Genuine Federalism or Shan State Independence?

   (BOXUN Received S.H.A.N. & Burma's News Published by Burma's Chinese  - Maung Chan )


   I have written an article on Feb 24 titled “Burma’s Junta Resorts to His Fists Against Shan Politicians”, stating that the junta’s arrest of Hkun Htun Oo and General Hso Ten, altogether 10 Shan leaders charging them with treason”.

    “We’ll not be defeated!” Sai Wansai, General Secretary of Shan Democratic Union told me indignantly at that moment.

    “It proved that the military regime’s disagreement of the equal rights of nationalities and that our leaders’ advocacy of peaceful dialogue will bring us no where near to the Federal Union of Burma. Now there is only one option open —armed struggle for total independence of Shan State! ” declared the exiled Shans on March 29.

    “ We ethnic nationalities have begun the peaceful negotiation for the genuine federal Burma and the national equality since 1961 and always been jailed and killed. We choose armed struggle so that we would not be always arrested and killed at their will. It is the generals who create the civil war!” said Nang Kher Hsen, the spokeswoman of Shan State Army (SSA), which is still fighting the junta.

   ”We ask for federalism, autonomy and equality, but the generals charge us with treason. The Burmese generals are responsible for the rebellion of Shan people and instability of the country” said Sao Seng Suk, Acting President of the Shan Union and leader of Shan States Constitution Drafting Commission.

   ”ASEAN have to force Burmese generals to hold tri-partite dialogue and let Union of Burma proceed peacefully along the road of democracy. ”said Sao Seng Suk, 71, son of Hkun Kya Bu, a signatory of the Panglong Agreement.

   Exiled Burmese political analyst U Aung Naing Oo said that the junta should tone down its demands and increase activities leading to democratic reforms by releasing all political prisoners including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

   Harn Yawnghwe, Director of the EU-Burma Office and one well known top leader of the exiled Shan and advocate of other ethnic nationalities, son of Saw Shwe Thaike and younger brother of Chao Tzang, said, ”I am overwhelmed with indignation! The Burmese army are killing our people everyday and gang-raping our women. Our people’s long and untold suffering, have still not been stopped and addressed in substantial manner. ”

   Harn’s brother Chao Tzang was an English tutor during my Rangoon University’s days. He was as well an outspoken advocate and inspired revolutionary for the Shan people. We, the revolutionary students of Rangoon University called him “Burma’s Prince Sihanouk ”. He died of cancel last year.

   Chao Tzang had bravely urged the successive Burmese military regimes and international community to recognize the reality of Burma the existence of the three forces, the military regime, democratic opposition and ethnic nationality groups.

   Chao Tzang had tirelessly advocated that Burma’s problem should be solved through tri-partite dialogue and establishment of genuine federal system.

   Now some of the Shan are blaming him, Shan Herald Agency for News recently writes: “The reality proved his advocacy to be illusion. If our Shan State and our Shan people do not throw away the illusion, do not cut off the relation with the Burmese military rulers, we will never have future”.

   Harn’s political position is also identical to his brother Chao Tzang. ”We Shan people have several decades strive for independence since Ne Win abolished the Union Constitution. Who do not want freedom and independence? The key question has always been what is best for the people of Shan State. If federal system brings peace and happiness for us, we should opt for federal system, if independence could deliver, we should go for independence”.

   This author has been studying about the Shan (Tai, Dai, Siam) living now in China’s Yunnan, Vietnam, Burma, Thailand, Laos, India’s Manipur and Assam. Shan are independent people and they call themselves “Tai”, which means “freedom”. It is a pity that Burma is the only country where Tai or Shan people have no freedom, no national equality and peaceful co-existence have been denied.

