DIALOGUE WITH A SHAN LEADER , H.R.H  HSO KHAN PHA

 12.02.2006    by  Tayza     BURMA DIGEST

 

Part( 1 )

                         Recently, I got a chance to talk to the leader of a Shan Group campaigning for a totally Independent Shan State. His name is Tiger Yawnghwe or His Royal Highness Prince Hso Khan Pha; he is the eldest son of Sao Shwe Thaik, the former Saopha[Prince] of Yawnghwe[Nyaung-Shwe] and the first President of Burma after Burma's Independence from British colonial rule.
                        In the following excerpts I'll refer him as 'Sao Hso', and me 'Tayza'.

Sao Hso... "My family have been inolved with the founding  of the  Union of Burma in 1948 and the Panglong Conferences that culminated in the signing of the Panglong Agreement in 1947 - the basis for the foundation of the Union that was so rudely destroyed in 1962 by Ne Win."

Tayza..."I'm really glad to get a chance to know a descendent of our first President of independent Burma."

Sao Hso... "Might I add that the problem that exist is not ethic "minority" rights versus the "majority" Burmese rights but rather of equality of rights for all.
                      The 1948 Union of Burma was understood by us to be a federal  union of equals. And though the  intent of  the 1948 Constitution was federal, in rushing it through the Constituent Assembly by the AFPFL[Fa-sa-pa-la], the federal Union  in practice became unitary.
                     When we during 1958-62 tried to institute constitutional reforms in the Union Parliament towards a more equitable federal system as envisaged by the 1947 Panglong Agreement, Ne Win  staged his military coup and he and his successor Burmese military troops in Shan country  raped,  murdered & tortured to oppress, suppress and intimidate."

Tayza... "I support all ethnic groups' rights to have their own federal states, probably in US style or Canadian style. I understand that Quebac Province in Canada is an autonomic federal state. Shan state can be like that?
                 I never believe that "total separation of Union of Burma/Myanmar into a large number of totally separated & independent but very small tiny little countries" might be a wise decision."

Sao Hso... "Yugoslavia did break up into its components parts and theorectically there is no reason why the former and  defunct Union - made so by successive Burmese military regimes could  not do the same. The Shan States are larger both in population then Cambodia for instance and larger in area  than some 24 States of the US and 20 or so Nation-States in Europe.
                     The Shan & Karenni has every right to secceed and so guaranteed in the 1948 Constitution. There is another alternative that we have - we could form a federal union - United States of Southeast Asia or Southeast Asian Union a la EU with out the Burmese for example. But the Shan could certainly go it alone
                    Shan is a Burmese rendering of Siam as you know, & the Thai call us Thai-yai or Elder Thai - and Tai or Thai is only a dialectical rendering. The Tai  Speaking Peoples stretch from NE India, through Burma, the Kachin and Shan States, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and south and southwest China - Premier Chou-en-lai of PRC[Communist Mainland China] said in 1957 to my parents that in China there were then 100million Tai/Dai Speaking Peoples  in China.
                   For myself, I believe we all should talk - as Winston Churchill said "jaw jaw is better than war war". Some of us feel uncomfortable in talking heart to heart with Burmese who often become belligerent and abusive."

Tayza... "Although Shans can join with either Burmese or Thais or Chinese, I think it would be better to go on joining with Burmese; my idea is why would you topple the apple cart. We should sort out problems between ourselves, Shans and Burmese, rather than engaging with Thais/Chinese, it will just make matters more complicated."

