The Irrawaddy

Uniformed Peace Performers Upset Military

Performers in a public demonstration staged to support the 21st Panglong Peace Conference, Yangon, Jan. 27. (Photo: Thet Tun Naing / The Irrawaddy)

The Myanmar military, or Tatmadaw, strongly criticized the use of generic military uniforms at a performance held to support peace-building activities, as well as an accompanying speech by former student leader U Min Ko Naing in Yangon on Jan. 27.

The activities, which included a dramatic performance, singing and a football match, were organized by the 88 Generation Peace and Open Society, and intended to foster support for the government-sponsored 21st Panglong Peace Conference. Union parliamentary speaker U Win Myint and Yangon Region Chief Minister U Phyo Min Thein attended the event while U Win Myint relayed a peace message from State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

U Min Ko Naing, a leader of the 88 Generation Peace and Open Society, urged all military groups, including the Tatmadaw and the ethnic armed organizations, to boost their efforts to achieve peace quickly during his address to the crowd on Saturday.

At a performance illustrating the lack of peace in the country, the uniforms worn by the participants bore no insignia belonging to either the Tatmadaw or the rebel armed groups. The actors pointed guns at the civilians and children begged the soldiers for peace. The performance ended with both sides laying down their arms.

The Tatmadaw’s True News Information Team said in a statement on Sunday that such performances “undermined the Tatmadaw’s dignity” among the public as well as the international community at a time when its efforts are focused on implementing peace through the nationwide ceasefire agreement. In a post on the Commander-in-Chief’s Office’s Facebook account, it said the organizers did not seek permission from the Tatmadaw to impersonate soldiers and the uniforms did not conform to military regulations, while the arms were sub-standard.

U Jimmy, another leader of the 88 Generation Peace and Open Society, told The Irrawaddy on Monday that the aim of the performance was to encourage “stakeholders in the country to work in unison toward a successful peace-building process.”

“We believe peace can be achieved faster with meaningful public involvement as peace-building is directly related to the people,” he said.

The uniforms at the performance were just dark green military fatigues that showed neither ranks nor insignia, so the organizers believed they did not need to seek permission as the message was a general one about stopping fighting between the different armed groups.

“It is universal that armies wear such colored uniforms; as we did not refer to any specific armed forces, whom should we ask for permission?” U Jimmy said.

The Tatmadaw said U Min Ko Naing’s speech, in which he claimed every armed force uses child soldiers, neglected the Tatmadaw’s efforts to eradicate the use of child soldiers in its ranks since 2012. It said U Min Ko Naing’s use of the phrase “every armed force” could imply that the Tatmadaw was also guilty of conscripting child soldiers.

U Min Ko Naing said the key message of the performance was about soldiers laying down their arms to end the fighting and create peace, as he explained to DVB TV on Monday.

The 88 Generation Peace and Open Society has been doing public demonstrations in support of the government’s peace-building campaign for several years. It held such gatherings in Yangon and Tanintharyi last year, and plans to conduct more public performances around the country.