremony have largely disappeared too.