Burma's Great Loss
The Ethnic Leaders and Bogyoke Aung San's Federated Union of Burma
The Shan and the Bamar's political contact
Soon after World War II and re-occupation of Burma by the British, the Bamar politicians were already busy planning to demand Independence from Britain; Burma Proper and other ethnic states to be one Nation State, with ethnic Bamar controlling power.
As for the Shan Sao Hpas (ruling princes), they had just returned home after fleeing due to the threat of being captured by the Japanese who would use them as a bargain to save their own lives. The Sao Hpa of Mongkung was captured and killed by the Japanese.
In the Shan State there was an air of unsettledness and the usual peace and calm were no longer there- it seemed trouble was brewing and things were never going to be the same again. Politics from Burma Proper had entered the Shan States, mainly in Taunggyi and Lashio, through the influence of the Bamar, AFPFL (Anti-Fascist People's Freedom League) on some young Shan activists, who founded the first Shan political party, the SPFL (Shan People's Freedom League)
In January 1946, Bogyoke Aung San became the President of the AFPFL. In September, he was appointed Deputy Chairman of the Executive Council of Burma by the new British Governor Sir Hubert Rance and was made responsible for defence and external affairs.
Still under the British, on March 26, 1946 the Shan Sao Hpas held a Conference in Panglong. (the first Panglong Conference).The purpose of the Conference was to forge friendship, to secure mutual understanding and to lay a foundation for future co-operation with all peoples of Burma; most importantly to discover the advantages and disadvantages that would bring to the Frontier States (Hill States) if they were to become members of the Federated Burma.
The Conference was attended by the Kachin, Chin and Karen, as well as Bamar politicians , including U Tin Tut, the ex-premier, U Saw and U Nu.
It was chaired by the Sao Hpa of Tawngpeng who advised ethnic leaders to listen carefully but not to make a hasty decision. The British Governor, Sir Hubert Rance was invited but he could not attend due to illness , so was represented by Mr.
Mr Stevenson read out the Governor's letter, which dealt with two issues; the administration of the frontier areas, which would be under the direct control of the Governor as previously, and this was to continue until the people of the Frontier were ready and had chosen to join with Burma Proper. The Bamar people were most anxious to include the Shan and other States in a fully self-governing Burma, so the people of the Frontier States should give earnest consideration to the matter.
The delegates one by one delivered a speech. Thakin Nu (first Prime Minister of the Union of Burma), lashed out at the British and accused them of causing a division and hate between the frontier peoples and the Bamar. This made the hosts and many of the guests uneasy as they thought the accusation was not appropriate. This outburst had increased the doubts in the minds of the Frontier peoples whether joining the Bamar was the right thing to do.
Mr. Stevenson replied to the accusation: “We are inclined to think that people who try to make unreal things real or to bluff the public are the ones who are responsible for the misunderstanding, suspicion and discord found to be existing between the Frontier peoples and the Burmese. Now, this is just one instance in a hundred. We could quote a thousand others. It is therefore an obvious fact unless the Burmese leaders and people alike change their opinion about the Frontier peoples, and treatment to be accorded to them, there can be no hope of forming a real federated Burma”.
“On the other hand, if the Burmese will realize the situation and try to amend their past faults, we see no reason why there cannot be a real united Federated States of Burma. What we ask of the Burmese to do is to examine the facts. The British are our friends and their friends, they have done far more for Burma than the old Burmese government ever did, and now they have promised Burma full self-government. We do not see that there is anything to be gained by blaming the British for faults which lie here in the Burmese hearts”.
The Signing of the Panglong Agreement
In January 1947, Mr. Attlee, the then Prime Minister of Britain invited Bogyoke Aung San to London to discuss Burma's independence, during which Aung San demanded independence should be as soon as possible. The Attlee- Aung San Agreement was signed on the 27 January, 1947
Hearing this, the Karens formed the KNU and demanded for a separate state from the Bamar. The Shan, Kachin and Chin leaders also quickly sent a telegram to the British Government in London, saying that they would like to be represented by their own members, as Bogyoke Aung San had no right to represent them.
