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Long Identity Dispute in Kayah (Karenni) State


Statue Politics: Conflict Settled Down

After several long and harsh days of protest by Karenni youth against the installation of a statue of General Aung San, the demonstrators reached an agreement with the Kayah (Karenni) State government. The two parties must make a final decision regarding the statue within one month.

Ko Dee Dee, the spokesperson of the Karenni youth demonstrators, said the agreement was reached in the evening on February 12 after the State Police Force agreed to drop the trials against 36 youth demonstrators who were arrested on February 7. According to the agreement, Karenni youth must stop their demonstrations.

Gen. Aung San Statue seen at Kantar Haywon Garden, Loikaw Capital (Photo: Kantarawaddy Times)
Gen. Aung San Statue seen at Kanta Haywon Garden, Loikaw Capital (Photo: Kantarawaddy Times)

The agreement also stipulates that a new Karenni Youth Demonstration Committee and Gen. Aung San’s Statue Committee must have a dialogue within one month to make a final decision regarding the statue. Currently, the statue is installed in the public garden, Kanta Haywon, in the middle of the Kayah State’s Loikaw Capital.

Youth demonstrators disagreed with the decision to install the statue of Gen. Aung San in such a public space without approval from the people in Kayah State. They advocated for removing Gen. Aung San’s statue from the public space and keeping it in a government building or other location.

Karenni youth camped out in front of the National League for Democracy (NLD) to protest the statue’s installation. However, on February 7, police used force to disperse the camp and arrested Karenni youth. In response, thousands of Karenni people poured onto the streets calling for release of youth demonstrators and the removal of Gen. Aung San’s statue.

Police seriously cracked down on Karenni demonstrators on the morning of February 12. State Police used a water cannon and plastic bullets to suppress demonstrators. According to one Karenni youth, there were over 20 people injured by the police violence.

A Karenni youth demonstrator shot with rubber bullet by police (Photo: KTimes)

A Karenni youth demonstrator shot on face by rubber bullet during police crack down(Photo: KT/Facebook)

The youth activists and civil society organizations (CSOs) in Yangon blamed the Kayah State government for the violence against the Karenni youth. Many ethnic youth organizations, political parties, and ethnic CSOs from different states issued statements opposing the NLD actions.

The NLD Government and its supporters have installed Gen. Aung San’s statue across the country to remember and honor his role in the struggle for Burma’s independence. However, successive Myanmar leaders broke Gen. Aung San’s promise to ethnic minorities. Instead, ethnic groups have been under the oppressive rule of the Myanmar Army, which was initially formed by Gen. Aung San, for seven decades.

February 7 Crackdown Strike Camp

Kayah State Police Force with 100 policemen cracked down the strike camp in front of National League for Democracy (NLD), operated by Karenni youths and arrested the strike leaders and youths on February 7, said Ko Dee Dee, spokesperson of the strike against the installation of Gen. Aung San’s statue.

Youth demonstrators holding posters read ‘Bogyoke Statue Removal is Our Cause’ (in Burmese)and ‘Where is the promise. Go home statue’ (Photo: KT)

He said, the Township authorities and the police force came to strike camp at 2:00 and urged the youths to leave. After refusal of leaving, the policemen used their force and arrested all 36 youths.

Ko Dee Dee also confirmed, About 100 police force came and moved us out from demonstration camp and arrested them all”.

Although the demonstration was cracked, the Karenni youths will not stop their movement and planned to increase up their activities, until they achieved their 3 demands including to remove Gen. Aung San’s statue and call a referendum level whether Karenni people agree whether to install Gen. Aung San statue.

Ko Dee Dee said that the Kayah (Karenni) State Government did not have any willingness to negotiate to Karenni youths on the issue and just wanted to use violence against them.

Loikaw township police station detained these 36 Karenni youths in cells and there was no reply when Mon News Agency was calling for comments by police officers.

Karenni youths opened their strike (demonstration) camp in front of NLD head office in Loikaw by opposing the installation of Gen. Aung San’s statue in Kanta Haywon public garden in the city. The youths started their demonstration on February 2, and now they are put in trial with Act 19 and Act 20 related to peaceful demonstration.

Ethnic Youths’ Voice on Identity Politics

Forcible installation of Burma’s [Myanmar’s] national hero or independence fighter, Gen. Aung San, father of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, in respective ethnic states or regions could not create national unity, but rather created ‘racial hatred’, said Min Zar Ni Oo, General Secretary of Mon Youth Forum (MYF).

Min Zar Ni Oo referred to the situation of Karenni people opposing the installation of Gen. Aung San’s statue in Kanta Haywon garden in the Capital Loikaw.

Min Zar Ni Oo said, “such forcible installation of Gen. Aung San statue in ethnic area creates just hatred among the ethnic groups. It is not meant that we (ethnic people) are not respecting Gen. Aung San, as national hero. But we feel that such action is aggressive assimilation against minorities by majority.”

Ko Dee Dee of Karenni State Youth Force said that when there are no rights to exercise for equality and rights to self-determination to the ethnic people, such action of installing Gen. Aung San’s Statue is political exploitation.

Ko Dee Dee said, “we totally opposed the installation of Gen. Aung San’s statue, and we asked the authorities to move the location of the statue. We want to see with the NLD party leaders to discuss on this issue”.

About 30 persons of Karenni youths including Ko Dee Dee, opened their strike camp in front of NLD head office in Loikaw since February 4, and they wanted to talk on the issue to NLD leaders, and report on mis-management of Chief Minister of Kayah State. But their strike camp was cracked on February 7 afternoon and 36 youths were arrested by the Police Force in township.

Youth demonstrators seen in front of NLD Head Office in Loikaw (Photo: KT/Facebook)

Similarly, Lway Hlar Shein from Ta’ang Students and Youth Organization said, “since we are very young, we already respected Gen. Aung San, we ethnic people already respected him. Now, this issue (installation of Gen. Aung San) damaged the image of the government, and they should not do it. Instead of they are doing so, they must initiative the education and other development programs. The people will appropriate them”.

Amid the opposition of Karenni people, the NLD Government installed a statue of Gen. Aung San on the back of horse on January 31, 2019. Therefore, the youths from Kayat State arranged a strike in front of Kanta Heywon Garden in Loikaw. Ta’ang Civil Society Organizations also welcomed the demonstration of Karenni youths.

Kayah State government denied their responsibility for the installation of Gen. Aung San. They expressed to the media that only the social organizations and local people formed the Gen. Aung San statue installation committee and they have only installed the statue.

Currently, Kayah State Government has already put trial against demonstrators with legal action of peaceful demonstration, Act. 19. Last year, 23 Karenni youths were put on trial for their demonstration to similar issue of Gen. Aung San statue.

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