SAO HARN YAWNGHWE, THE LAST GENERATION OF A TAI SAO FA WHO STRUGGLES TO RESTORE SHAN STATE BY DEMOCRATIC MEANS
I find below published article on the interview of Harn by Thai Mathichon Press interesting reading. I translated it into English Version and reviewed by my guidance the best possible in trying to reproduce the meaning of the Thai expressions. Hope it be useful.
(Suksan Contributor, page 17-18)
While the Western democracies are being kept in suspense on the transition of a new Cabinet Team to the White House in US, the Eastern are engaging in the killing fields amid global economic crisis. If Thailand can cut off the scenes of the strike at the Thai Government House, it would look a lot better.
Sao Harn Yawnghwe is one of the heirs of Sao Shwe Thaik Yawnghwe, the first President of the Union of Burma and the First Lady or the Mahadevi Sao Nang Hern Kham, the founder of the SSA (Shan State Army).
After his 60 years of dramatic lifespan, he is taking the right of abode in Canada and holding a Canadian citizen. Since 1997, he has taken up a responsibility as the director of Euro-Burma Office in Belgium.
He has set up such an office in Belgium aiming to dedicate himself in the dissemination of knowledge and information on Burma issues including that of Shan State for the benefit of international community for nearly 12 years.
Harn has brothers and sisters. He is the third eldest among five in the Yawngwhe dynasty. His elder brother Sao Mee was assassinated by the Burmese Troops in Rangoon while he and his siblings had escaped from the killing field.
He has neither fought for Shan Independence before nor he has any idea to do so currently. However, his main concern is to bring about change to Burma’s political landscape to transform it into a genuine democratic country in the shortest possible time.
The Burmese people urgently need “Change” for her country and they realized that if her country moves nowhere the suffering would increase immensely. Harn said : “I am supposed to be one of the saviors who could do a lot of favor for the Burmese people to restore peace to the country by peaceful means”.
Question and Answer
Where does your family live?
My family and my mother ( Mahadevi Hern Kham) live in Canada whereas my elder sister is in USA. My office is situated in Brussels of Belgium. I set up an office in Brussels with two reasons: (1) because Brussels is the hub of Europe (2) with the aim of providing information on Burma to the European Union by emphasizing the need to restore “Democracy” for her country. Moreover, I would like to convince EU to help Burma change to democratic system immediately. Presently, there are several organizations helping us. My colleague and I are trying to unite all ethnic groups inclusive of military, civilians, NGO and political parties to devote their efforts for timely change in Burma .
You set up an office not for the purpose of Shan Independence, don’t you?
Oh! No, ( laughing!!!!!!), there is no purpose for that reason. Honestly, my aim is to let Governments in Europe understand the truth (what is going on) in Burma. I don’t hope to guide westerners that the Burmese Military Junta has done a lot of things wrong etc. and etc. other than from enlightening them on “how to transform Burmese life to a Democratic system”. Though I belong to a Shan descendant my policy is to speak for Burma as a whole and not to confine to Shan State Nation only. By confining to only Shan Case, that would go against my strong sense of responsibility for promoting a genuine unity of Burma.
Could you mind describing the past of your family before going to Canada for good?
At that time, what I did remember is the year of Military coup in secret. People lost almost nothing for there was not any resistance. Accordingly, I saw Burmese troops surrounded my family’s house in Rangoon and poured bullets into my house. My elder brother named Mee Mee was killed on the spot. After firing bullets to my house, my father was arrested and taken into military custody. After he was in jail for 18 months he died under the mysterious circumstances. At that time, I was 14 years old and there were 20 persons in my house in Rangoon.
Eventually, I realized that my father was betrayed by the Burmese Military group. At the beginning, all the Chao Fa(s) agreed with the Burmans to declare Independence from the British Government that consequently gave birth to the famous “ 1947 Panglong Agreement”. Following the Independence, my father was promised to become “the First President of the Union of Burma”. In the treaty of Panglong Agreement that was enshrined in the 1948 constitution, UNION States have the rights to secede from the Union of Burma after the elapse of 10 years. However, the Burmans breached both the agreement and the constitution ahead of that time.
