Thursday, October 14, 2010

Forgotten Panglong

Thursday, 14 October 2010 19:00 Jai Wan Mai

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – “Where have you gone, Panglong Agreement?” The lyrics echo in the minds of Sai Mong and a group of his friends at a construction site in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Acclaimed 20-year old Shan artist Sai Hai Mao, himself a migrant worker who fled to Thailand after the Burmese Army torched his village in central Shan State in July last year, performs the song.

Two clashes between ethnic militia and the Burmese Army in July last year left a reported 13 government soldiers killed, with several more wounded. Burmese troops subsequently retaliated, burning down three villages and arresting several people –forcing many young people to flee into the jungle.

As for Sai Mong, he toils as a day labourer in Thailand, having left his parents and two younger sisters at home.

When talking about his family, his eyes fill with tears. “I want to go home,” he says, “but making a living in Shan State is difficult. The Burmese Army forces us to work in areas such as the paddy fields and in road construction. This forced labour has become a daily occurrence.”

Sai Mong feels threatened and afraid of the Burmese troops in his village, where he says villagers are beaten when accused of supporting Shan soldiers opposed to the Burmese Army.

He laughs when asked when he will return home: “If the Burmese Army returns to Mandalay or Rangoon then I will go home.”

Since liberation from Britain in 1948, internal conflicts in Burma have fallen into two general classifications: Firstly, as power rivalries amongst competing Burman elites and secondly, as struggles between the central government and non-Burman ethnic groups following the failure of the Panglong Agreement’s fruition.

The agreement as commonly understood promised equal rights and autonomy for non-Burman peoples such as the Kachin, Chin and Shan. However, the pact was never given a chance to succeed, as civil war and internal rivalries broke out almost immediately upon liberation.

The ruling coalition government, Anti-Fascist People’s Freedom League (AFPFL), split into several factions, with the Communist Party of Burma opting to raise arms against Rangoon.

Pathetically, the AFPFL government plunged into war not only with Burman rebels but also against non-Burman ethnic groups including the Karen, Mon, Kachin, Shan and several others. It was a situation that only worsened after General Ne Win staged a military coup in 1962.
Sao Shwe Theik, a Shan and the first president of Burma, was arrested by the Burmese Army and died in prison in 1962. The Burmese Army raided his residence in Rangoon, killing some of his family. Ultimately, several non-Burman leaders who had voiced their displeasure over the failed Panglong Agreement and proposed the adoption of a federal system of government found themselves jailed.

Even more frustrating for ethnic groups is that successive ruling Burmese governments have neglected to recognise the agreement’s importance and reneged on promises made under the pact. Instead, the Burmese government opted to act as a big brother, eventually transforming itself into the dictatorship it is today.

On the one hand, the regime called for “Union solidarity”, while on the other, it failed to recognise and respect the rights of non-Burmese nationalities. Again and again, the Burmese regime labelled armed ethnic groups terrorists, drug lords and other unwelcome monikers in order to gain political capital.

Yet, internally and internationally, the political reputation of the Burmese regime has dropped to zero following its brutal crackdowns on the 1988 and 2007 protests.

As a result of the Burmese junta’s hard-handed and one-sided approach to solving Burma’s political crisis, Burma’s ethnic populations have been forced to run for the lives. According to the Thailand Burma Border Consortium, as of August nearly 150,000 refugees, predominantly ethnic peoples forced to flee their country, make their homes in camps dotting the Thai-Burmese border. Meanwhile, tens of thousands exist as internally displaced persons (IDPs) across the border in Burma.

A further 1.1 million Burmese migrant workers, as calculated by the Migrant Assistance Programme (MAP) based in Chiang Mai, are residing in Thailand and eligible for the Kingdom’s national verification process.

Burma’s population never dreamt they would face such poverty, hunger and fear after liberation from the British. They believed in the Panglong Agreement and the leaders who inked their names to the pact. Regrettably, some of the leaders that followed did not share in the same vision for a prosperous, unified and diverse Burma.

Leave a Reply