Respected Mon Leader Nai Rotsa Dead at 67

By Lawi Weng 17 June 2013

Nai Rotsa, the joint chairman of the New Mon State Party (NMSP) and a key architect of the ethnic rebel group’s landmark ceasefire agreement with the government, passed away on Saturday evening at the age of 67.

He is survived by his wife Mi Tanaing Bloi, four daughters and one son.

His father Nai Maung Maung and mother Mi Paw Sein raised Nai Rotsa in the village of Kawpehtaw, in Mudon Township. He was one of five children born into the farming family, but a political calling would see him leave that life behind to one day take the reins of one of the armed ethnic groups fighting for self-determination in Burma.

Nai Rotsa joined the NMSP in 1970 and became a member of its central committee in 1971. In 1975, he was appointed as a party executive and by 2003, he was NMSP’s deputy joint chairman. He ascended to the joint chairmanship in 2006.

Nai Rotsa succumbed to cancer over the weekend, passing away at a Thai hospital in Kanchanaburi Province about a month after receiving treatment in Bangkok.

News of his passing brought grief to colleagues and many others who regarded the leader as a capable representative of the Mon people’s aspirations.

Nai Tala Nyi, who is a member of the NMSP executive committee, told The Irrawaddy that the party was honoring Nai Rotsa with a funeral ceremony that began on Sunday and will conclude on Friday. The ceremony is being held in the village of Palanjapan, near Three Pagodas Pass on the Thai-Burmese border.

“It is sad for all of our Mon and for our party as well,” Nai Tala Nyi said. “He was a good leader for all of us.”

Tall and slender, Nai Rotsa led an ordinary life, colleagues said, never elevating himself above the average person. In carrying out party duties and when traveling, he refused to have body guards accompany him for his safety. He would marry Mi Tanaing Bloi, who was a soldier in the Mon National Liberation Army (MNLA) at the time.

He was a leading voice during the NMSP’s peace talks with the government, which saw the signing of a ceasefire agreement between the two sides in February 2012.

Respected for his sharp insight and diplomatic approach to difficult matters, the NMSP chairman built alliances with friend and party foe alike. Nai Rotsa came to believe that armed struggle was only one way to fight for the rights of the ethnic Mon people, according to Nai Tin Hla, who used to be his personal assistance.

“When we first met the Burmese government for peace talks, he taught us how to guess character, read [negotiators’] intentions, and told us to listen to them speak first, and then come back at them with our desires when we talk,” Nai Tin Hla recalled.

“He told us that after listening carefully to what they had to say, we could talk and seek what we wanted.”

Nai Tin Hla, who is also a former NMSP central committee member, described him as “the type of leader who could speak smoothly and take what he wanted to get, but he never showed his anger to others.”

He was a man who once believed in armed struggle to win self-determination for the Mon people, according to Nai Tin Hla. But when party discussions turned to a possible ceasefire deal, he urged soldiers to give dialogue a chance.

“I believed in armed struggle,” Nai Tin Hla quoted the NMSP chairman as saying. “But, let’s talk to them [the government] first, as it offered opportunity. In the theory of revolution, if we do not need to have bloodshed to get our rights, this will be great. But, if we do not get our rights from the peace talks, let’s take up our armed struggle again to fight for our rights.”

Nai Rotsa was a leader who faced little opposition from within his party, Nai Tin Hla said, a deft negotiator of both the internal and external politics that came with his leadership post.

“He would tell funny jokes sometimes when we had meetings. His jokes would make people laugh and this helped dissipate any anger toward him during meetings,” Nai Tin Hla said. “It was his talent.

“I wanted to cry when I heard about his death because I had a lot of respect for his leadership role and he was my close friend. Without him, our Mon have lost many things, especially in politics,” Nai Tin Hla added.

Soldiers would often visit his home and were happily received by the Mon leader, who dispensed advice and addressed problems as best he could.

The NMSP signed a ceasefire with the government on Feb. 1, 2012, but has called for greater political dialogue since then. On Saturday, those calls lost an influential voice.