Volume VIII. No. II. March – April 2005
Chin Human Rights Organization
Human Rights Situations:
• Innocent Villager Shot to Death and Burned
• Innocent Chin Beaten to Death by Burmese Army
Forced Labor & Extortion
• Forced Labor Increases Hardship for Impoverished Villagers
• Local Army Chief Orders Forced Labor and Illegal Tax from Civilians
• Hundreds of Civilians Provided “Voluntary Labor” to Construct Road
• Extortion Intensified at Border Trade Route
• SPDC Unlawfully Destroyed House of Local Leader of National League for Democracy Party
• (RI) Malaysia: Chin Refugees on the Run
• Independence or Federalism? By Harn Yawngwe
• Shan Elder Declare Independence, Chin MP Speaks
• Panglong Agreement Vs Declaration of Shan Independence
By Salai Za Ceu Lian
Back Cover Poem:
• To Maung Lian: By Van Biak Thang
Innocent Chin Beaten to Death by Burmese Army
Chin Human Rights Organization
March 21, 2005
Pu Hmet Lian, telephone operator from Salen village in Thantlang township was beaten to death by the Burmese army on 18, March 2005.
Captain Aung Naing Oo and his troop based in Falam came to Salaen village on the night of March 18 to look for the village Administration Officer Tin Uk. At around midnight, the Burmese Captain and his troops summoned village council members and the headman of the village, along with the village telephone operator Hmet Lian. They were accused of failing to report the activities of the Chin National Front members and supporting the rebels.
Captain Aung Naing Oo and his troops kicked, punched, and smashed the face of Hmet Lian with their riffle butts. Hmet Lian was killed on the spot. The other four village council members and the headman were also badly beaten and torture by the Burmese troops. The four village council members and the village headman are now in critical condition. According to CHRO source, the village headman is vomiting bloods and he may not survive.
Captain Aung Naing Oo and his troops are from Light Infantry Battalion LIB 266 Falam army base. The same battalion has killed innocent Chin villager from Selawn village, Falam township in January this year.
Innocent Villager Shot to Death and Burned
Saiha: 26 February 2005
Two members of the Burmese army from Light Infantry Battalion 140 based in Sabawngte village of Matupi Township shot and killed an innocent local villager U Wa Dawng, age 45 and burned his dead body to eliminate his identity, one Sabawngte villager testified to Chin Human Rights Organization.
The incident occurred in a forest near the village. U Wa Dawng went missing after departing from his friends while searching for his mithun (livestock) in the forest. Villagers conducted a search for U Wa Dawng and found his charred body the next day lying deep in the forest. The victim body was almost completely burned and bore gun shot wounds in the body. Only a close relative was able to identify the victim from his feet that was not burned.
Villagers said they heard the sounds of gunfire in the forest the night before the victim body was found. Two Burmese soldiers were seen entering the forest and villagers said they suspected the soldiers were responsible for the killing of U Wa Dawng.
Shortly after the body of the victim was discovered, the army came forward claiming that the forest where U Oo Dawng was found dead was a hotbed for rebel activities and that, villagers had been warned not to go in the forest wearing clothes resembling military uniforms.
U Wa Dawng body was buried on February 13, 2005 and no action has been taken against the killers.
Forced Labor Increases Hardship for Impoverished Villagers
Aizawl, 16 March 2005:
Seven villages in Matupi Township of Southern Chin State were involved in a forced labor to construct a road between Matupi-Answe-Madu. The forced labor order came from U Soe Nyuntt, Chairman of Matupi Township Peace and Development Council. The work began in the first week of January and civilians from Answe, Madu, Saton, Pantui, Lungpan, Lingtui, Rung and Rohtlang villages were involved in the unpaid labor.
Pu Palai (name changed), one of the forced laborers from Lungpan village said his community tremendously suffered as a result of the forced labor.
“Nine villages, including ours received the order for forced labor on December 15, 2004. Since December is the month of harvesting crops, we pleaded with the local SPDC Chairman to allow us to harvest our crops first. But he told us that it was beyond his power to alter the order and referred us to Lieutenant Colonel San Aung. Only after we gave 100,000 Kyats in bribe, did the Lt. Colonel agreed to harvest our crops and postponed the road construction to the first week of January 2005,” Pu Palai explained.
A budget of 8 million Kyats was sanctioned on paper for the road construction but it was never used. Instead, villagers in surrounding areas were forced to construct the road without pay.