Sao Hso... "Indeed we had high hopes too in 1947 and expected to have occupation & conflicts behind us and to avoid the sort of fighting and bloody killings that took place between 1812-19 when the Burmese kings of Mandalay tried to conquer and subdue the Shan Ahom kingdom in Assam where the Burmese general Maha Bandula's troops committed undescribable cruelties and barbarities  as to dessimate something like 2/3 of the population and certainly 1/3 of the men and boys - disemboweling them, eating their flesh and burning them alive in cages to intimidate and suppress the Shan Ahom of Assam ref: History of Assam by Sir Edward Gaits.  This event so weakened and disorganised the Shan Ahom that by 1839 the kingdom was completely annexed by the British. Before that from about 1220 - 1812 AD they maintained themselves under one Dynasty, (that of Mong Mao  568-1604 AD when its descendants ruled Hsenwi or Theinni in Burmese). Indeed the Shan Ahom resisted conquest by the Mughals who had conquered much of India before the British incursion.
                     We are now in the 21st  century, not 200 years ago. 
                    After WWII we had hoped to avoid bloodshed and war - and invasion by the Burma Independence Army under Aung San, an army that had been trained and  arrmed by the Japanese while we had no army at all except police forces. The British told my father to expect no assistance whatever should the BIA under Aung San invade the Shan States and that they advised  us Shan to make the best deal we could - hence the 1947 Panglong  Agreement or Treaty.  And I  might add that the Chin, Kachin & Karenni agreed to the Union because the Shan had.  Unfortunately  as it turned out we merely delayed invasion and occupation by the Burmese Army by 14 year to 1962.
                   These are issues that are not easily resolved and  after nearly half a century of being raped, tortured and  murdered can you honestly say that a battered spouse of either sex cannot sue for divorce but must grin and bear in the hope that the abuser is going to miraculously change and  become  an angel? And under these existing conditions - the grass looks certainly greener on the other side. A magic wand cannot be waved to wishfully make  things better.
                   Wishful thinking resolves nothing and to solve any  problem we need to look at all angles and discuss all issues pleasant and  unpleasant.

Tayza... "If we are a family, I think, the oppressed burmese children and the bullied Shan mother should join hands to fight against the bullying military man in their House/Home.
                 I won't want my mother to leave our family and marry a Chinese stranger or a Thai neighbour.
                Anyway, thanks to your kind and patient explanation about the background history of your Shans' struggles, I got a lot of insight on some very important historical aspects which happened long before I was born."

Sao Hso... "It is truly encouraging to discuss matters of common interest, and  it is only through honest discussions like these that real understanding and mutual respect will blossom.
                      I declared Shan independence on the wish and will of the majority of  the Shan people - people in 48 of 56 Se-Viengs or Townships of the Shan States voted for Independence following a secret balloting that took 5 years to complete and 47 years after we had the Constitutional Right to Secceed. Thus this decision was not taken lightly or hastily. In 1947 at Panglong, the  vote to form a Union and join with Burma was only narrowly won after a long and heated debate - the very narrow majority won the  day and the minority who lost  by  a  hair's breath conceded and obeyed the rules of parliamentary democracy - this is something the Burmese generals are loathed to do. And because the Shan agreed, the Chin, Kachin and Karenni followed suite.
                     The final say rests with the Shan People but looking at it objectively, we have  many options: -
 
1. Confirm our Independence.
2. Form a United States  of Southeast Asia - USSA with the Arakan, Chin, Kachin, Karenni, Mon & Karen.
3. Form an EU like grouping with the above partners, SEAU.
4.Negotiate a totally new federal union of equal partners to include the  Burmese or Burma State - with effective safeguards so  that we do not have a  repeat of  the Ne Win-BSPP/SLORC/SPDC dictatorship; and with a totally new name.
5. Join with our Thai brothers.
6. Join with our Lao brothers.
7. Form a Thai-Tai-Lao, Tai Speakjng Peoples Union.
8. Form an  association with  China.
 
What is happening today under the Burmese generals is real and not merely an academic or intellectual speculation; and nearly half a century of oppression and inhuman cruelty that is still on-going as we speak cannot ever be  forgotten, though in time may be forgiven."

Tayza... "Here I'd like to send my, rather late, condolences for the great lady Maha Davi, your mother, who passed away in 2003 and for the great Shan leader, your brother, who passed away last year.
                    And I also want to remind you a small point, with due respect. As you know, your grand father Saopha Sao Maung once got in a very difficult position and Burmese King helped him out. Right?"

