The Irrawaddy

Karen Leader Remembered 10 Years after Assassination

Friends and relatives commemorate the 10th anniversary of the assassination of Padoh Mahn Sha Lah Phan at Taw Kyaung Village, in Pantanaw Township, Ayeyarwaddy Region, on Feb. 24, 2018. 

YANGON — Family and friends of late Karen leader Padoh Mahn Sha Lah Phan commemorated the 10th anniversary of his assassination with ceremonies at his birthplace and on the Thai border on Wednesday.

On Feb. 14, 2008, Karen National Union general secretary Padoh Mahn Sha Lah Phan, 65, was assassinated by gunmen at his home in the Thai border town of Mae Sot. No one has yet been brought to justice for the killing.

The outspoken KNU leader was well respected not only by the Karen people, but also by Barmar political activists for the broad-minded leadership he provided to the democracy movement.

As he does every year, Padoh Mahn Sha Lah Phan’s adopted son Saw Say Say led Wednesday’s memorial service at the slain leader’s burial site near the border.

In Padoh Mahn Sha Lah’s birthplace in Taw Kyaung village of Ayeyarwaddy Region’s Pantanaw Township, relatives and friends gathered for a memorial service, sharing their thoughts and prayers and laying wreaths in front of a statue of him unveiled last year.

Mahn Tin Shwe, Mahn Sha Lah Phan’s elder brother, said his brother was “regarded as an enemy and thus killed by military people as he was a firm leader who thought not only about the Karen, but all of the country’s ethnic groups.”

For more than 40 years starting in 1967 Padoh Mahn Sha Lah Phan devoted his life to fighting dictatorship and for equality, his brother recalled, adding that poverty had not prevented him from getting an education and becoming a leader.

“For there to be real justice, the Burmese military officer who ordered the assassination of my father should be put on trial,” said Nant Zoya Phan, the daughter of Padoh Mahn Sha Lah Phan.

She told The Irrawaddy that, “One thing which inspires me about my father was how he focused on our country having a positive future. He knew he would not see that for himself, but he wanted the next generation to have peace and to have rights. He wanted us to have the chance to makes things better, not just struggling to survive.”

“If he were alive today, he would have contributed more to the peace process including the 21st-Century Panglong peace effort,” said Mahn Tin Shwe, reflecting the view that Padoh Mahn Sha Lah was a good leader who could mobilize both within the Karen community and the broader ethnic alliance.

“While I am still alive, I want to meet my nieces and nephews to share with them details about their father, about his spirit, and to tell them to follow his  path,” Mahn Tin Shwe said, because the children of the late Karen leader are subject to a visa ban.

In 2008, shortly after his death, Padoh Mahn Sha Lah’s children founded the Phan Foundation, which honors young Karen with the Padoh Mahn Sha Young Leader Award annually. The awardee for 2017 will be announced in few days, according to Nant Zoya Phan.