Karenni Activists Demand Meeting With Suu Kyi to Raise Issues Over Statues and Land During Visit

By Zaw Zaw Htwe 10 January 2020

Yangon – Ethnic Karenni representatives who opposed the erection of a statue of Gen. Aung San hope to meet State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi during her visit to Kayah State next Wednesday.

Strikes and protests were held in opposition to the statue, which was erected last February. The police used rubber bullets against protesters, some of whom were jailed.

Six activists were given six-month prison terms for calling the state’s chief minister and another minister “political criminals”, enemies of ethnic unity and traitors to the Karenni people.

Kayah State’s environment minister Tee Reh told The Irrawaddy that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi would be attending the 68th Kayah State Day celebrations on Jan. 15.

She is due to deliver the opening speech at the ceremony and meet residents at the state hall.

The State Counselor is due to leave in the afternoon after planting a cherry tree, Tee Reh said.

The minister said around 2,000 people could be seated inside the hall.

Karenni activists told The Irrawaddy that they want to tell the State Counselor about their anger over the statue, farmland seizures, military lawsuits and controversies surrounding industrial projects in the state.

The Union of Karenni State Youth (UKSY) joint secretary Khun Thomas, who was jailed for criticizing the chief minister, said they were planning to send a letter asking Daw Aung San Suu Kyi to meet Kayah representatives.

“We will let the State Counselor know the issues we are suffering from. We also want to clarify the real situation over the Gen. Aung San statue,” said Khun Thomas.

However, he said they had limited hopes for the visit, which they saw as part of the 2020 general election campaign.

The UKSY this week called on the military to return confiscated farmland and drop all charges against 41 farmers in two Kayah townships.

The military sued the farmers in two Kayah townships for allegedly trespassing and farming on military-owned land.

The farmers have been sued under Articles 447 and 427 of the Penal Code for trespassing and causing damage, and separately for breaking military fences under the Public Property Protection Act. The farmers say they have used the land for 50 years.

The UKSY also called for the removal of the Gen. Aung San statue from Loikaw.

The group asked the Union government to take responsibility for the conflict between its military and ethnic armed groups.

Dee De of the Karenni State Farmer Union, who was among the six Karenni jailed activists, said they wanted to meet the State Counselor to ask for the return of confiscated farmland.

He said they also wanted to report issues with investment projects that were endangering the environment and had been approved by the state government without the public’s consent.

Last year, President U Win Myint attended the Kayah State Day celebration and said he was working to create opportunities within the state.

He promised even development across the country without discriminating against any state or region.

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