Sao Hso... "Yes I am aware of the help given by Mindon Min when he became king, to Saopha* (Sir) Moung and his mother when his  father Sao Suu Deva the Kye-Mong (Crown Prince) of Yawnghwe was assissanated by a rival half sibbling who  supported Pagan Min and whose sister was Pagan Min's  Queen.  I am also aware that Saopha Sao Maung opposed the Limbin Confederacy and that he employed many of Thibaw Min's ex-Ministers in the Yawnghwe Administration after Thibaw went into exile. This  was why my father felt that he could work with the Burmese and with General Aung San.  But  as events are to show in 1962, disastriously as it turned out  for us , my father's  hope and  trust was betrayed - he was put in Insein Prison in March '62 as everyone knows, and he  died that November in prison under  questionable circumstances and one of his young sons not yet 17 was murdered by Burmese troops on our front doorsteps in Rangoon on the night of  the  coup.
                     My mother, as a former vocal Member of Parliament would have been arrested too  had she not been in England for medical reasons at the time.  On returning to Rangoon in November  1962 to cremate my father she had to  flee for her life early in January 1963 on being warned that the  Women's Prison was being readied for her and she  fled to Thailand together with two of my sisters and a brother, with the  assistance of the Karen Resistance. Arriving there, the King of Thailand, on hearing of  her sent an emissary  to extend to her and her children his personal protection."

 Tayza... "I understand your mother founded and led Shan State Army, and after her retirement your brother carried on leading SSA, right? But nowaday, there are two main Shan Armies SSA & SSNA. And they are just very recently saying that they will unitedly support a federal state, while you are calling for an Independent State. It's a little bit confusing, isn't it?

Sao Hso... "As for the  recent merger of the SSAS &  SSNA and what they said is really no cause for confusion. It is ultimately the will of the People that matters and both these two  worthy Commanders do not question the primacy of  the civilian authority of  the Shan People whom they have sworn to serve. "

 

Dialogue with a Shan Leader, part (2)

11.02.2007     by Tayza     BURMA DIGEST

[Tiger Yawnghwe or (HRH)Sao Hso Khan Pha is the eldest son of Sao Shwe Thaik, the former Saopha of Yawnghwe and the first President of Burma after Burma's Independence. He and a group of Shan elders declared an Interim Shan Government in 2005.]

 

Tayza:Our American friends' well-intentioned attempts to get a UN Security Council resolution on Burma have failed thanks to China-Russia Axis conspiracy.

Tiger: We should not be surprised - China is playing geopolitics and flexing its muscle and using SPDC as a tool to do it with and Russia the opportunist.

Instead our response should be not anger at China but surprise and sorrow that they should be so predictable and totally without finesse. We expected better of them.

This  is a suggestion: - "All the Peoples of the former Union of Burma, now under the heel of the Nazi--Narco SPDC dictatorship look to the People's Republic of China as a friend and as a  friend of oppressed Peoples' EVERYWHERE. We look to the PRC as a friend and champion of the oppressed.
But if China does not want  to be a  friend of oppressed Peoples that are the People of the former Union of Burma - then we say that CHINA can chose to be  neutral and NOT TO HELP OUR OPPRESSORS – the NAZI-NARCO FACIST  SPDC REGIME OF  MYANMAR. Otherwise the People's Republic of China gives us no choice but to seek our friends elsewhere."

Perhaps such an open letter should go to President Ho Jin Tao and the Chairman of the Communist Party of China and delivered also to the Chinese UN Rep. - Letter from the PEOPLE of the former Union of Burma.

If the PRC persists in assisting SPDC, then they are admitting to be pro Nazi-Narco-Facists; ditto India_ a similar letter to India for supplying arms to SPDC.

Of course the open letter is tongue in cheek and they could view it as insulting, but I say – if the shoe fits wear it! Its all we can say.

We should also be ready to quote  right back at PRC  lines from the Communist Manifesto and Chairman Mao's Red Book or if there don't respond - another open letter with these quotes. They are helping SPDC to kill us and so what have we to lose?

 

Tayza:I doubt they'll take any notice of it even if we send it to Hu Jing Tao!!!               

