Mon Military Parade Will Go Forward, in Defiance of Burma Army

By Lawi Weng 7 February 2017

RANGOON — The New Mon State Party (NMSP) plans to defy an order from the Burma Army and will organize a parade of Mon armed forces on Feb. 12 in celebration of Mon National Day.

The Burma Army’s Col Win Naing Oo, who also acts as the Mon State government border affairs minister, sent a letter on Feb. 2 instructing the NMSP not to organize a military march in the NMSP-controlled areas near the Thailand-Burma border.

“We heard that you will organize a Mon National Day celebration near Three Pagodas Pass,” the letter said. “We are giving you a warning not to parade your armed forces at the celebration.”

The NMSP, which acts as the political wing of the Mon National Liberation Army (MNLA), said that it will ignore the warning.

“We will march our armed forces at the celebration, just as we did before. We will not listen to their order,” Nai Win Hla, an NMSP spokesperson and central committee member, told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday.

Nai Win Hla said the NMSP will draft a response letter to Col Win Naing Oo. This year’s anniversary will be the 70th Mon National Day, and it is expected that ethnic Mon people in Mon State, Rangoon, and around the world will celebrate.

“We will keep doing this as long as we can,” said Nai Win Hla. “We will not stop the parade.”

Tensions have run high between the Burma Army and the NMSP since November, when the Tatmadaw issued a warning about the NMSP violating certain aspects of its ceasefire agreement. The Burma Army claimed that MNLA soldiers were entering government-controlled territory without permission. But the MNLA said it was taking action to arrest ethnic Mon drug users and traffickers.

“We don’t take a salary from the Burma Army. We get our weapons from our Mon people. So why would we listen to their order?” said MNLA officer Zaw Latt.

This marks the first time that the Burma Army has tried to stop the Mon National Day military parade—an annual event—since the ethnic armed group signed a ceasefire agreement in 1995. The NMSP renewed the bilateral ceasefire agreement with the government in 2012.

However, the NMSP remains a non-signatory to the nationwide ceasefire agreement and has not been formally invited to attend the 21st Century Panglong Peace Conference, which is slated to start on Feb. 28 in Naypyidaw.

On Mon National Day, the ethnic Mon people typically hold parades, wear their traditional dress, and put on cultural dancing performances. Mon political leaders make speeches about Mon politics and history.

Mon National Day commemorates the establishment of the first Mon kingdom, Hongsawadee, in 573 AD. It is marked annually one day after the full moon in the lunar month of Thabodwe.