The Irrawaddy

Karenni Youth Groups Oppose Planned Statue of Gen Aung San in Downtown Loikaw

The chief minister of Karenni State said his government would push ahead with its plan to erect a large statue of Gen Aung San in the state capital of Loikaw despite opposition from some local ethnic people. Gen Aung San, who led the fight for national independence, was also the father of State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, whose National League for Democracy leads the current Union government.

Seven local youth groups sent an open letter to the state government on June 18, asking for the statue-building project to be reviewed and for current construction of a statue in front of the city hall in Loikaw to be halted.

L Phaung Sho, the chief minister of Karenni State, told The Irrawaddy that other ethnic-majority states had built statues of Gen Aung San and his government would install similar monuments.

“Gen Aung San was the father of independence in our country.  We want ethnic people to pay respect to him and to cooperate with the government in the building of the statues,” he said.

His office had not yet set a date yet for an official unveiling of the statue, for which the state has allotted a budget of 80 million kyats (US$58,000).

While Burmese people recognize Gen Aung San as a hero, ethnic people have their own historical figures who fought for their ethnic rights. As such, some ethnic groups do not want the current NLD government to build statues of Gen Aung San in their areas.

The NLD government has a policy to erect status of Gen Aung San in all states and divisions. Since the NLD came to power over two years ago, many statues have been built in ethnic states despite local opposition.

In their letter to the Karenni State government, the seven youth groups said they did not agree with the building of statues of Gen Aung San in their region.

Karenni State has a long history as an independent state and maintained a level of autonomy that was recognized by Britain during the colonial era. Gen Aung San visited Karenni State only once, in 1946, as part of a trip to encourage Karenni leaders to join an independent union.

It is not appropriate to erect statues of Gen Aung San in our state because he came here only one time,” said Khu Tu Reh, chairman of the Farmers Union in Karenni State.

He complained that the state government did not listen to the voices of the local people. “They just listen to their top leaders,” he said.

In their letter, the youth groups stated that if the government continued to wield its power in this fashion, opposition against the statue project would build.

The youth groups have also started a campaign to collect signatures against the project. Later, they plan to hold a protest, although they will wait first for a response from the state government to their open letter.

Meanwhile, construction of the foundation of the statues continues. When the base is finished, the government will install the statue, which is 15-feet high, according to the chief minister.

“There are well-known historical leaders in our Karenni State. But the government does not build statues of those leaders. Instead it is building statues of Gen Aung San,” said a statement from the Union of Karenni State Youth (UKYS).

“Our state has its own identity and our own respected leaders. We want to build statues of our (historical) leaders, but that requires ongoing negotiations with the authorities,” said Khun Bar N, a UKYS leader.

Locals feel they have lost political ground with the NLD government as a result of the statue-building project.

“We are worried that the statues will fuel tension among the local people. When we talk about a federal system, it implies equal rights. First, we need to build statues of our respected ethnic leaders, then statues of Gen Aung San can come second,” Khun Bar N said.