Supervised by Deputy Commander of Infantry Battalion 305 based in Matupi, the work started on January 5, 2005 and lasted until January 26. Pu Palai said there were 59 people from his village tract alone, including four girls under the age of 18. Ten families were unable to send laborers and they were forced to pay money to cover some of the cost for foods and other things.
“We were divided into groups and some of the groups did not have enough food supplies during the work, which lasted more than three weeks. Each group had to dig one third of a mile long of land and everybody had to supply themselves with food and rations during the work,” Pu Palai explained.
Local Army Chief Orders Forced Labor and Illegal Tax from Civilians
Aizawl: 14 March 2005
Lieutenant Colonel San Aung, Chief of Tactical Command No. 2 based in Matupi town of southern Chin State ordered Matupi residents to “donate” 70 tins of gravel per household for building roads in the town.
In addition, to build a highway between Matupi and Madu, Lt. Colonel San Aung demanded 4500 Kyats from every household, a local resident told Chin Human Rights Organization.
The order to “donate” 70 tins of gravel did not exempt even widows, elderly and handicapped people. Since it is difficult to find enough rocks to make gravels, the entire town, about 800 households, is working day and night to meet their quotas.
Hundreds of Civilians Provided “Voluntary Labor” to Construct Road
A massive forced labor was used to construct a 7-mile road between Congthia and Hmawng Tlang villages of Thantlang Township, northern Chin State beginning in mid January of 2005. An order released by the Township authorities in Thantlang compelled 250 civilians to engage in what the authorities stated was the provision of “voluntary labor for a self-support development project.”
A memo submitted by local authorities to Colonel Tin Hla, Chief of Tactical Command No. 1 for Chin State based in Hakha, indicated that 10 million Kyats was officially sanctioned for the road construction through the Public Work Department.
However, the money was never used for the purpose and civilians were forced to engage in “voluntary labor” for construction of the road.
One person per household from Hmawngtlang, Phai Khua, Letak(A), Letak(B), Leitak(C) and Aibur villages were ordered to participate in the work starting from the second week of January, 2005. Each person was assigned to dig 20 feet of land and 20 women were among 250 laborers. The women served as cooks for other laborers and foods and rations had to be supplied entirely by local churches.
Extortion Intensified at India-Burma Border Trade Route
Aizawl: 12 April 2005
Burmese soldiers and police patrols in Chin State are routinely involved in extortion of money from cross-border traders, one cattle trader told Chin Human Rights Organization. On March 18, 2005, four policemen extorted 100,000 Kyats from a trader who was trying to sell 30 cows to Mizoram of India. The same policemen also collected 80,000 Kyats in illegal tax from another cattle trader for 11 cows. The victim was from Daidin village of Gangaw Township, Magwe Division.
On March 20, 2005, a platoon consisting of twelve Burmese soldiers from Light Infantry Battalion 268 collected 400,000 Kyats in illegal tax from another trader shipping 90 cows to India.
One trader who recently had his money squeezed by the Burmese army on his way to India explained his situations.
“Even though a cattle trading is not profitable as before, there is no job at home and we have to continue this business under numerous difficulties hoping to gain a meager profit. Since the government asked too many taxes from us, sometimes we did not even gain Ks.50 000. If we calculate our daily wage, it ranges between Ks. 400-500 per day. This sum of money can only buy one bottle of cooking oil. It takes one and a half month for one round of business. We pay a cow from Ks. 100000 to Ks. 200000, as the price is so high now. We get around Rs. 8000 – 9000 per cow in India as the price of cow is not good. We have to report ourselves to a police station in order to buy a cow and we can only buy after obtaining their permission. We have to pay Ks. 1000 tax per head. We buy our cattle mostly from Tilin, Pale, Mait, Kyawtoo, and Saw which are situated in Gangaw Township, Magwe Division. When we shift cattle to Mizoram, we hire 4-5 workers who are paid Ks. 30,000 per person. If we meet soldiers or police on the way to Mizoram, we have to pay Ks. 1000-5000 per cow.”
Extortion of cross-border traders by Burmese soldiers has steadily intensified since 1995. On March 15, 2005, Colonel Tin Hla, Chief of Tactical Command No. 1 issued a decree criminalizing the selling of cattle to India. The penalty includes incarceration and time at hard labor camp.