A second Conference was held in Panglong, between the Frontier leaders (Shan, Kachin, and Chin) and the Bamar leaders, headed by Bogyoke Aung San. After long debates and speeches by several people, Bogyoke Aung San, persuaded the Shan, Kachin and Chin leaders to join Bamar as equal partners, and ask Britain for Independence. The ethnic leaders believed Bogyoke Aung San to be genuine with his words and promises, thus an agreement, called the Panglong Agreement, was signed on the 12th of February 1947 between the Bamar, represented by Bogyoke Aung San and leaders of the Shan, Kachin and Chin. Without the Panglong Agreement, there would not have been the Union of Burma and the Ethnic Nationalities would still have their own previous status, enjoying autonomy and self-determination or even independence, like Laos (the Shan State is bigger than Laos).
The Panglong Agreement was based on four main principles: Freedom of choice, equality of status and opportunities for all members; self-determination had to be the rights of the ethnic states without any interference from the Bamar, and the right of secession. (which later, was written in the Constitution that only the Shan State and Karenni State had the right to secede, and only after a period of ten years) In one of his speeches Bogyoke Aung San said, “the rights of secession had to be given, but it is our duty to work and show our sincerity so that they don't want to leave”. Bogyoke Aung San was fair, and a unique Bamar politician; in spite of knowing that some hard-line Bamar politicians were against the Panglong principles, he went ahead and signed the Agreement.
Independence, the Assassination of Bogyoke Aung San and U Nu's Government
After the “Panglong Agreement” had been signed, while Bogyoke Aung San and his colleages were having a meeting of the Executive Council for the drafting of the Constitution, they were assassinated by U Saw's men, on July 19 1947.
U Nu became the first Prime Minister of the Union of Burma, and Independence from Britain was achieved on the 4th. Of January, 1948.
But the hard-line politicians were not happy with the Panglong principles- they wanted the Bamar to have absolute power over other ethnic nationalities. They also made Buddhism the Union's religion. This angered the non-Buddhists, especially the Christian communities, causing the Kachins to rebel.
Soon after Bogyoke Aung San's death the Rangoon government began to alter some clauses in the Constitution. But the worst incident came in 1958, 10 years after independence, the time when the Shan State had the right to secede from the Union. The hard-line politicians/military were so paranoid that the Shan State would leave the Union, the military under Ne Win forcibly occupied the Shan State. (The Shan leaders were not planning to secede; they wanted to have a debate and discussion in Parliament to amend some of the clauses that were contradictory to the principles of the Panglong Agreement).
The military coup – and forced occupation of ethnic states (1958- present)
The Military's reasons for staging the coup were because Sao Hpas were separatists, feudalistic and as such were bad leaders. They set out to influence Shan activists and citizens with damaging propaganda against the Sao Hpas. Due to external pressure and because they had accepted that the time had come for the people of the Shan State to enjoy democracy, the Sao Hpas transferred their power over to the Shan State Government. Ne Win and his men were still dissatisfied when they noticed that the Shan citizens' respect for the Sao Hpas had not declined, so all the Sao Hpas were imprisoned in 1962 for six years, and then put under house arrest in Rangoon. Most of them died of old age, while the Sao Hpa of Hsipaw was killed in Ba Htoo Myo , in Lawksawk, and some Sao Hpas died in prison under suspicious circumstances.
The military generals, having had all the Sao Hpas out of their way, used their absolute power to try and remove all obstacles that could hinder their plan to create a unitary state called Myanmar, a country without other ethnic nationalities in it. To achieve this, they had to destroy culture, language, religion, literature and history, everything that is different from that of their own. The Bamar armed forces ordered or gave a free hand to soldiers to commit the most horrendous human rights violations against ethnic citizens, including ethnic cleansing and genocide.
After so many years of committing crimes against humanity, the generals have not succeeded in eliminating the ethnic nationalities and creating a unitary Myanmar. With the spread of the internet throughout the world, the generals must have noticed that Burma as a whole has lagged far behind other nations in everything. This must have come as a great shock to them, that decided them to change the military to a civil government, with U Thein Sein as the President.
