United We Stand, say Ethnic Leaders
By Shah Paung
October 29, 2007
Ethnic leaders based inside Burma have told The Irrawaddy that they supported the recent monk-led protests. This comes in response to reports suggesting that exiled ethnic groups shied away from the protests and largely ignored the uprising.
The leaders confirmed that they did not view the uprising as a conflict between Burman and Burman, but a fight between the military government and the people of Burma.
A substantial percentage of Burma’s population is made up of ethnic peoples, including the Kachin, Karen, Shan, Mon and Arakan (Rakhine). The regime often claims in its propaganda-prone media that Burma has more than 130 national races, but does not clarify the subgroups of the minorities. The multicultural claim has raised fears among several governments in the region that Burma could disintegrate into another Yugoslavia or Iraq once the regime is overthrown.
Ethnic minorities joined in the nationwide demonstrations, side by side with Burmans. Although the monk-led demonstrations mainly took place in Rangoon, there were also protests in ethnic areas, particularly Arakan and Kachin states.
Aye Tha Aung, chairman of the Arakan League for Democracy and the secretary of the Committee Representing People’s Parliament, said that since the junta took power in 1962 the country’s political and economic situation has deteriorated. “The fight for democracy is also a fight for the rights of ethnic people,” the leading Arakanese politician told The Irrawaddy by phone.
Khin Htwe Myint, an elected member of parliament from the Karen State National League for Democracy told The Irrawaddy that the majority of people living inside Burma faced great difficulties as a result of military rule.
“Those who think the recent demonstrations were just for the benefit of one political party or one individual are very narrow-minded people,” she said.
During the peaceful protests, the security forces arrested more than 3,000 demonstrators, including Buddhist monks and well-known ethnic leaders who were outspoken, such as Cin Sian Thang, a member of the CRPP and chairman of the Zomi National Congress; and Thawng Kho Thang, also a member of the CRPP and the United Nationalities League for Democracy.
Burma’s ethnic leaders live in danger. Aye Tha Aung, and Shwe Ohn, aged 84, the senior leader of the Democratic League for the National Races of the Shan, claim that they are closely monitored by the Burmese authorities and can be arrested at any time. In February, 2005, Hkun Htun Oo, chairman of the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy, Sai Nyut Lwin, secretary of SNLD, Maj-Gen Sao Hso Ten, president of the Shan State Peace Council and Sai Hla Aung of SSPC were all arrested and given life sentences.
Several ethnic leaders are reputed to be narrow-minded; however, not only are they moderate and broad-minded, but they have been active in the democracy movement and take great risks in continuing the fight, not only for the rights of ethnic minorities but for all the people of Burma.
Aye Tha Aung and Khin Htwe Myint are cautious and emphasize that there are many opposition groups and armed groups living in Burma. Although their goal is the same they still cannot overthrow the regime.
“In this situation we have to think about unity,” Khin Htwe Myint said. “If we work together as one united front and are of the same conviction, we will achieve our aim.”
Aye Tha Aung questioned why so many dedicated groups have taken so long to topple the military regime. “Is this because of the military government is too strong?” he asked.
“If we want to build a federal democracy in our country we have to work together believing in this mission,” Aye Tha Aung added.
“We can never achieve it if we are not united—especially when we are fighting against the military rulers.”