Karenni Activists Threaten to Destroy Aung San Statue as Talks Collapse

By Lawi Weng 18 February 2019

Karenni activists threatened to tear down a statue of General Aung San in Loikaw, Kayah State on Monday after negotiations with a committee overseeing the monument’s construction broke down, according to local sources.

Six representatives of a group that has been protesting the placement of the statue of the independence hero in a park in the city met with members of the Gen. Aung San Bronze Statue Implementation Committee on Monday, but the meeting came to an abrupt halt at around 11.30 a.m. when members of the Implementation Committee walked out.

The meeting was supposed to find a compromise solution to the conflict over the statue, which many in the Karenni community see as a symbol of the central government’s authority and an attempt to impose on them an official historical narrative. The Implementation Committee comprises members of local civil organizations that support the presence of a statue of Gen. Aung San in Loikaw.

Di Di, a spokesperson for the anti-statue group, said, “We discussed the background of the statue; we even told them why are protesting against it, but when we tried to discuss the future of the statue project, they left the meeting.”

He added, “They told us at the meeting that their involvement [in the project] was limited to bringing the statue to the town, and putting it up. So, their job was done. [They said] if we want to remove the statue, we need to negotiate with the government.”

According to a statement released by the activists, the meeting was canceled without any agreement being reached because the Implementation Committee did not want to take responsibility for the future of the statue, and its members walked out.

Implementation Committee member U Win Aung told The Irrawaddy on Monday that, “[The activists] focused their discussion solely on how they could remove the statue. For our part, we were the ones that built it. So, we could not accept their idea.”

He added that the pro-statue side had many supporters, as well.

“We walked out of the meeting as we did not believe it could produce any positive results,” he said.

U Win Aung said his team initially solicited donations to fund the project from local residents. The effort raised 20 million kyats (about US$13,000). However, this would not cover the cost of the statue, so the committee sought funding from the state government.

He said the state government donated 40 million kyats to the project.

“I wanted to tell to persons who oppose the project that Gen. Aung San was a respected leader both internationally and inside the country. Allowing the statue will be positive for our region,” U Win Aung said.

I call on them to stop protesting against the project, he said.

In light of the protesters’ threat, U Win Aung called on the state government to protect the statue, saying he and his committee had done what was asked of them by delivering the statue.

Saying negotiations had proved fruitless, local right activists vowed to launch another protest in the town soon. They renewed their call for the state government to remove the statue.

They said they would issue another statement soon to inform the public of their plans regarding the statue.

“If the government refuses to remove the statue, we will do it ourselves,” Di Di said.

“This is an important issue. The government needs to resolve it as soon as possible. But the government’s recent actions show a lack of responsibility. We feel that by their actions they are ignoring our voice, and even insulting us,” he said.