MOULMEIN, Mon State — A petition of over 90,000 signatures protesting the naming of a bridge linking Chaungzon and Moulmein townships in Mon State after Burma’s independence hero Gen Aung San will be submitted to the President’s Office on Tuesday, as the divisional chief minister confirmed the bridge will officially open on May 9.
“We thought the government would open the bridge on May 1, so we planned to submit the petition last Thursday, but when they put up the bridge’s signboard up on Wednesday, we decided to submit the petition by May 2,” Min Aung Mon, spokesperson of the committee demanding the name change of the bridge, told The Irrawaddy.
Mon State Chief Minister Dr. Aye Zan told media on Tuesday an official opening ceremony for the bridge will be held next Tuesday and that Lower House Speaker U Win Myint and other speakers from Mon, Karen, Tennaserim and Bago Divisions will attend.
A committee was formed of local community elders, women’s groups, monks, youth leaders, human rights and political activists to protest the bridge’s name, which was approved by the Union Parliament’s Lower House in March.
The group launched the petition campaign in Mon and Karen states and Bago and Rangoon divisions on April 13, and originally garnered over 120,000 signatures before April 26.
“Most of them [signatories] believed we could get the name changed if we submitted the petition,” Min Aung Mon told The Irrawaddy.
“But as the signboard was put up on the evening of April 26, some got angry and burned their signed papers, saying that their signatures were useless. So, we have only just over 90,000 signatures left now,” he said.
When the Irrawaddy called the Union Ethnic Affairs Minister U Nai Thet Lwin to ask him about the petition, his personal officer quoted him as answering “sad, but no comment.”
The bridge cost 59 billion kyats (US$4.4 million) and is open to the public between 5 a.m. and 10 p.m. from April 27 to March 6 ahead of its official inauguration.
Ashin Waravumsa, the abbot of the village of Boenat on Belu Island who is also a member of the committee demanding the name change, told The Irrawaddy “the bridge saves us [Mon people] physical discomfort, but not mental disturbance.”
“Whenever we cross the bridge, we feel upset in our minds and hearts. We prefer the name Salween Bridge, Chaungzon which is an appropriate name for the region or Yamanya Bridge, which reflects Mon identity,” said the abbot.
The 5,203-foot bridge was built in Feb. 2015 and was originally given the name Salween Bridge, Chaungzon.
Mon State Chief Minister Dr. Aye Zan said the NLD government has already set a policy on naming bridges across the country. He explained that the policy has four categories depending on the length of bridges.
“The first category says the biggest and longest bridges will take Gen Aung San’s name while the medium bridges will be named in relation to the region they are located,” he said.
Campaigners at a meeting on Saturday accused the National League for Democracy (NLD) government of ignoring the voices of local ethnic people, saying the naming was contrary to the government’s federal Union rhetoric.
Dr. Aye Zan told reporters in early April that he did not want to “argue about the choice of words.”
This article was translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.