SPDC Unlawfully Destroyed House of Local Leader of National League for Democracy Party
Aizawl 10 March 2005
Lieutenant Colonel San Aung, Chief of Tactical Command No. 2 based in Matupi town of southern Chin State unlawfully seized and destroyed the house of Pa Lian Thang and Daw Hlan Zing. Pa Lian Thang is the Assistant Secretary of the National League for Democracy (NLD) for Matupi Township.
The local NLD leader, now joined in India by his family, fled his native town Matupi to escape arrest by military authorities in July of 2003. After Pa Lian Thang’s escape to India, his family was constantly harassed, interrogated and intimidated by Burmese soldiers. His family home was demolished by order of Lt. Colonel San Aung, leaving Pa Lian Thang’s wife and children homeless.
Pa Lian Thang’s wife testified to Chin Human Rights Organization that their demolished home and its compound had been confiscated by the army. According to her, their two-storied home was worth 8 million Kyats in current market rate. She said half of their home compound was taken for a military intelligence office and another half for a Buddhist monastery.
Pa Lian Thang and the entire local NLD leadership were sought for arrest by military intelligence for their active role in welcoming Aung San Suu Kyi in their town in April of 2003. More than a dozen NLD members fled to India and at least two people were arrested and sentenced for 11 years with hard labor.
Malaysia: Chin Refugees on the Run
March 28, 2005
On March 1, 2005, the government of Malaysia initiated a nation-wide operation to crackdown on undocumented migrants living and working in the country. The operation is likely to have a negative impact on refugees and asylum seekers from Burma and the Aceh region of Indonesia. Chin refugees from Burma are especially vulnerable.
The Chin Refugee Committee (CRC) estimates that 12,000 Chin live in Malaysia, of which more than 9,000 are registered with the CRC. More than 2,500 Chin have applied for registration as asylum seekers with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and have been provided with documentation that identifies them to Malaysian authorities. Nearly all of the Chin in Malaysia are males. A few of the Chin — probably more than 200 — are unaccompanied minors, under 18 years old.
On a recent visit to Malaysia Refugees International met with several hundred Chin in Kuala Lumpur, the jungles where they were living near the new administrative center of Putrajaya, and the Cameron Highlands. Most of the Chin in Kuala Lumpur and other urban areas are employed as construction workers and those in rural areas work on plantations and farms. Many of them have been in Malaysia for several years, but few speak Malay or are integrated into the country. They are on the run, taking shelter where they can, finding employment — and often exploited — as day laborers, attempting to evade the police and immigration authorities, and often being subjected to detention and deportation.
RI met with one group of Chin in a high rise apartment in which 40 of them, including 2 women, live. However, most of them, fearing police raids, go to a nearby wooded area to sleep at night. In the jungles near Putrajaya, a group of 300 men live in crude huts with roofs of plastic sheeting. The settlement has been there for seven years and has been burned down four times by the police, but the Chin rebuild each time. They are fortunate to have water. A local charitable organization dug a well and occasionally a mobile health clinic comes to the settlement. In the high, cool, Cameron Highlands, where vegetables and tea are grown, Chin live in warehouses and sheds on plantations, staying out of sight of local authorities. Malaysia is a middle income country, but the conditions under which the Chin are living are often deplorable.
The Chin told RI that they came to Malaysia to escape persecution by the army and police of Burma. They told of being arrested, imprisoned, and tortured for alleged ties to the Chin National Front, an organization resisting the Burmese government, of being subjected to forced recruitment as laborers, and of being persecuted for being Christians. Most of the Chin are Baptists, but with a sprinkling of Roman Catholics, Presbyterians, and Assembly of God members. The Chin refugees left families behind and paid “agents” to assist them to escape from Burma, passing through Thailand en route to Malaysia, while often being forced to work on Thai fishing boats to pay off debts to their agents. RI did not encounter any Chin who had returned to Burma for a visit. All said it would be too dangerous. Thus, they have often been separated from their families for several years.
The Chin do not have an easy life in Malaysia. They are working illegally, jobs are irregular, bribes must be paid to local authorities and police, and there is always the fear of detention and deportation. About 120 Chin are presently in squalid detention centers in which they may languish for months or even years while their cases are being decided. Many more Chin reported to us that they had been informally deported by being dumped across the border into Thailand from where they made their way back to Malaysia. The Chin were unanimous in saying that what they most needed in Malaysia was legal protection which would prevent them from being arrested and deported and allow them to work. Their second greatest need was access to medical care.