   Historically, the Tai ancestors lived possibly along the Yangtze River 5,000 years ago (one of Bai-Yue nationalities?). Being good at growing rice and irrigation, they developed their farmland and rice cultivation using watering system through irrigation. This had paved the way for South-China to become a famous land for rice production and fishery centre (a Chinese idiom: a land of fish and rice ). Later the stronger and greater races forced them to move westwards to Yunnan. They moved along the four rivers, namely Red River, Lang Chang River, Nu River and Li River, where they farmed and lived. During 4th-12th century they united other ethnic nationalities of Yunnan to establish Six Chaos, Nan Chao and Dali Dynasties successively. They established also several city-kingdoms in Burma, Thailand and Laos. They, the great kingdom of Gandala, the country of perfume, joined Tibet(Tubo) to fight the Great Tang Dynasty. When the Great Mongol in 1287 invaded and defeated them, they moved massively into Burma, Thailand and Laos. The new comers and the ethnic Tais from previous migration joined together and created the Great Tai(Shan,Siam) Era in 13th-16th century. Through their joint efforts, Burma, Vietnam and Thailand became well known as rice producing countries in 19th-20th century.

   Harn insists the opinion that two factors, historical circumstances and world politics, play a major part in deciding the Tais’destiny. Only two Tai Nations, Thailand and Laos have become independent.

   It is not sufficient to argue that Burma’s Shan State should be independent today just because Shan kings ruled Burma during 13th-16th century and was independent before becoming British’s Frontier Area in 1886, said Harn.

   The British Empire waged the first war against Burmese king in 1824 and colonized the far-southern part,the peacock's tail, of Burma, which included most parts of Karen State and Mon state, and the western part, Arakan State of today. The second war in 1852 led to the British occupation of the whole Lower Burma .In 1885 the British attacked Upper Burma including Mandalay and resettled the Burmese King to India. The Shan States, Kachin State and Chin State of today were known as “Frontier Areas” under the British. The British restructured the Shan States as “ Federated Shan States” where the Saohpas– lord of the sky – were given almost free reign, with minimum control, whereas Burma Proper was ministered as a British- India's Province, directly ruled by British's India. Frontier Areas did not belong to Burma Proper.

   According to Harn’s analysis, World politics after the Second World War pushed the Federated Shan States to struggle for joint-independence with Burma Proper, eventually leading to the formation of Union of Burma. Shan leaders accordingly had not much choice, he argued.

   --China was in the throes of anti-Japanese war, over 30 millions Chinese people (more than the population of Burma at that time) have been killed by Japanese troops during 1931-45. In 1945-49, China plunged into a civil war, where the communists supported by Soviet Union and nationalists supported by USA, killed each other.

   --Thailand had sided with Japan during the Second World War and was not looked upon with favour by the Allies.

   --General Aung San helped the Allies with his army in 1945 and became British “anti-Fascist minister” of Burma Proper, although he had been originally trained by the Japanese fascist regime and brought the Japanese fascist army into the country in 1941 to overthrow the British and eliminate pro-British elements.

   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 Saohpas wanted to protect their privileges and that Harn’s father wanted to become the president of the Union of Burma.

   “These allegations are not based on facts,“ said Harn, “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”.

   According to Harn, the Saohpas were, on the whole, not self-seeking feudal lords. They were definitely not protecting their privileges at Panglong conference. Since the 1930's they had been training young men to take over the leadership. They were in favour of democratisation and in 1959 they gave up all their rights to rule to the Shan State Government.

   According to the research, Sao Shwe Thaike, Harn’s father, was born in 1896. After attending Shan Chiefs School in Taunggyi, he was enlisted in the British Army. He became Saohpa of Yawnghwe after Harn’s grandfather passed away in 1929. He signed the Panglong Agreement in February 1947 in order to struggle for Joint-Independence with Burma Proper and establish the Union of Burma based on the Union Constitution, which was to be drafted in July 1947 for which he was the Chairman. When Union of Burma declared its Joint-Independence on Jan 4,1948, he became first President of the newborn Union of Burma. In March 1952, his tenure as Burma’s first President ended and was elected to be President of the Chamber of Nationalities. On March 2, 1962, General Ne Win staged a coup and seized the political power, abolished the Union Constitution and imprisoned all the legally elected ministers including Premier U Nu and he himself.

