Karenni State Gov’t Disbands Committee for Gen. Aung San Statue

By San Yamin Aung 23 July 2018

YANGON — The Karenni State government has disbanded a committee tasked with commissioning a statue of General Aung San in the state capital Loikaw, following public objections to the plan. However, the plan to erect a statue of the national independence hero will proceed under the direction of non-state sector groups, the chief minister said.

The abolition of the committee follows a series of unsuccessful meetings to resolve objections to the plan attended by state officials and groups opposing the project. Prior the meetings, officials began legal proceedings against youth activists involved in local protests against the plan.

Chief Minister L Phaung Sho said at a press conference at the state government office on Monday that a new statue committee would be established by community-based organizations, with the state government playing an assistance role.

His comments on Monday represented something of a climb-down from his position at a meeting with opponents of the statue plan on July 16. At that meeting, the chief minister warned that if unrest against the plan continued to grow, he would order the military to stabilize the situation. The comments were reported on social media and drew heavy criticism.

It was agreed at the first meeting between the state government and opponents of the plan on July 7 that the timetable for erecting the statue of Gen. Aung San would be postponed to allow time to gauge public opinion. Yet, tension over the plan increased last week.

At a meeting on July 20, youth groups opposed to the statue project walked out after announcing they had no more trust in the state government and would no longer work with it.

The groups said that during the meetings, the state government only pushed to get support for the statue, rather than negotiating. They also cited its refusal to drop charges against the youth protesters.

Chief Minister L Phaung Sho said on Monday that those community-based organizations that did not walk out of the July 20 meeting had indicated a desire to form their own committee on putting up a statue, and the state government had agreed.

Asked by local media which organizations would be involved in the panel, the chief minister declined to answer and referred the question to the new committee.

A total of 23 youth activists are being sued under articles 19 and 20 of the Peaceful Assembly Law for organizing the protest on July 3. They also face a case of incitement under Article 505 (b) and (c) of the Penal Code for distributing pamphlets opposing the statue ahead of the protest.