Unsettled Disputes of General Aung San Statue in A Land with Untold History
Athan documented the entire case by collecting data from news sources including official statements of government, CSOs and court records as well as news information from independent and reliable news agencies. Research and analysis were conducted in accordance with research ethics.
Athan documented the events related to root cause of the case-General Aung San statue controversy-occurring within 15 months, from January 1, 2018 to March 31, 2019.
Athan referenced the historical data from “Karenni People and General Aung San Bronze Statue” released by Myanmar Cultural Research Society (MCRS) in February 2019.
Athan went to court hearings of Karenni activists and protests to conduct detail documentation, interviewing both people who directly involved in events and those who partially involved in the incidents, in Loikaw Township, Demoso Township and Hpruso Township.
Union government of Myanmar and regional governments’ political bandwagon, General Aung San statue projects reached Loikaw Township, capital of Karenni State in 2018.
Ethnic residents, youth leaders and civil society organizations resisted the statue project after Kayah Sate/Karenni State government called for the suggestions. State government ignored the voices of Karenni residents and frequently tried to complete statue project. Finally, state government stubbornly erected the equestrian statue of General Aung San instead, triggering critical responses and denouncements from Karenni youth leaders who prefer the implementation of Aung San’s promises without delay, promoting Karenni literature, culture and history and building effigies of their own Karenni ethnic heroes to erection of General Aung San statue.
Karenni activists were repeatedly charged under contentious laws restricting freedom of expression, a universal and fundamental right which they exercised in protests that were also forcibly cracked down by the police. State government and Karenni leaders had an agreement after the public strongly defied but responsibility and accountability of State government is still doubtful.
2. Historical Background
Karenni State/Kayah State was ever an independent state even during Burmese monarchy eras before the territory which today is Myanmar was colonized by British government. Myanmar constitutionally is home to seven Regions and seven States including Kayah State whose official name was Karenni State until 1950. On February 9, 1950, U Sein, a member of parliament (Karenni, chairperson of Padaung Concil) submitted a proposal to change the name from “Karenni State” to “Kayah State. The Union Parliament officially renamed the state Kayah State on October 5, 1951.
Karenni State/Kayah State is a home to indigenous groups including Kayah, Kayan, Kayaw, Kawyaw, Geba, Yintale and other ethnic groups.
Karenni State/Kayah State had stood with its “independence” identity since the era of Myanmar monarchic kingdom.
After the second Anglo-Burmese War, British government drew a line from east to west four miles above Aunglan Township and occupied the territories south of the line. Karenni State, recognized as an independent state by Burmese King, was situated at the eastern edge of that line.
On 1875, Sir Douglas Forsyth, an Anglo-Indian administrator and diplomat who was sent as a representative of British government to Burmese king and Kinwun Mingyi U Kaung, representative of Burmese king agreed not to annex western Karenni State and signed a treaty that recognizes the western Karenni State as an independent state. The Province of Burma Vol 2, released on 1907, also confirms Karenni State is not a part of Burma.
Following the World War II, aspiration and willingness of independence were momentous in Burma mainland along with the rehabilitation activities. On February 1946, Karenni leaders set up a talk at Myapale village in northern Bawlakhe area to determine whether “Karenni State would integrate with independent Burma mainland”. Considering the status of education, health system and economy, they reached a consensus to join Burma mainland if necessary. On April 3, 1946, Karenni, Padaung Council was formed with leaders from different areas in order to make crucial decisions based on the fickle political scenarios. British government doubted Karenni State would still grab its independence identity apart from Burma mainland. So, it dissolved the council and established United Karenni Independent States Council UKISC, declaring that Bawlakhe, Kyebogyi and Kantaryawadi were amalgamated as Karenni States. On September 12, 1946, Karenni Union Council Conference was held, resulting 15 resolutions including right to freedom of speech, right to freedom of religion and exercising the religious practices and right to rule all ethnic people of Karenni descent and those who identify themselves as Karenni residents in accordance with Karenni customs.
On the other side, General Aung San and British Prime Minister Clement Attlee signed Aung San-Attlee Agreement, significant mileston in history of Burma’s independence, on January 27, 1947. However, General Aung San visited Karenni State only one time in 1946 to unite mainland and hills.
On February 12, 1947, Karenni leaders attended the Panglong Conference but as observers and did not sign the Panlong Agreement.
1. State Government’s Attempt to Erect General Aung San Bronze Statue vs Movement of Ethnic Residents
The Kayah State Government started a plan to erect a bronze statue of General Aung San at Kantahaywon park at the early stage in 2018. Karenni youth community resisted the plan when the foundation stone of the statue was being laid upon in May 2018.
(a) The Reason of Rejection
Karenni youth community rejects the planned installation of General Aung San effigy because of the following reasons;
- Karenni State/Karenni State was separately independent from mainland Burma according to the agreement signed by Burmese representative U Kaung and British representative Sir Douglas Forsyth on June 21st 1875.
- Karenni State did not sign Panglong Agreement which was signed on February 12th 1947 between Shan, Kachin and Chin leaders and General Aung San who visited Karenni State only one time in 1946 for Karenni State’s integration with Burma mainland, to regain independence from Britain. Karenni State did not belong to mainland Burma.
- Karenni ethnic armed revolution originated from the arguments for integration with mainland. Karenni leaders and people have been still disputing about it hitherto.
- Karenni State cannot fulfill its political and national aim meanwhile equality, self-determination and secession. General Aung San’s promises have not yet been prioritized by government.
- Karenni people protested against the statue because of their veneration on Karenni history, nationalism and sense of politics (not because of emotion) as the erection of General Aung San statute in Karenni State while current peace process is fragile, seems promoting racism like Burmanization and might intensify the relationship between the ethnic groups.
(b) Protests Against Statue
Union of Karenni Student Youth (UKSY), Karenni State Farmer Union (KSFU), Kayah Youth, Kawyaw Youth, Kawyaw [Manumanaw] Youth, Karenni National People Liberation Front (KNPLF-Youth) and Karen New Generation Youth (KNGY-Karenni State) sent an open letter on July 18, 2018, demanding the regional government to cancel the plans to install an equestrian statue of General Aung San. As Kayah State government did not respond, Karenni activists distributed pieces of paper about “History of Karenni State and Public Denouncement of State Government’s Plan to install General Aung San Statute” in Loikaw, Demoso, Hpruso, Bawlakhe, Hpasawng and Mese townships on June 26, 2018. Karenni civil society organizations organized also marched in Loikaw Township in a big protest on July 3 after notifying the authorities. The protest was cracked down by the police as the 16 youth leaders were sued under Article 19 and 20 of Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Law at Loikaw Township court for allegedly failure to notify the police before 48 hours in advance. 15 Karenni youths were sued under Section 505(b) and 505 (c) for distributing Karenni history pamphlets and denouncement of General Aung San statue too.