Tiger: Of course Hu Jing Tao won't listen, but is it essentially not to him that such a Petition is addressed - it is more for world wide consumption and attention of the wrong sort that the Chinese don't want. The Chinese mindset I am sorry to say of those in power one of arrogance and of a perceived superiority whether warranted or not.

(By the way)….it has been long rumoured that Israel has built ammunition & arms factories in Burma.
I don't know that I told you of my father's offer of sanctuary to German refugee Jew fleeing Nazi persecution in 1939. The offer was made through Mr. Edmund de Rothschild of the English House of Rothschild and confirmed to me in writing by Edmund de Rothschild in1992 or 1993. He is over 90 years now, but until 2 years ago he was quite alert and active.  Although the Jewish refugees never came to
Yawnghwe State in the Shan States, the offer was made at a time the USA, Canada etc were turning away boat loads of them.

 

Tayza:I am in 100% agreement with you concerning making god friends with Israelis. They are oppressed people; so we should sympathise with them. Moreover they are friend's friends_ our American friends' friends.

But I don't think they will be keen to come and live in our Shan State(s) now; they have now got back the land which their God promised to them thousands of years ago_ I mean the Jerusalem.

But, anyway, it'll be a great bonus for our ethno-democratic movement if we can get Israelis on our side.

Tiger: Yes, this is why they did not come in 1939 - they wanted to go to Palestine, but my father made that offer when the German Jews needed sanctuary. The fact that they did not accept is not the point here. The crucial point is that my father made that offer when he did not need to, neither the fact that they did not accept. The OFFER from his Shan heart is what is.

In the 10th Century when King Manuha was taken prisoner to Pagan as a Pagoda Slave, my Yawnghwe ancestor of the day gave sanctuary to the Pa-O who had fled Thaton - sacked by Anowratha. That is how the Pa-O came to be in the Shan States. The Pa-O know it, but they have been stirred up by Burmese military dictators from BSPP onwards and before that by BCP.

 

Tayza:Your father, our first President, was very kind indeed. By the way, some say that Than Shwe's wife Daw Kyine Kyine is a Pa-O.

Tiger: Mrs Than Shwe - Yes, I have heard it said.

 

Tayza: Now about ethnic people; if ethnic people are really overwhelmingly wishing to secede, then it's secession. We can't do anything about it. People's desire must prevail. But, personally I think, the first step is to form a truly democratic genuine federal union. And to restore human rights, equal rights and prosperity for all. Only after that if majority of people still want secession, we'll need a free and fair and internationally-recognizable referendum to decide the issue peacefully by people's votes. But it's too long a way to go yet. First thing first_ to make our ethno-democratic movement successful. Compared with SPDC's might, individual pro-democracy groups and ethnic groups are like Lilliputians; the only way for Lilliputians to beat Gulliver is to form a united front. No alternative.

Tiger:Your wish though very noble is unfortunately putting the cart before the horse. Trust and goodwill has been destroyed starting with Ne Win's 1962 coup, if not before by AFPFL's adroit usurpation of the role of British over-lordship. We did indeed try to propose and institute Constitutional change and amendments from 1958-1962 for a genuine  federal union in the Spirit of Panglong that even SPDC pretends to pay lip service to.  The answers we got were: -  

1). Ne Win's first coup - the so called Caretaker Government and then 

2.) the 1962 Coup following the 1960 elections when the Clean AFPFL of Thakin Nu - the anti military faction of AFPFL was overwhelmingly returned to government. Debates on constitutional reforms were being debated in the Union Parliament for a  genuine federalism of equal partners as envisaged at Panglong that Gen.Aung San signed for Burma Proper and that which Thakin Nu's Clean AFPFL was conceding to and Ne Win struck, having usurped the Union Army, to further his aims of Burmese hegemony in the guise of "preserving the Union" - a  gross perversion of language, that SLORC/ SPDC still pursue today with increasing Nazi fascist brutality to maintain their power and personal wealth and in engaging in the illicit narcotic trade at every level.

