Army Slaps Down Karenni State Chief over Threat to Use Troops Against Statue Riots

By The Irrawaddy 24 July 2018

YANGON — The Myanmar military (Tatmadaw) on Monday admonished the Karenni State chief minister over his warning that he would call in troops to quell disturbances related to an unpopular plan to put up a statue of General Aung San in the state’s capital.

The chief minister does not have the authority to take such action, the Tatmadaw said.

The response followed Chief Minister L Phaung Sho’s warning to demonstrators last week during a meeting about the government’s plan to erect a statue of the independence hero in Loikaw, which had drawn a public outcry. Ethnic Karenni youths took to the streets to protest the plan early this month, and the demonstration turned violent when security forces tried to stop them.

A number of young activists involved in the protest are now facing legal proceedings initiated by the government.

During the meeting between the Karenni State officials and representatives of local political parties and CSOs, the chief minister said that if needed, he would personally deploy army troops to curb the violence, adding that, “It’s my duty.”

His comments attracted serious criticism from the public, with critics saying it was unacceptable for a representative of the democratically elected National League for Democracy-led state government to threaten protesters with the use of state force.

But on Monday evening, the military released a statement saying that under the country’s Constitution, chief ministers of states and regions have no authority to order military intervention in case of emergency.

“Only the National Defense and Security Council has the authority to declare a state of emergency,” the military said in the statement. It cited a Constitutional provision under which, in a situation where a local administrative body claims it cannot carry out its administrative function in accordance with the Constitution, the president can coordinate with the National Defense and Security Council (NDSC) to promulgate an ordinance declaring a state of emergency and requesting assistance from the Army. The NDSC is an 11-member council including the president and military chief that is responsible for security and defense affairs in Myanmar.

“The chief minister has misinterpreted the Constitution, and what he said was based on his point of view. The military will act according to the charter,” the statement reads.

Karenni State Chief Minister L Phaung Sho was not available for comment on Monday.

NLD spokesperson Dr. Myo Nyunt told The Irrawaddy that the party has no plan to warn the chief minister over his action, as this is not a party matter.

“Only the administration can do it. We can’t intervene in the administrative sector,” he said.

President’s Office spokesperson U Zaw Htay said the Union government has instructed the Karenni State government to work with local people on the statue issue.

On Monday, hours before the military’s response, the Karenni state chief minister held a press conference at the state government office and said a new statue committee would be established by community-based organizations, with the state government playing an assistance role.

He announced that a state government committee tasked with commissioning a statue of Gen Aung San would be disbanded following public objections to the plan

The Irrawaddy reporter Htet Naing Zaw contributed to this report from Naypyitaw.