Thousands Enjoy Burma’s First Peace Festival

Lawi Weng The Irrawaddy

RANGOON — Burma held its first ever peace festival this weekend and several thousand people enjoyed two nights of dance and songs at Rangoon’s Thuwana National Stadium, while performers called for an end to the country’s ethnic conflicts.

Popular rock bands such as Iron Cross and Burmese comedian group Thee Lay Thee entertained large crowds at the event, which was organized by political activist and comedian Zarganar and the government-affiliated Myanmar Peace Center (MPC). The government’s chief peace negotiator Minister Aung Min also attended the festival’s opening on Saturday night.

“Let’s sing for peace because our country needs peace, we all need peace,” Iron Cross singer Lay Phyu shouted during his performance, while asking the crowd to sing along with his message. “Thank you, the audience, who came to support this performance despite the heavy rain,” he added.

“All of us should follow the guidelines of the general in order to build peace in the country,” said Godzilla, a comedian with Thee Lay Thee. “Who do you mean, General Than Shwe?” asked his fellow entertainer Then Zee Thee. Godzilla replied: “No, I mean General Aung San.”

Independence hero Gen Aung San signed the 1947 Panlong Agreement with ethnic groups. It could have brought peace to Burma if he had not been killed the same year. Than Shwe was Burma’s leader under the previous military government.

Hundreds of people among the crowd displayed peace messages on t-shirts, on banners or had peace slogans painted on their faces. The foods and traditional clothing of Burma’s various ethnic minorities were on display and a video message by President Thein Sein was shown to the audience.

“Without peace, there cannot be democracy. This is why in order to develop democracy, there needs to be peace. All citizens, including ethnic peoples, belong to this country. We all need to protect our country for the sake of democracy,” said the president.

The international community has praised Thein Sein’s nominally civilian government after it signed ceasefire agreements with 10 out of 11 main ethnic armed groups in Burma in the past year. His government has repeatedly announced that it would host a nationwide peace conference soon, although no date has been set.

Rebel groups in Kachin, Shan, Karen states and other regions have been fighting Burma’s central government for decades in order to gain greater political autonomy and better protection of their rights.

MPC official Aung Naing Oo told The Irrawaddy that the festival would promote public participation in the peace process and provide a boost to the efforts.

“It is important to gain momentum in working for the peace process. For peace, it is important to have participation of all people in the country. This is why we wanted musicians to campaign for this and hold this performance,” he said.Proceeds of the ticket sales will go towards helping those affected by Burma’s internal conflicts, while about US$85,000 was raised through private donations.