Thet Mon Htun
The very first demonstration against General Aung San – national hero of Myanmar – was held by ethnic minorities in the last few days. Protest against General Aung San or even in reference to his name of had never took place before, even during the time of military dictatorship.
Thousands of Mon, Kayin and Pa-O, three of Myanmar ethnic minorities, staged a series of protests against Parliament’s decision to name a bridge in honour of “General Aung San” on March 19 in Mawlamyaing, Mon State.
The current State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi is General Aung San’s daughter.
National League for Democracy MP Mi Kun Chan submitted the proposal to Parliament to name the bridge in honour of General Aung San on February 28. The deliberation took place despite an outcry among the Chaungsone residents of Mon ethnics. The NLD majority ruling Parliament approved the bridge name with majority votes of NLD MPs on March 14, despite opposition from the residents.
Ethnic protestors claimed that their protest was not against General Aung San, but against naming him to the title of the bridge which is located in the ethnic heartland. The Mons prefer to have name options of historical or Mon heroes instead.
However, the pro-government groups twisted and turned the image of the protest as an instigation by Union Solidarity and Development Party or the Ma Ba Tha (monk association).
Minn Latt, chairperson of Thanphyuzayat Township’s City Development Committee said: “Some propagate the protests were led by the Ma Ba Tha and the USDP. Mons followed them. That is wrong. First, the Mons have never been involved in the activities of the Ma Ba Tha as a Mon national movement. Nor had the Mons ever condemned the Ma Ba Tha. We have nothing to do with them. Second, the Mons have only Theravada Yar Ma Nya Ni Kar Ya Monk Association, which has four religious branches. All Mon monks associations are very distant from Ma Ba Tha’s.”
Construction of the bridge started during the tenure of previous president Thein Sein in February 2015 with the original name of the Thanlwin Bridge (Chaungsone). The bridge is over 3200 feet long with 20 feet wide located between Mawlamyaing Township and Chaungsone Township.
Minn Latt argued that the issue is more than just a bridge name, but it is a bullying effort by the majority, by the ruling party, and by the government. He accused the government of undermining the political role of the ethnics since it ignored the wishes of the ethnic residents.
Not only the organizations of Mon ethnics but different ethnic organizations including Karen Literature and Culture, United Nationalities Alliance, Overseas Mon Coordinating Committee and Mon Buddhist Monks Association released statements condemning the decision of Parliament on the issue.
A Naga ethnic Ke Jung, spokesperson of the Council of Naga Affairs, said: “Ethnics should be allowed to independently to name a bridge which is located in their land. Still, we (all ethnics) love General Aung very much.”
The NLD ruling Parliament’s decision is seen contradicting the national reconciliation efforts and undermining the attempt to forge the Federal Union as the voices of the ethnics are neglected.
Min Latt continued: “I am not interested in the name of the bridge anymore. The Mons have done their best. They have already unmasked the face of the government and history will make its own judgement for all it had left. I am more interested in how to fight the democratic dictatorship.”
Socio-political analyst Pite Tin said: “Building a federal union has its own challenges. We cannot expect too much on the progressive of building federal union in this government term. That’s for sure. If the opening ceremony of the bridge is done as planned by the authorities, the condition will become worst. If then, not only Mon State, but there might be negative impacts on the whole country.”
Joint Secretary of the Naga National Affairs Council Shu Maung commented that democratic dictatorship judges the value of civilized society rather than being a Barman or Mon.
The incident is seen as the second against ethnic minorities. The first was when the Rakhine State Investigation Commission led by Kofi Annan, former United Nations’ secretary general, was formed, despite local opposition.