UNHCR has built up an impressive and important presence in Malaysia and is doing an excellent job interceding with the Malaysian government to register and protect refugees from detention, deportation, and other abuses. The Malaysian government on its part has been less harsh in this most recent refugee roundup than it was in years past. But refugees still complain that the UNHCR registration process is too slow. Chin in locations distant from the UNHCR office in Kuala Lumpur, such as the Cameron Highlands, are mostly unregistered because of the cost and the risk of going to UNHCR to register. Also, UNHCR registration cards and letters are not always respected by local authorities.
The Malaysian crackdown on undocumented migrants has demonstrated that the country is heavily dependent upon migrants for labor. Many construction sites were closed down because of shortages of labor during RI’s visit. It would make sense for the Malaysian government to afford protection to the refugees and asylum seekers in its country while making it possible for them to be employed legally. Both the country and the refugees would benefit.
Refugees International, therefore, recommends that:
UNHCR continue its work protecting and assisting refugees in Malaysia and speed up the registration process for refugees and asylum seekers, especially in outlying areas where refugees are mostly unregistered.
International and local NGOs and aid agencies provide humanitarian assistance to the Chin refugees in Malaysia, especially for health care. Very few international NGOs work in Malaysia and the Chin, along with other refugees, suffer from lack of access to most social services and decent housing.
The government of Malaysia respect the rights of those registered with UNHCR as refugees and asylum seekers and potential refugees who have not yet had the opportunity to register. The government should also adopt regulations that make it possible for refugees to be employed legally. Malaysia needs the workers; the refugees need the jobs.
The government of the United States and others — possibly Canada, Australia, or Sweden — consider the possibility of resettling the Chin who are unable to return to their home country soon because of the extreme danger of doing so.
Debate On Shan Independence:
Independence or Federalism?
By Harn Yawnghwe
The S.H.A.N. news article on 29 March 2005 reported the resurrection of the Shan Independence cause and a rejection of federalism, especially the ‘tripartite dialogue’ advocated by my late brother Chao Tzang and myself. This is an issue that Shan leaders have grappled with for decades. It is not really about ‘Independence’ versus ‘Federalism’. Who does not want to be free or independent? We all do. The question is more about what is best for the people of Shan State. What will end their suffering at the hands of the Burma Army? If federalism will, we should go for it. If independence is the only way to achieve it, we should go for it. Both independence and federalism are means to an end – the welfare of the people of Shan State.
But a nation’s freedom depends on many factors – the cohesion of the people, the economic might of the nation, the military strength of its army, the vision of its leaders, and, more importantly, historical circumstances. We have only to look at the fact that Thailand and Laos are part of the Shan or Tai family and that there are Shans, Dais, or Tais living in India, China and Vietnam to see that historical circumstances and world politics play a major part in deciding our destiny. It is not sufficient to argue that we should be independent today just because Shan kings ruled Burma from the 13th to the 16th century and we were independent before the British came in 1886.
World politics after the Second World War pushed the Federated Shan States into the Union of Burma. Our leaders had no choice. China was in the throes of a civil war. Thailand had sided with Japan during the war and was not looked upon with favour by the Allies, whereas Aung San had helped the Allies although he had been originally trained by the Japanese to overthrow the British. Knowing that they could no longer remain independent but had to join somebody, the ruling Saophas decided to join Burma and tried to make the best of a bad deal with the Panglong Agreement and the 10-year secession clause for the Shan State in the 1947 Constitution.
Critics of the Panglong Agreement have said that the Saophas wanted to protect their privileges and that my father wanted to become the president of the Union of Burma. These allegations are not based on facts. The question of who should be president was never part of the agenda. In fact, Aung San almost walked out of the Panglong Conference because he was so infuriated by my father’s insistence on the rights of the ethnic nationalities. The Saophas were, on the whole, not self-seeking feudal lords. They were definitely not protecting their privileges at Panglong. Since the 1930’s they had been training young men to take over the leadership. They were in favour of democratization and in 1959 they gave up all their rights to rule to the Shan State Government.