   Harn’s younger brother resisted arrested, according to the Burmese military sources and was shot dead, when Ne Win’s Burmese army came to arrest his father.

   Harn’s father died later in custody and not long after Harn’s mother and elder brother Chao Tzang led the Shan resistance to fight against the Burmese army. The mother found refuge in Canada, where she died two years ago. Chao Tzang, who also resettled in Canada following retirement from military active duty – he was leading top Shan State Army commander - died last year of brain tumour.

   Harn, accordingly, is not against those who want to seek independence.

   “Who wants to be oppressed by the dictatorial Burmese army? Who wants to have one's womenfolk gang-raped? Who wants to have one's children and parents forced to work without payment under appalling conditions? Be arrested and shot dead just because one does not obey an arbitrary order given by the Burmese Army? ”said Harn.

   “Ask the Burman brothers and sisters. They don’t like this too. That was why so many have fled Burma. We cannot match the use of military force, where the junta outnumbered and is better equipped. But we might have a better chance in political arena.” Harn asked those Shan people are seeking independence: “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”.

   Every one knows that the generals have perfected their military technique of destruction and terrorizing our country and our people. They do not fear the wars of independence. They have been amassing new weapons since 1989 to pursue and attack the resistance. They are just waiting for the best time and the best excuse to annihilate the opposition and win the praise of the world “for eradicating drugs and terrorism”.

   It should be noted that during the last few years, over 40% national budget was allotted to military expenditure, whereas less than 0.3% was spent for health care and education.

   The generals, however, are deadly afraid of politics. They know they will lose power if they let people freely express their will.

   Harn said that the 1990 nation-wide election, where the junta lost miserably and the NLD and ethnic-based parties won with a landslide, is case in point, indicating the people’s aspiration for democracy.

   The junta response was the nullification of the election result, refusal to hand over power to the election winners, and to ban activities of political parties.

   The generals are also deadly afraid that the people will be united. Their counter strategy has always been to divide and rule. The ethnic political or military organisations such as KNU, KNPP and KIO all have splinter groups, which fought against each other.

   Hkun Htun Oo and Gen Hso Ten's “monstrous crimes” are that they try their best not only to unite the Shans, but also 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. These were what the generals could not tolerate.

   Another highlight: after our 50-year struggles, the United Nations for the first time acknowledged our legal status in 1994 by adopting a resolution calling for a 'tripartite dialogue' - the military, democracy advocates, and the ethnic nationalities. Prior to this, our ethnic rights were not recognized. We were just rebels. Kofi Annan, Secretary-General of the United Nations has definitely recognized now our legal status. The arrest of the Shan leadership and subsequent call by the UN for immediate release shows that the ethnic nationalities are reasonable and willing to have a peace settlement through dialogue.

   It is now clear that the generals are the main obstacles in resolving problems of Burma.

   Harn said many are indeed been somewhat frustrated.However, he cautioned if the Shan are willing to throw away the edge that have already achieved?

   He emphasized not forget, the Shan’s efforts, together with other non-Burman ethnic nationality groups, have also thrown the Burma Army into disarray. He asked:

   - Haven’t the military junta turned against each other?

   - Wasn’t General Khin Nyunt, the third strong man and his followers arrested?

   - Wasn’t General Khin Nyunt’s whole department nationwide dissolved?

   - Isn’t General Than Shwe, the first strong man, and General Maung Aye, the second strong man, become distrustful to each other?

   - Isn’t there confusion in the Burma Army’s rank and file?

   Furthermore, he pointed out that this has never happened before in Burma's history and that the Shan are winning than losing politically.

   He made an appeal for the Shan to consider as follows:

   - 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?

   Harn said in all earnestness that the future of the people of the Shan State is too important to make hasty and not well-thought-of decisions. The Shan should try their best not to allow their emotions cloud their thinking and clearly evaluate the options realistically.