As Western sanctions were also hurting the economy of the country, the regime now wanted them to be lifted. It had to show the world that the civil government is reforming to democracy, which is very impressive superficially. The pseudo-democracy, will go only as far as it will be accepted by Western Governments, who are for political reasons, willing to accept the reforms although still below genuine democratic standard. Underneath this superficial exhibition and propaganda, lies a deeper and more cunning plan, democratisation to please the world, but with a greater military stranglehold over all ethnic states. In spite of the cease-fire agreement the military is still expanding their army bases all over the ethnic states, particularly in the Shan and Kachin States. The dictatorial armed forces continue to attack both the RCSS/SSA, SSPP/SSA and the Kachins.
The military is also playing a role in and encouraging sectarian and ethnic wars, as in the Arakan State; between the Arakanese Buddhists and the Rohingya Muslims; between the Shan militias and the Kachins in the Kachin State; between the Wa and the Shans in the Shan State to show that Burma needs a strong dictatorial army to control the violence and stability in the country. The Bamar and Arakan citizens are confused; they had once spent years in prison for campaigning against the dictatorial regime for democracy and human rights, but are now being converted to racists. These racists, adopted the 'herd culture' and are witch-hunting certain groups and individuals. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the 1988 students, who the ordinary Burmese and ethnic nationalities depend on to lead them towards democracy have also become caught up in stagnation.
Thein Sein appealed to all political parties to help the peace process as without their cooperation and that of civil organizations his work would fail. He added that everyone must be tolerant as ethnic conflicts were rooted over five decades and could not be solved quickly.
In Thein Sein's calls for co-operation, it didn't seem he really meant 'cooperation' but rather 'submission ' to what the regime wants. He disagreed that Shan language should be taught in schools during school hours, because of the many diverse ethnic groups in the Shan State. This is a lame excuse as during the Sao Hpas and British rule, all these diverse groups had lived in peace and harmony side by side. The President still does not recognise that it is the rights of the Shan people to decide what they want in their own homeland, which is the fundamental rights in all democratic countries.
The Union of Burma was primarily built by ethnic leaders and Bogyoke Aung San based on honourable and genuine promises and agreement, respect, trust, co-operation, fairness and most of all freedom of choice. These values have vanished along with Bogyoke Aung San and Shan leaders. Instead we have broken promises, disrespect, distrust, conflict and discord, unfairness, force and violence. These are the values of the dictatorial military organisation.
In his speeches the President stressed that peace must come before everything else. Without resolving the conflicts between the Bamar military and the ethnic nationalities there cannot be peace; and without understanding and accepting the root cause, the conflicts cannot be resolved. The conflict started when the Bamar military violated the Panglong principles and robbed the homelands, the freedom and the rights of the ethnic nationalities. The ethnic resistance armies came into being to protect their own citizens from the bullying of the dictatorial armed forces, and to have a means to claim back what had been stolen from them. If President Thein Sein and his Peace Committee should use 'Force' to build Peace (by trying to remove all ethnic armies) or to build a Unitary Nation State, he will definitely fail. Human nature is such that the greater force used, the greater the rebellion. Force, suppression and absolute control of power are the reasons why ordinary civilians in African countries are rebelling against their dictatorial government. Freedom is more important to human beings than being poor.
The military must accept that they have and are still treating other ethnic nationalities most shamefully and inhumanely. Unless and until the regime's attitude and behaviour towards other ethnic nationalities are altered there cannot be peace and good relations between the two. If the regime/government were to return what had been stolen from them, and withdraw their armed forces from all the ethnic states, this could be a start towards real reconciliation and peace. In fact peace can be immediate and lasting.
If the Thein Sein government and generals can face facts, and realise and accept the true situation and try to amend their past mistakes, perhaps a genuine united Federated Burma like the one the ethnic nationalities leaders and Bogyoke Aung San had hoped for sixty-five years ago will come to life again.
The contributor is the daughter of the ruling prince of Lawksawk and the author of “My Vanished World”.