Monday, July 31, 2006

Dialogue With A Shan Leader,H.R.H Hso Khan Pha

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. "

Shan State and Union of Burma

Message on the 59th Anniversary of Shan National Day

Sai Wansai

It is interesting to note that the linkage and emergence of the modern Shan State, its national day and the formation of the Union of Burma are so intertwined; it is almost impossible to discuss the making of this historical formation separately.

The date 7th February 1947 is a defining moment in the record of the Shan history as a modern nation. On that day, Shan princes and the people's representatives of the Shan States demonstrated their newfound unity to declare it a "national day" which were followed by the resolutions of "Shan National Anthem", "Shan National Flag" and the formation of "Shan State Council" on the 11th and 15th of February, 1947 respectively. These had been done without reference to the British colonial overlords, who claimed protector-ship over the Federated Shan States since 1886-87 (one year after the fall of the Burman kingdom and the Alaungpaya or Gonbaung dynasty).

The formation of the Shan State Council by Shan leaders autonomously of the British represents a declaration by the Shan that they are a sovereign, free nation. This bold action constitutes a Shan declaration of independence from foreign rule, and the date, 7th February 1947, marks the entry of the Shan people onto the world's historical stage as a modern nation.
The people of Shan States and leaders decided in this very year later at Panglong, on the 12th of February, to join with U Aung San and the AFPFL (Anti-Fascist People's Freedom League) and leaders of other nationalities, to live together under one flag as co-independent and equal nations. This marks the birth of a nation-state now known as "Union of Burma".

It is not an exaggeration to state that without Panglong Agreement or Accord, signifying the intent and willingness of the free peoples and nations of what could be termed British Indochina, there would have not been born the Union of Burma in 1948.

Failed Cohabitation

As all know, the experiment to live together in harmony within the Union of Burma has been a disaster. In 1962, the Burmese military sized state power in a coup and declared the Union Constitution abolished. In so doing, the Burmese terminated the only existing legal bond between them and the other ethnic nationalities. The declaration of the suspension of the Constitution was in effect a self-denunciation that Burma had overnight become an aggressor-nation instead of partner. Since then, Shan State has been treated as a de facto colony and occupied territory by the Burmese army. Its forced assimilation and Burmanization policies to subdue our national identity have devastated the Shan homeland and make the people homeless and refugees. Looking at the contemporary situation, one could only term the Shan nation as a downtrodden and battered one, reeling under the occupation of the oppressive Burmese military regime. Gross human rights violations, genocide and cultural genocide, population transfer designed to make the Shan a minority in their homestead, and robbing them of their birthright sovereignty and self-determination are glaring injustice, which push the Shan into the category of sub-human or slaves, especially in the eyes of their occupiers. The same situation also applies to the Karenni, Karen, Mon, Arakan, Chin and Kachin States.

But even under such circumstances and after more than four decades of brutal suppression and occupation, the Shan sense of "national identity" and the aspiration to be the master of their own faith have not diminish but have grown stronger. The Shan Nationalities League for Democracy's (SNLD) victory in 1990 nation-wide election in the whole Shan State; the continued political activities of the Shan State Army North within the limited political space provided by the Burmese military junta; the active armed resistance of the Shan State Army South, together with the bulk of Shan State National Army; and the highly self-conscious Shan civil societies in keeping the national identity alive under intense pressure of the Burmese military junta; are indications of a nation, which refuses to be cowed.

Given such a backdrop, it is not at all surprising that the majority of the Shan people wants to opt out of the now-defunct union for good. The question also arises as to why the mainstream Shan organizations are endorsing the notion to rebuild a new Federal Union - together with all the other ethnic nationalities, Burman included - instead of an outright total independence and clean sweep secession.

There are two essential, important factors, which need emphasizing regarding this issue, at least from the mainstream organizations and Shan leadership point of view. One is the ever changing global perspective in relation to the issue of self-determination and the other, the constant transformation of needs and value system or aspiration of a people at a given time and space.

