NRPC, Karenni Rights Groups Still Struggle to Resolve Aung San Statue Debate

By Lawi Weng 7 May 2019

While some major headway was made, local rights activists and members of the National Reconciliation and Peace Centre (NRPC) remained unable to reach final agreement at a meeting on Tuesday over a controversial statue of Gen. Aung San in the town in Loikaw, the Karenni State capital, according to activists that attended the meeting.

Ultimately, the state government said that they would remove the statue, but asked for more time to work out the details, according to Khun Thomas, another leader among the activist group present at the meeting.

“The chief minister said at the meeting that he will try to find land to resettle the statue,” said Khun Thomas.

Dee De, a leading local rights activist who participated in the meeting, said both sides agreed to form a committee to continue negotiating the statue’s future.

The eight-member committee will include one government representative; two lawmakers, one from the upper and one from the lower house; two religious leaders; two political party representatives; and one lawyer.

“Both sides agreed to form the committee,” Dee De said.

Both sides also agreed to a finalized timeframe for negotiations, with another meeting on May 14 and, if needed, a final meeting on May 31, he said. According to Khun Thomas, the next meeting will focus on the statue’s relocation.

The meeting almost ended halfway through when local rights activists threatened to stop participating in the face of state government recalcitrance, but the two sides eventually agreed on the formation of the new joint committee to continue negotiations.

The Karenni have their own history their own ethnic leaders, they say, so they don’t need the statue of Gen. Aung San, which they feel is a symbol of the dominant roles the interests and identity of the Burmese majority plays in the country, to the disadvantage of ethnic minorities. To them, it’s also a symbol of what they see as the yet-unfulfilled promises made by the assassinated general and the Panglong Agreement of 1947.

The activists condemned Kayah State Chief Minister L Phaung Sho and his government for the building of the statue, but the state government denies involvement, insisting the statue was built by an independent group.

People in Kayah State held a large protest in February asking for the statue to be taken down but the state government refused, offering instead to broker negotiations between rights activists and a pro-statue group. When those negotiations broke down, the NRPC became involved.

Today’s was the NRPC’s second meeting. The first was held in March, where the two sides were unable to reach an agreement.

“They told us that the statue of Gen. Aung San has a unifying spirit — that he was a national hero, an architect of the country’s independence, so they could not let us remove it,” Dee De said.

“Our revolution has not ended yet. I want to inform our people to cooperate with us to fight for our rights,” he added. “We’re the only people that can work for our history and our national issue.”

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