Rangoon Authorities Deny Permission for Ethnic National Day Celebrations

By Lawi Weng 12 February 2016

RANGOON — Rangoon Division authorities have prohibited events marking the respective national days of ethnic Karen and Chin, according to leaders from both communities.

In a statement issued on February 3, divisional authorities claimed that the organizations who had applied for permission to host the national day events—ethnic literature and culture associations—were illegal.

The letter was signed on behalf of the chief minister of Rangoon Division and sent to township authorities, as well as Karen and Chin literature and culture committees.

The Karen typically celebrate their national day annually on February 11, and the Chin on February 20.

“Today is our Karen national day, but we could not celebrate it,” said Saw Kyaw Zwa, a leader of the Karen Literature and Culture Committee, on Thursday.

The ban came as a shock, particularly since members of the Karen National Union (KNU), one of eight ethnic armed groups to sign a so-called nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA) with the government last year, had participated in the Karen National Day working committee in Rangoon. After decades of armed struggle, the signing of the NCA removed the KNU from Burma’s list of unlawful organizations in October.

“If one Karen minister had gone to apply for permission, we may have gotten it. But we did not do it properly, and I think that’s why [the government] did not give us permission,” he said.

“There were politics behind their reason for not giving permission,” the leader added.

Chin community leaders said they would still mark their 68th national day in Rangoon next week even though the Rangoon Division government had denied approval for their proposed events.

“It is hard to understand why they did not give permission. This was meaningless. We celebrate our national day every year,” said Salai Isaac Khen, who has acted as moderator for the Chin political parties and as an advisor to the Chin Literature and Culture Committee.

“Whatever they do, we will celebrate it,” he said.

Ethnic groups in Burma typically commemorate their national days by hosting traditional dance and music performances, presenting talks by political leaders, and reserving a venue in which people can meet and share in a celebration of their culture and history.