Whether at Panglong or today, the key question has always been what is best for the people of Shan State? Any decision we make will have consequences and we will be judged by generations to come as to whether or not we were correct. I am not against those who want to seek independence. Who wants to be oppressed, have one’s womenfolk raped, one’s children and parents forced to work under appalling conditions, and be arrested or shot just because one does not obey an arbitrary order given by the Burma Army? Ask the Burmans. They do not want to be oppressed either. That is why so many have fled Burma. They cannot fight for independence because the Army is within their midst. But they can fight to change the system.
My questions to those seeking independence are these: Will we have more chances of success if we seek independence? Which country will recognize an independent Shan State? How will the government support itself? Will the new Shan State government be able to drive the Burma Army out of the Shan State? If yes, I will support it. I am also curious to know how the Burma Army can be defeated without bloodshed.
Of course, we are all outraged by the arrests of Hkun Htun Oo, Sao Hso Hten and others. And of course, I am outraged by the continued killing of our people and the raping of our women by the Burma Army. It is very painful to see our people suffering. But the future of the people of the Shan State is too important for us to allow our emotions to cloud our thinking. We need to think clearly and evaluate our options realistically. The question we should be asking is why the Burma Army arrested Hkun Htun Oo and Sao Hso Hten? Did they arrest Sao Hso Hten when he was leading the Shan State Army (North) or heading the Shan State Peace Council? No. Why not? Did they arrest Hkun Htun Oo when he was leading the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy and contested the 1990 election? No. Why not? Why were they arrested in February?
The generals are not afraid of wars of independence. They have perfected their technique of destroying the land and terrorizing the people to get at the armed few. They have also been amassing new weapons since 1989 to hit the remaining pockets of resistance. They are just waiting for the right time and the right excuse to put their plan to annihilate the opposition into action and win the praise of the world for eradicating drugs and terrorism. The generals, however, are very much afraid of politics. They know they cannot win in this field if people are free to really express their will. Just look at the 1990 elections. That is why they nullified its results. The generals are also very afraid when people unite. Their strategy has always been to divide and rule. Look at the KNU and the DKBA. Look at the KNPP and the KNPLA. Look at the KIO and the recently formed KSC.
Hkun Htun Oo and Sao Hso Hten’s greatest crime in the eyes of the generals was that they tried not only to unite the Shans, but all the ethnic nationalities; not only the ethnic political parties, but also the ceasefire armies; not only the ethnic nationalities, but also the political opposition parties – including Burman leaders. This was something the generals could not tolerate. This shows that by working with all the peoples of Burma we are on the right path. We are hitting the generals at their weakest spot.
Another point to consider is that, after five decades of struggle, the United Nations for the first time acknowledged our status in 1994 by adopting a resolution calling for a ‘tripartite dialogue’ – the military, democracy advocates, and the ethnic nationalities. Prior to this, ethnic rights were not recognized. We were just rebels. But since then, our demands to have an equal say in Burma’s future have been recognized as legitimate. Even Kofi Annan, Secretary-General of the United Nations has said so. The arrests have also shown to the international community that the ethnic nationalities are reasonable and willing to have a dialogue but that the generals are the main obstacle to solving Burma’s problems.
So are we in our frustration going to throw away everything we have achieved? Do not forget, our efforts have also thrown the Burma Army into disarray. Did they not just turn on each other? Was Khin Nyunt not arrested? Are Than Shwe and Maung Aye not distrustful of each other? Is there not confusion in the Burma Army ranks? This has never happened before in Burma’s history. So, are we losing or are we winning? The question before us then, is this. Do we fight the generals in the battlefield where they have superior military strength and ability or do we fight them politically where we have the superiority? Do we Shans fight the Burma Army alone or do we fight them side by side with others?
[CG Note: Harn Yawnghwe is the son of the first President of Union of Burma and prince of Yanwnghwe. At present, he serves as director of Euro Burma office based in Brussels. This article is taken from Shan Herald March 31, 2005]
Shan elders declare independence, Chin MP Speaks
[CG Note: A Chin MP Pu Lian Uk, a lawyer and former political prisoner, expressed his opinion regarding the declaration of independence by Shan elders. He is an independent elected MP from Haka, the capital of Chin state during the 1990 general elections in Burma. He is now exile in the United States of America]
April 23, 2005
There is a saying that no country is an island. So no country can free themselves without international intervention. The United Nations is also an organization of existing nations who all want the integrity of their respective present international boundaries and they support each other not to disintegrate their respective existing boundaries. Thus the UN at least in principle is always in favor of not to increase the number of independent nations.