 Trust and goodwill has to be rebuilt and nurtured that 45 years of Nazi-Narco military brutality starting with barely disguised Burman or Burmese chauvinism of the  Ne Win years to the open chauvinism of SLORC/ SPDC. Regretably NLD's knee-jerk rejection of Shan independence also served to confirm our suspicions of the Burman's real intentions of hegemony in spite of protests for real and equal federalism from some Burmese quarters.  

8888 dissidents' insistence that the military regime only came into being in 1988 and oft repeated, also tellingly confirms to us our suspicions of Burmese non existent interest in the military's chauvinistic brutality against us Nationalities of the former Union; and in denying such brutality until the Burmese themselves were affected and suffered - as we have at least since 1962 - the Karens say 1949 and many of us says 1958. One could say 48 years of brutality that the Burmese have totally ignored. This compares to 63 years of British rule in "British Burma" from the fall of Mandalay ("Upper Burma") in 1885 and independence in 1948 - the Shan States were never really completely annexed by the British until 1900, making it 48 years for the Shans - longer for "Lower Burma" of the British.    

I am not saying this to you to win an argument, it is rather in the spirit of informing you why we feel the way we do and why dissents such as yourself must acknowledge if we are to build bridges to regaining that trust. It is only by frank discussions without attempts to sweep unpleasant memories and inconvenient historical episodes under the carpet that we can begin to understand each other.   

Believe me I have had my share of abuse from Burman chauvinist for saying exactly what I am saying to you now.

There has been too much distrust created since those heady days of Panglong in 1947, but even  then  the Shan vote to agree to  form the  Union was very narrow - just a  hair breath's parliamentary majority of 51:49%, a 1% majority; and because the Shan agreed, the Chin, Kachin and Karenni ie. 4 of the 5 original constituent States of the 1948 "Union of Burma", agreed to join.   

In contrast in 2000, 2004 &  2006 the vote of  the Shan Counties or Se-Viengs vote for Independence started with 48:8 raising to a 54:2 majority of the  Counties voting for Independence; meeting necessarily in secret in the jungle and Delegates risking death and torture not only for themselves but also for their families. Remember these Shan Counties also include that of Palaung, Wa, Pa-O and other ethnic nationals of the Federated Shan States

In August 2006 at the grassroots Forum of the Nationalities in Minneapolis hosted by the Karen Community of Minnesota I broached the idea for a Commonwealth of Independent Nations both privately and individually with Delegates and during Forum discussions and this idea was well received. My  rational is - that in future  times,  if one nation were to invade another as the  BSPP under Ne  Win and now SPDC did & does, it becomes an international incident and no longer can an invader hide behind "internal affairs" and issues of "sovereignty" as is being done now by SPDC.  

Yes in name we were supposedly partners in a federal state but in reality and  practice, the "Union of Burma" was a unitary state with the so called States being little more than County Councils as in English practice and the Burmese or Burmans taking on the  role of the  Pyi-ma or the Crown and unfortunately many Burmans who are  inclined to be "maha" rather enjoy this imagined status - are loath to lose it, and sought to enshrine  the belief  that  the  Burmese or Burmans by divine right are "Masters" who own the rest of  us "Minorities" as a subject Peoples - and  how dare we leave!. The "maha" Bamah got their empire by subterfuge and now Than Shwe's SPDC seeks to consolidate it as the royal Burmese domain of Nay-pyi-daw.

The NLD's outright rejection of the Shan Declaration of Independence that is our democratic right by the 1947 Treaty and the 1948 Constitution is yet another ingrained symptom of that outmoded colonial and imperial mind-set of Burmese hegemony. Ask any numbers of the Nationalities in exile in Chiangmai how their websites and emails are full of venom and racist slurs from our Burmese "brothers".

The tender roots of trust that was hoped for in 1947 was destroyed starting with AFPFL's machinations and for many of us Nationalities "federalism" is just another subterfuge for Burman hegemony and imperialism as is the use of Burmese  "majority" and "ethnic minorities",  so our experience after the euphoria of Panglong teaches us.  

 

Tayza: And I really want to know about the status of Shan State(s) & Saophas during British era. Did they enjoy a lot of freedom and autonomy at that time? If so, how much exactly?

