Ethnic Organizations Criticize Rally in Support of Burma Army

By Zue Zue 20 December 2016

RANGOON — Ethnic nationality representatives have criticized a march in support of the Burma Army in Rangoon on Sunday for disrupting the peace process and questioned the authenticity of apparent ethnic minority marchers.

Several thousand demonstrators marched from Shwedagon Pagoda to the downtown Maha Bandoola Park including members of the opposition Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), Buddhist monks, and others who called themselves “supporters of the army’s just war.”

Activists said that the rally would undermine the trust of ethnic minorities in the government and damage the peace process.

“This rally contributes nothing to the peace process,” said Kwe Htoo Win, general secretary of the Karen National Union (KNU). “Rather than supporting the war, I think it is better to support no war.”

Government forces have recently clashed with ethnic armed groups in Kachin and Shan states, including the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), and the Arakan Army (AA).

Observers noticed irregularities in ethnic marchers’ traditional dress and speculated that they did not join the rally of their own volition but were paid by the rally organizer.

“The organizer and the marchers will know if they are real ethnic persons or not,” Sai Hsaing Lin of the All Burma Shan Youth Network told The Irrawaddy. “Visually, they looked weird—especially the way they wore their ethnic traditional dress. They were dressed wrong, and it was quite obvious. Personally, I think their attendance was fake.”

The Kachin Youth Organization (Shan State) also released a statement on Sunday, strongly condemning the marchers in ethnic traditional dress and calling their clothing misleading.

Ex-lawmaker U Hla Swe of USDP, who took part in the rally, admitted that attendees in traditional ethnic dress may not have been genuine ethnic representatives.

“I have no idea why they wore Shan, Kachin, and Mon traditional dress,” said U Hla Swe, “and I don’t know who asked them to do so. I did not check their national IDs to see if they were real ethnic persons. But, I am sure they are all Bamars.”

Demonstrators were also criticized for using Burma’s independence hero and Burma Army founder Gen Aung San’s picture alongside the current military chief Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing.

“Gen Aung San only fought against the British [for independence], not the ethnic people of Burma,” said one online user.

U Hla Swe defended the rally and said it “was not intended to support war, but to support the army that could stop the war.”

“Some people will criticize us. They’ll say we are pro-war. But in fact, we are not. No one understands war as much as soldiers do, so soldiers are the people who hate war the most,” added U Hla Swe. “But if a war happens, we won’t give up.”

Civil society groups also condemned a vote by the Shan State parliament in December that approved labeling the four ethnic armed groups of the Northern Alliance—the KIA, TNLA, MNDAA, and AA—as “terrorist organizations.” That vote was proposed by a lawmaker from the USDP.

“Civil war has lasted almost 70 years and I can’t understand why the Burma Army is still sticking to military means. As long as they keep the attitude of ‘You are rebels, and we are the heroes,’ then the federal union, the aspiration of the Burmese people, will remain a dream,” said Sai Hsaing Lin.

Tensions have mounted between the Burma Army and ethnic armed groups since the intensified Shan State conflict began on Nov. 20. The Burma Army is currently targeting KIA military positions near the Kachin Independence Organization headquarters in Laiza, Kachin State and attacking with air strikes, the KIA claimed.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.