Gov’t Compromises for Aung San Statue Rejected by Activists

By Lawi Weng 21 March 2019

At a meeting held between the government and rights activists who have been fighting against the installing of a bronze statue of Gen. Aung San, the Karenni Chief Minister L Phaung Sho proposed two points of compromise as possible solutions to the activists’ dispute. However, the rights activists refused the points of compromise at the meeting which was held in the Karenni capital of Loikaw on Wednesday.

The statute of Gen. Aung San, father of State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and often named Myanmar’s father of independence was installed at a park in Loikaw despite the protests of local rights activists who went on to stage a number of sit-ins in Loikaw, leading to the arrest and detention of scores young activists earlier this year.

One of the proposed compromises suggested by Chief Minister L Phaung Sho was that the text of the Panglong Agreement, a historically important agreement declaring autonomy for a number of ethnic areas, be placed below the statue. The second point was that the government would allow the local rights activists to install a statue of their own respected ethnic leader near the Gen. Aung San statue.

Khun Thomas, spokesperson for the rights activists, said his group could not accept the two points, and that they are sticking to their demands for the statue to be removed.

“We cannot accept their two points. Therefore, as we mentioned in our statement, the result of the meeting was not good,” said Khun Thomas.

Eight people representing the government, including Chief Minister L Phaung Sho, the Karenni Deputy Planning and Finance Minister U Maw Maw and a number of members of the National Reconciliation and Peace Center (NRPC) attended the meeting. Five people from the working committee responsible for the statue were also in attendance. Sevens right activists and four members of the Karenni National Progressive Party also attended while two lawmakers were present as witnesses.

At the meeting, Chief Minister L Phaung Sho argued that Gen. Aung San is national hero and that many people in the country respect him. However, sticking to the line they have repeatedly argued in the case of the statue, the activists responded that the problem is not with building the statue, but rather that the Karenni people have their own history which they feel is being ignored.

At the meeting, Deputy Planning and Finance Minister U Maw Maw who has denied accusations of his involvement in the statue plan, was seen in photos projected by the activists playing a part in bringing statue to the park where it is located in Loikaw.

U Zaw Htay, spokesperson of the Myanmar President’s Office, attended the meeting as a representative of the NRPC. He said his presence at the meeting showed that the Union government was ready to negotiate for a solution to the problem. He emphasized that the government did not want to have further problems in the statue case and that they are eager to find a solution soon.

The activists proposed at the meeting that the government remove the statue and suggested that it could instead be erected at the local NLD office in Loikaw.

“They did not say whether they agreed with our proposal or not, but they explained why it is impossible to approve it,” said Khun Thomas.

The right activists agreed to have one more meeting next month, from which they expect some good results will come.

“For us, we will deal with this problem peacefully. We wanted our region to have stability. They told us that the last meeting will be in April, and that some good results would come from it. That’s why we agreed to have another meeting with them, said Khun Thomas.

“If we cannot get any agreeable answer from Union level, this could be our last [peaceful] effort. We have done what we should do and we will continue to fight for [the removal of the statue],” he said.