Changing Global Perspective

In 1945, the United Nations member states count was 41 and by 2002, it has reached 191. Up till 1990, most emerging new states, with a few exceptions like Bangladesh and Singapore, are the product of decolonization program of the United Nations based on the so-called salt-water doctrine. However, the break-up of Soviet Union, Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia in the early 90s has added up some 19 more new states, which raises hope that the disintegration of the existing states will continue. But this expectation was short-lived and with the end of the cold war, the pro-status quo stance gained acceptance again and the disintegration of existing states subsided. During the period of 2000 to 2006, only one new state emerged, which was a mixture of decolonization trend as prescribed by the United Nations and liberation movement or disintegration of an existing state from the point of view of the Indonesian government.

The global trend seems to be moving towards integration than disintegration, as can be seen by the expansion of European Union, now numbering 25 states. At the same time, the international community's wariness of having to deal with failed states, such as Somalia and Democratic Republic of the Congo, have prompted to reject disintegration and push for more integration.

If one looks around the conflict spectrum in Asia-Pacific region, most opposition movements against the existing states have toned down their secessionist tendency and are now accommodating autonomy solution or federal system arrangement, rather than secession. The Tamil Tiger of Sri Lanka and the GAM of Ache/Indonesia are good examples, which have grasped the changing international mood in relation to their aspiration of self-determination.

writes: The integration of a new state in the international community does not take place automatically, but through co-optation; that is, by individual and collective recognition on the part of the already existing states. By the procedure of recognition, these states exercise their prerogative to determine in advance whether the newcomer, in their judgment, is able and willing to carry out all its obligations as a subject of international law, whether it will be a reliable member of the international community.

Shan State is situated between China and Thailand and also shares thousands of kilometers borderline with both states and couldn't expect recognition easily, even if the Shan could throw out the Burmese occupation forces, for both countries view the conflict as an internal one. Furthermore, while China has adopted an Anti-Secession Law on 14 March 2005, Thailand is bound by it commitment in ASEAN to view Burma as a sole political entity and fellow member of the bloc, not to mention the principle of non-intervention and territorial integrity, which are cornerstones of the organization.

Transformation of Needs and Value System

According to the unpublicized survey conducted by the Shan Herald Agency for News (SHAN), the majority of the Shan people would opt for total independence, if given the chance to choose. It is also not surprising that the people would prefer secession, under such immense rights violations and oppression by the Burmese occupation forces. It couldn't be otherwise.
Again, it boils down to the point if the people's desire could be achieved in the foreseeable future, given the unfavorable international mood on such goal setting. Practically, the Shan are faced with a dilemma to choose between secession and genuine federalism. But it is also important to note that the Federal Proposal of 1961, before the military coup, is the brainchild of the Shan leadership at that time, which was aimed at changing the Burman dominated unitary system into a genuine federal structure with equal status for all ethnic nationalities. All non-Burman ethnic groups endorse this as a balanced and acceptable solution until today. Meanwhile, this proposed arrangement also find acceptance among most of the Burman opposition camps as a way to resolve the conflict as a whole.

In this connection, it is also important to look at the ever-changing needs and value of the concerned population at a given space and time. The Kurdish people's participation in the recent Iraq federal setup, the undecided faith of the Albanian people in Kosova, the conflict management in Ache/Indonesia, and the ongoing talks between the government of India and Naga people indicated that they are ready to cut a deal less than the originally aimed goal of secession or total independence. This is perhaps lowering the aspiration to a certain degree but nevertheless, a pragmatic approach and in line with the international mood. But this is not to say that the global trend will stay forever in favor of status quo. The people concerned would eventually adjust their needs and value system, according to the prevailing international norm and structure of the time.

Pragmatic Approach

Finally, if the Shan wants to be heard and advance their aspirations, they would need to seriously think globally and act locally. It would need to sell the idea that it is part and parcel of a viable force, in collaboration with all non-Burman ethnic nationalities and Burman opposition groups, to replace the illegitimate military junta. To do this, "broad coalition-building" among all the opposition is essential, even those within the rank of the enemies, who are ready to reform, embrace justice, equality and democracy should not be neglected.

The Shan cannot win this fight alone and it is crucial that the "multi-pronged" approach is employed, coupled with the motto of "diverse actions, common goal", as urged time and again by the late Chao Tzang Yawnghwe.

Sai Wansai