Ethnic Pa-O Forced to Participate in Pro-Military Rally

By Lawi Weng 15 November 2018

Hundreds of ethnic Pa-O were forced to join a pro-military rally in Taunggyi, the capital of Shan State on Wednesday according to a number of community leaders.

Khun Soe Myint, general secretary of the United National Pa-O Organization told The Irrawaddy on Thursday that many members of the ethnic Pa-O community living close to Taunggyi live in fear under the control of the authorities and had no choice but to join the rally.

“Those who attended the pro-military rally were ethnic Pa-O but they don’t represent the entire Pa-O ethnicity,” he said.

There are two types of authorities controlling Pa-O areas in Myanmar—some areas are run by government-appointed village leaders while others are under the authority of village leaders appointed by the PNO.  The PNO was originally an armed group serving as a local militia until it signed a ceasefire with the Myanmar government in 1991.

Khun Soe Myint said that government authorities involved in the rally forced local Pa-O people to join it.

He said that his party is still investigating whether the rally participants—many of whom came from southern parts of Taunggyi Township—were paid to join the event.

Saw Khun Kyaw Win, a member of the Pa-O National Organization (PNO)’s central executive committee, denied that his party was involved in the rally or that it forced local Pa-O people to join it.

He said that the government group Social Networking and National Security Centre (SNNS) did not contact his party for help with the rally this time. SNNS did, however, ask them for assistance for a previous pro-military rally.

“As a political party, we did not have any cooperation with them. However, it is our principle to accept the Tatmadaw (Myanmar army) as protectors of the country. But our Pa-O people did not need to join the rally,” he said.

While denying the PNO’s involvement in the rally, Saw Khun Kyaw Win couldn’t confirm whether other local militias were involved.

He said that the authorities were involved in forcing local people to join the rally: “Our ethnic people were used. [The authorities] used them.”

For a previous pro-military rally in Taunggyi, SNNS members came to meet the PNO asking for cooperation in the rally, but he said that despite his party agreeing to cooperate, members did not ultimately get involved in it.

Khun Myo, director of Kaung Ywai Youth in Taunggyi, said authorities sometimes threatened to kick people out of the village if they refused to join the rally.  At least one person from each house was required to attend it.

“Some local people did not know exactly what they were going to the town for. They understood they were going for a meeting only but they joined the rally when they got into the town of Taunggyi,” said Khun Myo.

Pro-military rallies have been held three times in Taunggyi already and the authorities acted similarly each time, he said.

He said that the local people are worried that other ethnic groups will hate the Pa-O people for their participation in the military rally.

Despite some residents and political group in Taunggyi asking the government not to go ahead with the pro-military rally, the event proceeded as planned on Wednesday starting at noon in the center of Taunggyi and ending at 4pm. Hundreds of ethnic Pa-O showed up to the rally wearing their traditional clothing.

Residents said the rally would cause disturbances to the large number of visitors flocking to Taunggyi this week for the major annual Tazaungdaing hot air balloon festival.