Shan community leaders are collecting signatures in support of their call for the return of land that once housed a Shan palace in Kengtung, and plan to submit the petition to Myanmar President U Win Myint, according to local sources. Their goal is to eventually have the palace rebuilt on the site, which currently houses a hotel.
Over 250 Shan community leaders gathered at a Buddhist monastery on Aug. 3 to discuss the first step in their plan to secure the return of the land that once housed the Haw Long Palace.
Sai Sam Tip Surr, a spokesperson for the Shan State Heritage Restoration Committee (SSHRC), told The Irrawaddy, “We held a meeting at a Buddhist monastery. This was the third meeting of community leaders to discuss this project.”
“Our Shan heritage is important. We used to have our own kingdom; it is part of our historical legacy. But they [the Myanmar military, or Tatmadaw] have destroyed our heritage,” he said.
“To get back the palace land is very important to us, so we can show the world that we Shan used to have a kingdom, and ruled ourselves. Our goals aren’t political; we want to preserve our heritage,” he said.
He said the project has been in the planning stage for two years, and faces many challenges. However, the initiative received a strong boost when three descendants of Shan princes agreed to cooperate.
Haw Long Palace was destroyed by Tatmadaw bombing under the military regime in November 1991, according to local Shan. While no one dared raise the issue during the former regime, under the current civilian government ethnic Shan are voicing their desire to see the palace restored.
“Burmans have tried to revive their royal heritage. We Shan also want to rebuild our palace,” Sai Sam Tip Surr said.
U Tin Oo, the co-founder of the ruling National League for Democracy, promised before the party came to power that the Shan would be allowed to rebuild the palace if the NLD ever formed a government, according to Sai Sam Tip Surr.
“He told us that his NLD government would let the Shan rebuild the former palace,” he said, adding that it was time for the government to keep its promise.
A hotel currently stands on the site of the palace.
When Daw Aung San Suu Kyi visited Kengtung in February, SSHRC officials told her about their plan for the project. She advised them to propose it to the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism.
Various Shan sawbwa (princes) ruled Kengtung over the course of Shan history. Some of their descendents still live in Shan State, though some moved to Thailand and other countries when Myanmar was ruled by the military, which repressed them.
After the dictator Ne Win staged a military coup in 1962, he detained members of the Shan princely families. Sao Sai Long was the last Shan prince of Kengtung, ruling from 1937–1959. He and his three brothers and nephew were jailed for seven years in Yangon’s notorious Insein Prison.
Haw Long Palace was built in 1906. Each Shan family donated 1 kyat to fund its construction. Therefore, Shan believe, the heritage site belongs to the people.
The SSHRC is continuing to collect signatures from local Shan for submission to the Union President. “We will try to get as many signatures as we can,” Sai Sam Tip Surr said.
The signature collection is just the first step in the process, he said. The next step will be to rebuild the palace itself.
“We are thinking of asking for help from overseas Shan who live in exile, and we will even ask the UN to help rebuild the palace,” he said.
If the NLD-led government really values national reconciliation with ethnic Shan, he said, it should give the land back to the Shan people.
“The hotel does not have much value to the government. They could move the hotel, and give the land back to us,” he said.
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