Military Blocks 2nd Attempt to Erect Statue of Late Karen Leader

By Lawi Weng 5 February 2018

YANGON — The Myanmar army has blocked a second attempt by the Karen National Union (KNU) to erect a statue of its late founder and leader Saw Ba U Gyi at its liaison office in Kyar Inn Seik Gyi Township’s Win Yaw town, in southern Karen State, according to a KNU member.

The KNU transported the statue from the town of Three Pagodas Pass, where government soldiers blocked the group’s first attempt to set it up in December, to its liaison office on Saturday, only to have soldiers stop it again.

“The army blocked us from erecting it. They should not do that because they often say they want to have unity with ethnic people, to have harmony with ethnic people. But look at their bad actions.” Win Yaw town chairman Saw Maung Shwe, a KNU member, told The Irrawaddy on Monday.

Many ethnic Karen followed the statue’s journey to the office and performed traditional dances at a ceremony to celebrate its arrival but were left disappointed by the military’s refusal to let them erect it.

In a video posted to the Karen Land Facebook page of a meeting on Saturday between KNU leaders and General Tun Tun San, tactical commander of the Myanmar army’s Southeast Regional Command, the general says the KNU needs to negotiate with the government before erecting the statue, as per the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement it signed in 2015.

Saw Maung Shwe said the KNU has to store the statue in the jungle and out of sight for the time being.

“This is the history and heritage of the ethnic Karen people, but they do not let us express it. How can they build unity with the country’s ethnic people by acting this way?” he said.

The Myanmar army first prevented the KNU from erecting the statue of Saw Ba U Gyi, who died in 1950, in Three Pagodas Pass as part of the group’s plans to mark Karen New Year on Dec. 19.

In November the online Karen News wrote that the Myanmar army was opposed to the statue’s creation out of concern that it would inspire Karen youth to oppose the government.

Mann Aung Pyi Soe, vice chairman of the Phalon-Sawow Democratic Party, disagreed.

“This status is not to stage a revolution in the country. It is just for the Karen so they can pay respect to their national leader. They should not stop the Karen from doing it,” he said.

While the national government has branded Saw Ba U Gyi an enemy of the state, he added, to his people “he was a revolutionary who fought for equal rights for the ethnic Karen.”

Saw Closay, an ethnic Karen, said his people remember Saw Ba U Gyi as an intelligent and honest leader who sacrificed for the Karen’s ongoing struggle for self-determination. He said sidelining his statue would not extinguish his vision.

“Saw Ba U Gyi is our national hero as much as General Aung San is a national hero to Myanmar,” he said. “I have known about him since I was 10 years old. Most young Karen and well-read Kayin recognize him as a visionary leader.”