Actually, for the territories of the States of Chin, Kachin and Shan, they had never been under the Burmese kings or were they neither been parts of Burma in the history. They found together with the Burmese kingdom a new country known as the Union of Burma under Panglong Agreement since 1948 just only over fifty years ago.
The Burmese kings annexed the kingdoms of Arakan and Mon against the will of the people with the force of arms and they have every right to establish their own sovereign independent countries in modern time if their population wish to be so.
That was the reason why the representatives of the territories of present day Arakan State and Mon State in the Union Parliament also rectified the Panglong Agreement in their free will consent to form Arakan Affairs Council and Mon Affairs council like the Chin Affairs Council in the Union Parliament in 1961-62 to become the constituent unit states of the federal Union of Burma like the Chin State.
For Karens, the State of Karen has its clear cut boundary from Burma proper. More over, a very wide area of the Karen settlement in delta region of Irrawaddy is mix ed with the Burmese settlement though they can claim that the present Karen and Karenni States had never been under the Burmese kings. But the territories of present day Karen State and Karenni-Kaya State had rectified also Panglong Agreement by joining the Union in the constitution of the Union of Burma 1947 which was based on the Panglong Agreement. Thus Panglong Agreement had a great meaning equally for all the different territories of Arakan, Burmese, Chin, Kachin, Karen, Karenni -Kaya, Mon, and Shan today.
The military regime has discarded Panglong Agreement with the Constitution of the Union of Burma 1947 since 1962 . As a matter of fact, the Burman or Burmese military regime has over thrown the constitutional government of the Union and established a unitary form of government under the complete domination of the Burmese military regime formed of only the Burmese generals against the will of the population in the country making all the non Burman territories – Arakan, Chin, Kachin, Karen, Karenni -Kaya, Mon, and Shan today as non self governing territories.
It was these two documents Panglong Agreement and the Constitution of the Union of Burma 1947 which joined the Burmese territory and the Panglong agreement signatory territories in the Union to be a nation. Therefore in the absence of these two documents, all the Panglong Agreement signatory territories are now in their status quo as independent territories as they were before the British annexation.
The reason the territories of the Panglong signatory territories are in the Union of Burma today is just because, the Burmese military regime has occupied their territories against their will with the force of arms. Thus every territory in the Union now has every right to proclaim independence of their respective territories.
Thus according to the decolonization doctrine of the United Nations, member nations of the United Nations and the UN itself are now to recognize the proclamation of independence by the Federated Shan States.
But whether the independence of Federated Shan States drive out the occupying Army of the Burmese military regime from their territory is a big question for them. The Burmese Military regime pose now as the defec to ruler as a colonizer of the federated Shan States and oter nonself governing territories of the Union.
But the demand of forming the Union of Burma in genuine federal Union by Ethnic National Council(ENC), with all the constituent territories of the Union of Burma including Burma proper as a unit of the federal Union, is supported also by the democratic forces of the Burmans or Burmese. All the separate territories in the Union in united strength, could only have possible enough strength by all means to remove the Burmese military regime from their grip control of all the territories in the Union. And this is one of the reasons why we all the different territories in the Union should not proclaim separate independence at this time.
But we have to have in mind that the Shan group who has proclaimed Independence of the Federated Shan States are still to support the ENC cause of federalism and can join again the federal Union of Burma when the federal Constitution is drafted after restoring peace and democracy is restored in the Union. Their proclamation of independence may be in some way more helpful to the cause of federalism like former members of UNPO are supporting UNPO cause even after they have become members of the United Nations. Thanks.
The Meaning of Panglong Agreement versus the Shan’s declaration of breaking up from the Union
By Salai Za Ceu Lian
20 April 2004
Noticeably, the recent declaration of Shan’ independence is shaking the whole pro-democracy movement of the day in the conflict-ridden Union of Burma. The Union of Burma or its conventional name “Burma” has been plagued by the internal conflicts especially since its independence from the British in 1948. While dealing with the conflict of Burma, it is so important to have a clear understanding of how the Union of Burma was founded.
Therefore, the founding of the Union of Burma needs to be recalled in brief. We recall and study history not just to blame ourselves for the mistakes we might have made in the past, but in order to avoid and not to repeat those past mistakes in the future.
