RANGOON — The controversial bridge across the Salween River linking Moulmein and Chaungzon townships in Mon State was put into service on Thursday, under the contested name “Gen Aung San Bridge (Belu Island).”
Mon State Chief Minister Dr. Aye Zan confirmed the opening of the bridge to the public.
“A total of 129 vehicles from Chaungzon crossed the bridge and 50 from Moulmein so far,” Dr. Aye Zan told reporters on Thursday afternoon at a municipal guesthouse in Naypyidaw.
“I was not at the bridge as I had a meeting [in Naypyidaw] this morning, but I will attend the official opening ceremony of the bridge. The Union government will set a date for it,” the minister added.
Mon locals have opposed naming the bridge after Burma’s independence hero Gen Aung San, preferring names like “Chaungzon Bridge” or “Yarmanya,” which means “Mon State” in the ethnic Mon language spoken in the region.
“We heard that they [the government] put the signboard up at around 4:30 a.m. I saw them still fixing the signboard after 6 a.m. But, I didn’t see an inauguration ceremony,” U Naing Aung Mon, spokesperson for the committee demanding a name change, told The Irrawaddy.
The committee was formed with local community elders, women leaders, monks, youth leaders and human rights and political activists who oppose the name approved by the Lower House in March.
The committee is preparing to submit a petition to the President, State Counselor, the Parliament and ethnic affairs ministry and has so far garnered over 120,000 signatures.
“As they have put up the signboard, we can do nothing now. We view this as a violation of ethnic rights. We will continue fighting against this,” said U Nai Aung Mon.
He added that by putting up the signboard in spite of opposition from thousands of locals, lawmakers from the National League for Democracy (NLD) have breached the provisions of a law adopted in February 2015 to protect ethnic rights.
Provision 3(c) in Chapter 2 of the law states that languages, literature, arts, culture, customs, national identity, and historical heritage of ethnicities shall be preserved and promoted.
On April 24, the committee also issued an open letter, saying that the naming of the bridge would disrupt unity, friendship and support between ethnicities. The letter also demands that the bridge be named according to the wishes of the locals.
Amid the controversy over the naming of the bridge, former chief minister of Mon State U Min Min Oo resigned from his post in late February, and Dr. Aye Zan has replaced him.
The chief minister defended the name choice for the bridge, saying it was intended to remind people of democracy and federalism, which Gen Aung San promised in Panglong Agreement.
“This [promise] could not be materialized after the general was assassinated. Therefore, we still see instability in our country, even today. So, we named the bridge after Gen Aung San to remember this pledge,” said Dr. Aye Zan.
“We ethnicities could not celebrate our national identity in our townships and regions under successive governments [in the past]. And we can’t accept that the democratic government has done this, despite our objections,” Mi Sandi, an engineer from Moulmein, told The Irrawaddy.
Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko