YANGON — Ethnic Karenni youth activists, who are against the Karenni State government’s plan to erect a statue of late independence hero General Aung San in the state capital Loikaw, said on Tuesday that they would halt their protests considering the possible divide between locals over the statue.
Those in opposition to the statue held a press conference on Tuesday at The Orchid Hotel in Yangon, saying they decided to halt their protests because the Karenni State chief minister had disbanded the government committee and asked community-based organizations to take the lead role in proceeding with the plan to erect the statue.
Karenni State Chief Minister L Phaung Sho said at a press conference at the state government office on Monday that a new statue committee would be established by community-based organizations, with the state government playing an assistance role.
“We view it as sowing discord between supporters and opponents of the statue. He [L Phaung Sho] is mainly responsible for this. He shifted the responsibility when problems arose, which might provoke confrontation between local residents,” said Naw Phaw Wah, one of the opponents of the statue.
“We’ll continue our protest if they proceed with the statue. But, we will avoid confrontation with the people. Meanwhile, we will cease our activities. And those who are sued will just focus on facing trial,” she added.
The government has sued 23 ethnic Karenni youth activists in connection with their protests against the statue and for distributing pamphlets that explained the history of Karenni State.
Twelve were sued under Article 505 (b) and (c) of the Penal Code for defaming the government and the rest under Articles 19 and 20 of the Peaceful Assembly Law for organizing the protest.
The state chief minister announced on June 12 the plan to put up a bronze statue of Gen Aung San, which would cost some 80 million kyats and be built with funds from the state government. The state government had planned to unveil the statue on July 19 to mark Martyrs’ Day, which commemorates the anniversary of the assassination of Gen Aung San and his cabinet members.
About 1,000 local Karenni people marched against the project in Loikaw on July 3. The demonstration turned violent after police blocked the marchers’ path to the park where the statue is to be erected.
The state government met opponents of the statue on July 7 and said that the timetable for erecting the statue of Gen Aung San would be postponed to allow time to gauge public opinion.
The chief minister met officials of local political parties, the ethnic culture and literature committee, and civil society organizations on July 16 and warned that he would call in troops to quell demonstrations.
But on Monday evening, the military released a statement saying that under the country’s Constitution, chief ministers of states and regions have no authority to order military intervention in case of emergency.
While ethnicities are still being denied equality and self-determination, the government’s plan to erect a Gen Aung San statue in Loikaw despite the objection of local Karenni people is a blatant attempt to wield racial influence over ethnicities, said Naw Paw Wah.
Ko Oattra Aung, a central committee member of the Union of Karenni State Youth, also questioned if the community-based organizations to be tasked with commissioning the statue will really represent local ethnic people who have lived in the state for generations.
“The problem with the Gen Aung San statue is that it is very dangerous for ethnic politics,” he said, adding that it is the state chief minister and the statue that are destabilizing Karenni State.
Karenni youth launched a petition campaign against the statue and collected around 40,000 signatures from July 12 to July 19.
Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.