Alleged Official Statement on Aung San Statue Spreads on Facebook

By Lawi Weng 3 May 2019

The chief minister of Kayah State has handed power to state authorities to “protect” a controversial statue of General Aung San, according to a leaked statement spread on Facebook. The statue holds contested meanings among some Burmese and some minority rights activist groups.

The statement, dated April 30, declares Gen. Aung San a national hero, an architect of the country’s independence and the father of the Myanmar military, and says that the people of the country built the statue to recognize his struggle for independence. It then delegates responsibility for protecting the statue to state authorities. It was allegedly written by Kayah State Chief Minister L Phaung Sho, and was signed by the General Secretary of Kayah State U Nyi Nyi Min.

Activists in the region, while not necessarily contesting Gen. Aung San’s role in Myanmar history, have seen the statue as a symbol of the dominant roles the interests and identity of the Burmese majority plays in the country, to the disadvantage of ethnic minorities. To them, it’s also a symbol of what they see as yet-unfulfilled promises made by the assassinated general and the Panglong Agreement of 1947.

The statement was leaked just four days before a second meeting is to be held between local rights activists and the National Reconciliation and Peace Centre (NRPC) over the resettlement of a similar statue in Loikaw, the state’s capital. Those negotiations are scheduled for May 7.

Right activists in Loikaw saw the chief minister’s statements online but have not yet received any official statement from the government.

Myo Hlaing Win, a leading member of the activist group, told The Irrawaddy his group will bring the leaked statement up for discussion at the upcoming meeting.

“We will respond strongly regarding his statement. He kicked the ball down the road. He did not want to take responsibility and accountability for [building the statue],” said Myo Hlaing Win, adding that the statement could block future negotiations.

The activists condemned L Phaung Sho and his government for the building of the statue, but the state government denies involvement, saying the statue was built by an independent group.

The rights group will hold a meeting in Loikaw on Saturday to discuss future negotiations with the NRPC and how best to respond to the leaked statement.

“We will know tomorrow how we will respond to his statement after our meeting. We really believe that the statement was issued by his government,” Myo Hlaing Win said.

Kayah State Minister of Planning and Finance U Maw Maw told The Irrawaddy his government did not issue the statement officially yet. He refused to discuss how the statement, allegedly from his chief minister, spread online.

People in Kayah State held large protest in February asking for the statue to be taken down but the state government refused, offering instead to broker negotiations between rights activists and a pro-statue group. When those negotiations broke down, the NRPC became involved. The NRPC first met with the activists in March, but was unable to bring the two sides to an agreement.