Amid controversy over the erection of statues of General Aung San in regions with large ethnic minority populations, ethnic Kayah in Karenni State on Tuesday protested against the local government’s plans to place a statue of the late independence hero in the state capital, Loikaw. Protesters said some of them were hit by police who blocked their route, and 10 people are under investigation for distributing pamphlets critical of the statue ahead of the event.
The governing National League for Democracy (NLD) has come under fire for the police crackdown and lawsuits. U Myo Nyunt, an NLD spokesman and central executive committee member, spoke with The Irrawaddy’s Htet Naing Zaw by phone on Thursday about the statues.
What is the party’s policy on erecting statues of Gen. Aung San across the country?
Gen. Aung San was not concerned with the Bamar alone but with all ethnicities in the country, because he was the person who took the lead role in drafting the Panglong Agreement, the foundation of the demands for federalism by ethnic people. There would not have been federalism and a union system if Gen. Aung had not existed.
[Ethnic people] claim that Gen. Aung San, who was ethnic Bamar, failed to keep his promise of federalism. That is their excuse. How could he keep his promise after he died, after he was assassinated?
Local residents made Gen. Aung San statues out of their own pockets to [help future generations] remember his spirit and his actions. It is good to have his statue as a memorial to him.
Because it is a good thing, concerned members of our party cooperate [with locals]. But we have never instructed them to erect statues.
Local residents have raised objections to erecting statues of Gen. Aung San in ethnic minority regions. So does your party have a policy to consult with local ethnic minorities before erecting statues? What measures will the party take to solve this problem?
I’ve already spoken about this. Party members only assist local residents when they want to do so. We haven’t instructed our party members to persuade locals to erect statues. The most important thing is that locals want to erect it by their own will. A statue may cost millions. People make voluntary contributions from their modest salaries for the statue, and they choose the shape of the statue and place their order. It costs a lot of money and efforts. If we have to stop this because a group of people raises deliberate objections, it is a waste of the goodwill of local people who want to have a statue for good reasons. There is a need for both sides to think fairly. Anyone who engages in political movements should think of the possible consequences before they act.
Police clamped down on protesters in Karenni State this week. This has impacted the image of the NLD-led government. What would you like to say about that?
If security forces used excessive force in breach of the law, they will be punished according to the law. But we’ve received reports for the time being that [protesters] forcibly pushed through the systematic police blockade. If that is the case, we suspect that a group of anti-government individuals deliberately did it.
Why don’t ethnic minorities accept the Gen. Aung San statue? What do you think?
We believe the reasons they give are not strong. They said Gen. Aung San failed to keep his promise and federalism still hasn’t been realized. It is not that Gen. Aung San didn’t keep his word. It is because Gen. Aung San made a promise that ethnic people can demand at peace talks that the Panglong Agreement be realized as the general had planned. It is not the fault of Gen. Aung San. So we should remember him more and demand more loudly that his principles be embraced.
There are allegations that the NLD is attempting Burmanization by erecting statues of Gen. Aung San in ethnic minority regions. What do you want to say?
He does not represent the Bamar alone. There would not have been a Panglong Agreement without Gen. Aung San.
Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.