Based on the historical facts, the Union of Burma came into existence through the Panglong agreement, the historic accord that was signed on February 12, 1947, in Panglong, Shan State by those legitimate representatives from the pre-colonial independent countries: the Shan, the Kachin, the Chin and that of the Ministerial Burma also known as the Burma Proper. To better put it, the independent Chin, the Shan, and the Kachin nationals co-founded the Union on an equal footing with a vision of founding the stable Union.
Today, the Panglong accord, which was signed on the equal footing, stands as the fundamental foundation and the legal cornerstone of the Union itself, and as a result, the signing date of Panglong accord is observed as the national holiday, the Union Day. We must stress the fact that the term “equality” or “equal footing” fully signified and recognized the equal status of those founding members of the Union. Meaning, regardless of the size of the population of each region joining the Union, no single signatory nation of the agreement is superior or inferior to the rest of the other co-founding members of the Union.
As a matter of fact, in the pre-colonial period, these nations were historically independent, living side by side with the political administrative system of their own under their respective legitimate leaders. The historical fact should be noted once again that no King of Burma had ever rule or conquered these nations. Only the British expansionist conquered them separately from Burma – Burma Proper.
A clear interpretation and essence of the Panglong Agreement was made very clear by a native Chin scholar and the leading politician, Dr. Lian Hmung Sakhong in the follwoing. He eloquently put it, “The essence of the Panglong agreement- the Panglong Spirit- was that the Chin, Kachin, and the Shan did not surrender their rights of self-determination and sovereignty to the Burman. The Chin, Kachin, and the Shan signed the Panglong agreement as a means to speed up their own search for freedom together with the Burman and other nationalities in what became the Union of Burma [1*]. The preamble of Panglong agreement also declares; “Believing that freedom will be more speedily achieved by the Shans, the Kachins, and the Chins by their immediate co-operation with the interim Burmese government”.
On a similar question, a native Shan scholar, a political scientist, Late Dr. Choa Tzang explained, “The meaning of Panglong is clear, made clear by U Aung San (formerly Bogyoke) and leaders of the ruling AFPFL (Anti-Fascist People’s Freedom League) party. The meaning is none other than that the Shan, Kachin, Chin and other nationalities agreed — jointly and unitedly. Here again, the implication is that the Pyidaungzu (the Union) that came into being in 1948 is made up of co-independent and equal states ” [2*]. To have a clear picture of the creation and joining of the Union by the non-Burman ethnic groups, we have to understand that the non-Burman national ethnic groups did not relinquish their national sovereignty.
Rather, strict interpretation of the terms of the agreement, the true essence of the Panglong accords emphatically expressed the mutual recognitions of national sovereignty, their national right of self-determination, and equal status among those founding members of the Union. Therefore, the essence and true spirit of Panglong is to be interpreted as the treaty that fully recognized the equal status and distinct national identity among the Kachin, Karrenni, Karen, Chin, Mon, Burman, and Arakans. Given the fact that Burma is a multi-ethnic country, in order to bring the deeply rooted crisis of Burma to an end, it is necessary that each region’s leaders mutually accept the principles of national equality, and the sovereignty of each region. This would enable the Union of Burma to achieve a prosperous, peaceful and democratic country under the proposed system of federalism if we choose to establish a stable Union.
The Shan’s declaration of Independence: : Whenever we make an arguments about the political issues of Burma, we repeatedly stress the crucial importance of the Panglong agreement and the necessity of respecting the true spirit of the birth of Panglong Agreement because this historic accord between the founding fathers of the Union of Burma only is the legal entity/contract that binds the nation together. What we need to note here also was that the signing of Panglong agreement was totally voluntary, which means any region joining the Union can secede from the Union and be a sovereign nation.
It is totally up to the people of the joining region to have an ultimate say for their own destination. No other member of Union has any authority to determine the future of the seceded State from the Union. That is the very reason, in our modern time, political thinkers and advocates of the model of democracy are putting their full emphasis on the question of self-determination and the need to understand what the term ” legitimacy and mandate” means. With regards to the recent declaration of Shan independence, the ultimate decision is and has to be made by the Shan themselves alone and nobody else. No foreigners should have a say in this matter.
