The Irrawaddy

Karenni State Puts Hold on Aung San Statue to Gauge Public Opinion

YANGON — The Karenni State government has postponed controversial plans to erect a statue of independence hero General Aung San in the state capital, Loikaw, following a local protest against the project.

During a meeting with opponents of the statue on Saturday, the state’s chief minister, L Phaung Sho, said he had discussed the plan with ward and township administrators, municipal officials and the committee on ethnic culture. He defended the project but acknowledged that some officials failed to do enough to gauge public opinion.

The meeting, which came three days after the protest, was also attended by lawmakers, political party officials, local administrators and ethnic armed groups.

Most representatives from the youth groups, armed groups and parties — even an NLD lawmaker — urged the state government to hold off on erecting the statue and halt construction until it gathered more feedback from the public. Most ward administrators, however, were in favor of going ahead with the project.

The state government had planned to unveil the statue on July 19 to mark Martyr’s Day, which commemorates the anniversary of the assassination of Gen Aung San and his cabinet members.

L Phaung Sho said another meeting would be held on July 20 and that a final decision would be made on the 30th.

“There is no project or plan that receives 100 percent approval. But if the majority supports it, the government will implement it,” he said.

The chief minister instructed administrators to find out how much support there was for the statue in their wards and townships and report back to him by the 30th.

“Depending on the public opinion, on July 30 we will decide the date to continue the project,” he said.

L Phaung Sho also vowed to honor the rights of ethnic minorities.

“If ethnic minorities want to put up a statue of ethnic minority leader, establish a committee for that and present the plans to me. I will accept it and allow it,” he said.

Youth group representatives at Saturday’s meeting also asked the government to withdraw lawsuits against 11 people being prosecuted for distributing pamphlets last month critical of the statue project. But the chief minister said the cases would proceed.

Khun Thomas, from the Kayan New Generation Youth group, who attended the meeting, said he did not trust the ward and township officials to conduct an honest opinion poll or report the results accurately because most of them had already expressed their support for the statue.

He said youth groups would mount their own petition drive across the state seeking additional support to oppose the statue this week.