Tiger: I don't have personal experience of course. I was born in 1938 and spent my very early childhood under Japanese occupation and immediate post WWII which were abnormal times. But from what I understand, in internal matters of administration and laws pertaining to Shan subjects, the Rulers were autonomous as long as they recognised the British Crown and did not foment rebellion or dissention. Forced labour was not permitted, neither corruption nor misrule or to be neither despotic, nor financial irregularities tolerated - Rulers were forced to abdicate for such offences and heirs who were anti-British were not accepted. They were to behave as perfect "gentlemen". It was a time of Pax Britannia and general prosperity. They did not prevent my father making the offer of sanctuary to the Jews for instance - in fact Edmund de Rothschild's visit to my father was arranged by the British Commissioner.

The British realized that that the Shan were different and simply acknowledged it. Banknotes of the British era were also inscribed in English, Shan & Burmese. It was not a case of "divide and rule" as Burmese politicians are so fond of saying and likewise Burmese Students of 8888, but one of practical fair minded prudence.

 

Tayza:I am interested in British era Shan State because, I think Shans will be happy with a similar arrangement in our future truly democratic Burma, in stead of total separation. If British era arrangement is good, we can restore it when we get democracy.

Concerning Israelis, I 100% agree to make friends with them.

Tiger: I know you mean well, but you know what? You as representing the Burmese democrats, offer to give us a gift with what already belongs to us? This is incredible. Our Shan People in a majority vote from 54 of 56 Counties voted overwhelmingly and decidedly for independence in a majority of 54:2 that is ours by right by Treaty and Constitution, in 2000, 2004 & 2006.

Isn't your offer an Alice in Wonderland thinking?  You can't be serious? We think that Burmese will always twist and turn any argument simply to win and thus cannot be trusted.

This is the sort of upside down illogical justification of the Burmese that makes us shake our heads because you really seem to believe in your own propaganda and often times we are too polite to point it out to you. Perhaps we should have.

I only know one way of speaking and that is plainly.

 

Tayza:I don't mind you speaking plainly. Speaking openly is better than saying sweet lies.

If I were a leader of Burma I'd be ready for any concession and compromise (except total separation) in negotiation with our ethnic leaders for the sake of national reconciliation and for a long lasting genuine trust among all ethnic groups and peace inside the whole Union

But if I were a leader of Burma, I will not agree for a total separation. We have to look back in history on the separation between India and Pakistan. A very awfully tragic separation with loss of countless number of lives.

Nowadays, millions of non-Shans are living in the Shan State, and millions of Shans are living in non-Shan States in Burma. If a forced separation is carried out between Shan State and the rest of Burma, un-imaginably immense tragedy and loss of blood and destruction of lives of millions of ordinary people will unavoidable happen.

But I concede the fact that Burma and Shan State may not be integrated permanently for an eternity. Our Lord Buddha teaches us that nothing is permanent.

If overwhelming majority of people inside Shan state vote for total separation in an internationally recognized free and fair referendum openly carried out in a peaceful way, then we'll have nothing but to accept separation.

Tiger:Trust has to be rebuilt with patience and understanding and to be good friends and neighbours again we need good fences - stout fences make good neighbours. We each have our own histories, cultures, heritage and languages and the only thing we had in common during British times - that was for no more than 50 years - was in being subjects of the British Crown. Imagine what could have happened if French Indo-China became  independent as "Union of Vietnam" as British  Burma that is in reality "British Indo-China"  become "Union of Burma". There lies most of the political problems of post European Colonial Africa today and even in the Indian Union now with their problems in Kashmir and in Assam & the Northeast.  

Better I say to live as good neighbours than to live in the same house and in each other's pockets - that way lies friction and enmity even between members of a real family. Let reality reign rather than a wishful imagined "family” that does not exist. No amount of wishful thinking will mend the broken trust - let us not fool ourselves. The honesty said is echoed by all the other Nationalities be they Arakan, Chin, Kachin, Karenni, Mon, Karen, Pa-O, Wa , Palaung. Lahu  & etc.