Talks Between Karenni State Govt, Youth Activists ‘Collapse’

Youth activists walk out of a meeting after the state’s chief minister announced the govt would not remove a controversial statue of Gen Aung San.


Wednesday, May 15, 2019

A Tuesday meeting between the Karenni State government and Karenni youth activists ended abruptly after the state’s chief minister said that his administration could not remove a controversial copper statue of Gen Aung San in the state capital of Loikaw.

After the announcement, the youth activists, who were representing the Union of Karenni State Youth (UKSY), walked out of the meeting.

“It’s true. The meeting collapsed today,” UKSY member Khun Thomas told NMG. “Both parties agreed to discuss the copper statue. The chief minister said in his opening speech that they could not remove the statue… and the Kayah state government would protect the statue,” he added, describing the statement as “careless.”

The Karenni State government and the UKSY had agreed in a May 7 meeting to form a coordination committee regarding the removal of the statue of the late ethnic Bamar general. Karenni youth protested the statue in February, saying that it should not have been erected until Aung San’s historic promises of equality and federalism have been realized for the country’s ethnic nationalities, who continue to be marginalized and oppressed.

Khun Thomas said that leaders and “respected people” witnessed the May 7 meeting in which the committee was formed. In Chief Minister El Phoung Sho’s statement on Tuesday, Khun Thomas said that the state government was “not respecting” those people’s presence and stances.

Meeting participants told NMG that the chief minister’s Tuesday statement declared it was the state’s responsibility to protect commemoration related to Gen Aung San.

Youth responded that they would not continue to participate in discussions as long as the government took this stance. They released a statement declaring that by “breaking the May 7 agreement,” the Karenni State government must “take responsibility” for anything that happens to the statue in the future.

Karenni State parliamentarian Thae Reh—who was also a member of the coordination committee for the statue’s removal—told NMG that the state government’s refusal to remove the statue could lead to negative consequences.

“[The chief minister] already agreed to discuss the removal of the statue in the last meeting, but he changed his mind… I am so upset about it,” he explained. “I feel like they are not paying respect to meeting witnesses, including me. The situation will be eased if they agree to remove this statue from the public area,” Thae Reh said, adding that the youth demands “are based on history.”

NMG called Karenni State chief minister El Phoung Sho and secretary Nyi Nyi Min for comment but, by the time of reporting, had not received a response.

According to locals, the police force has been deployed to in Kantaheywon Park in Loikaw, where the statue of Gen Aung San has been placed.

“Security forces have been deployed in the park since yesterday night. They made fences with barbed wire in the park. Police are also patrolling the park,” a local told NMG.

According to the recent UKSY statement, the 12-member boycott committee has been dissolved.

“It’s less effective because only the boycott committee is trying,” the UKSY’s Khun Thomas said. This is Karenni State and Karenni history. The strength of a mass of Karenni people is so essential. UKSY will continue to exist. We will continue to work to remove this statue.”

According to Khun Thomas, UKSY will announce their course of action at a later date, noting that it would not include violence.

“We will follow the desire of the people,” he said.