During the revolutionary period and pro-democracy movement like today, it is understandable that there are diverse ideological confrontations over the very question of Shan declaring independence. Not only among the pro-democratic forces of Burma, but even within the inner circle of the intra-ethnic Shans themselves, there could be an ideological differences and diverse political standpoints. It is totally acceptable. We can see a clear example like the un-identical political viewpoints and ideological split-up between the Burma Communist Party and Anti-fascist People’s Freedom League over the question of how to attain independence from British during the struggle for Burma’s independence. The point is that we should not be surprised even if there are different opinions over the current example of the Shan.
In fact, there are crucial political realities that associate with the Shan’s declaration of being free nation at this point for which we have to full understand and respect the wills of the Shan people. In doing so, any critic of the Shan’s movement should refrain from being too judgmental and intrusive for the internal matters exclusively related to the Shan. Likewise, one should also be very careful to avoid using the phrase like “the Shan demands Independence”.
They declare independence by means of exercising their inherent national rights – Right of Self-Determination and no need to demand for it.
Why should the Shan have to demand?
From NLD or SPDC? Under what conditions and circumstances, the Shan has to do so?
Whether the National League for Democracy (NLD) led by Daw Suu or State Peace and Development Coucil (SPDC) has no right or authority to judge the destiny of the Shan peoples.
In real sense, they are foreigners. Quite shockingly, the recent statement of NLD in opposing the Shan’s movement was a bizarre example, which indeed was totally unacceptable. So was the SPDC’s condemnation on the Shan initiatives.
A foreigner should stay away from the internal affairs of the sovereign nation- who has every legitimate reasons, supreme power, and full mandate to determine their own future- for particular questions like such as the Shan.
Let us be very clear about that. The Shan peoples have absolute rights to materialize any policy they see fit and take whatever actions they deem relevant and necessary with regards to the political fate of their own future.
To simplify it, they can do whatever they like, but cannot make man a woman. We must fully acknowledge and respect their divine rights of national sovereignty and their self-determination.
Wishfully speaking, if there could be a plebiscite or national referendum for all the Shan peoples to assemble and vote over the question of such kind – declaring the Independence for the Shan or joining the Union of Burma under the proposed system of federalism – that would be so desirable. Unfortunately, such arrangement seems unlikely to take place under the current military regime.
[1*] Lian Hmung Sakhong. Democracy movement towards federal union: the role of UNLD in the struggle for democracy and federalism in Burma. Thailand: UNLD Press, May, 2001
[2*]Yawnghwe, Chao-Tzang. “Federalism: Putting Burma Back Together Again,” Legal Issues on Burma Journal No. 10 (Burma Lawyers’ Council), May 1999.
Salai Za Ceu Lian -A student at the University of Winnipeg, Manitoba, is currently Secretary of Burmese Community Organization of Manitoba. He is also an assistant General Secretary for the Chin National League for Democracy (Exile), a political party that won 3 Parliamentary seats in Chin State during the 1990 general elections in Burma. He was a former Chin Youth representative at the United Nationalities Youth League (UNYL), multi-ethnic youth alliance based in Thailand, a former General Secretary of Chin Students’ Union, and was a former Assistant General Secretary of the Committee for Non-violent Action for Burma (CNAB) based in India. He also works as Associate Editor for Chinland Guardian and Rhododendron News, a bi-monthly human rights newsletter published by Chin Human Rights Organization.
Back Cover Poem:
To Pa Mawng Lian
By: Van Biak Thang
Down the road near my little cottage,
At about the length of a hamster’s tail,
There lived a widow in a village
With her loved son, mentally fragile.
His mother, a septuagenarian,
Faint and feeble but warm and cordial,
Tilled, hoed and sowed for her son, Mawng Lian,
From dawn to dusk, dirty yet manual.
Mawng Lian, called Pa Mawng, in his twenties,
Known to each one as a jolly face,
Half adult, talked to himself in peace,
And laughed to a single thing in space
In times of Christmas, New Year, weddings,
Services and social gatherings,
Like a tadpole in shallow water,
He’s a Mr. Bean to each villager.
So much He loved sweets and jaggery,
So much he treasured new finery,
Liked hopping and dancing in rejoice,
And would help anyone without choice.
Knowing that his mom’s in her dotage,
Again he volunteered to carry,
In fear of orders and penalty;
That was his last page in the village.
Eyes shed no tears upon this vile face;
Hearts inhume its grief under its roof;
Still lies sorrow awake in its hoof.
But his name is always at his place.
[Rhododendron Note: A mentally challenged man Pa Mawng from Thantlang was summarily killed by the Burmese soldiers]