A flare-up last month in eastern Kayah State, which saw thousands of protesters dispersed in a hail of rubber bullets, will not be the last word in the fight over a new statue of Myanmar founding father Aung San if one youth organization has anything to say about it.
The Union of Karenni State Youth (UKSY), a youth umbrella organization representing the state’s Karenni minority, announced yesterday that they are setting Sunday as a deadline for the removal of the statue in Loikaw, the state capital.
“If they don’t remove the statue by Sunday, we have to rely on the people’s strength to move forward. As a taingyinthar (national race), as an individual or as a group, we feel insulted by the actions of the government,” Khun Taw Mat told Coconuts Yangon this morning.
Mat demurred when asked what specific actions the group was prepared to take, saying that depended largely on how things play out over the next few days.
“We are only exercising our rights and expressing our opinions but the government has attempted to block anything that we try to do,” Mat said. “Everyone in the country can see what they are doing. All we want to do right now is move forward with moving the statue.”
While Aung San, father of State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, is widely beloved by the nation’s Burmese majority, many ethnic minorities, some of which have never accepted control by the central government, view him as a symbol of longstanding efforts to “Burmanize” the country.
“The statue is disintegrating any possibility of national reconciliation. We are setting May 17 as the last day to move the statue and are notifying the chief minister, L Phaung Sho, and financial minister, U Maw Maw, to resolve this issue,” a statement released on UKSY’s Facebook page reads.
The statement outlines the various efforts thus far taken by Karenni youth to voice their dissent against the statue, including protests, dialogue and negotiations.
Talks with the regional government reached an impasse just a week after the dramatic Union Day events that saw riot police fire rubber bullets on thousands of protestors.
The first Loikaw protests over the statue date back to July, when it was still in the planning stages. Police officers on July 4 descended on a group of 1,000 peaceful protesters, tasering, beating and arresting a large number.
Since the National League for Democracy came into power in 2016, there has been a consistent effort to splash the name and likeness of Aung San across Myanmar on public objects ranging from monuments to currency to bridges, prompting clashes between ethnic minority communities and the NLD government.