What about your mother after that?
My mother was so lucky at the time when political unrest took place in Burma. She was away from home in UK for medical treatment. Hearing my father being in Jail and the situation being in danger she continued to remain in UK until my father passed away. She returned to Burma amid dangerous situation during the military coup and my family members were separated from each other. My brother, Chang went underground to fight against the Burmese military rule.
After my father passed away, Gen. Ne Win tried to negotiate with resistance groups for peace. Shan resistance groups agreed to dispatch my brother Chang for peace negotiation. At that time, my family was stranded in Rangoon and thought we would be taken hostages to force Shan groups to surrender or force them to issue false statements under the duress. Fearing so, we (my mother, my elder sister (Sita) and my younger sister (Ratanna) and I) fled to Thailand to seek political asylum during the rule of Marshal Sarit Thanarat’s government.
How did your family flee to Thailand?
It was very tough and more dangerous during fleeing to Thailand, sometime by car, sometime by boat even by foot. After news leaked to the Burmese troops, all border Checkpoints were alerted and highly screened to prevent my family’s escape route to Thai soil. Knowing that we were chased by military group we then changed the way by walking across the Moei River to Thai border. Thai and Burmese people helped us a lot in crossing the border until reaching one hideout house in the village which belongs to a Millionaire ( remember not). I could not remember the detail and the persons who gave us favor because I was so young. Later, we were taken to Tak Province for safety by the house owner because the place where we hid was traced by the Burmese. Few months later, Khun Kraisri Nimarnmeuan, father of Khun Tharin picked up my family to Chiang Mai and then I got a chance of studying at Mueang Fort School while my elder sister was studying at Rejina School and later she was a teacher at Dara School.
How did you get to Chula University?
(Laughing), it was a joke for me. When I was studying there my major subject was science, but weak in bio. I told my friends that I would study medicine to become a medical doctor and five places were chosen for me to enter entrance examination. Later, I stopped thinking to do it for I realized that I had to take exams regarding bio subject for five times. Hence, I changed my major subject to engineering line because I would like to earn money for my life. ( laughing)
Did somebody know you that you were a son of Sao Pha?
I got many names at that time. I got one name when I was young and the other name while studying at Mong Fort School but the same family name (Na Yawnghwe). People and my friends did know where I came from during my studies at Mong Fort School. As soon as I entered Chula University people started to know about me (where I was from and the family I belonged to) for I had to use my real name, Sao Sur Harn Pha.
After BA graduated, where did you go?
I did not complete my BA at Chula University. As Canadian Government granted my family for political asylum I had to move to Canada when studying second years. Then I continued my engineering BA degree at Montero University. My life in Canada was better than before for I had a class for eight months and four months for working to earn money to support my studies. My elder sister moved to USA for a good job while my mom and younger sister remained in Toronto.
During that period did you think to restore country back?
I thought it for a while as soon as I was in Canada. I was willing to become a soldier to help my elder brother “Chang”. However, my mother said “No” to me and let me concentrate on my studies. She suggested to me as: “Son! What is important to you is studies. Let your brother get involved in politics. That is enough”. With hindsight, it was right that my mother would like me to pay more attention to studies which in turn I could help my brother, at that moment.
According to Shan history, your mother was honored as a heroine; did she tell her sons and daughters to fight for Shan people?
My mother was always a fighter. She was a daughter of Sao Pha of Hsen Wi and married to Sao Pha of Yawnghwe, my father. She used to be a House Representative of Shan working for people, and Chairman of Burma. She used to tell us history where Shan came from. However, it could not go on as Burmans did not permit Shan language to be taught in School.
Why don’t you move to Thailand so that you could work for people and close to your country?
I used to live here before but I could not survive from my meager earning. As soon as I completed my post graduate degree, I worked for a while on finance position at one company. Later I got fed up with my job and stopped working in Canada and tried to come to Asia region, especially to Thailand where I got a job at Bangkok Bank with 10% salary (nearly 10,000) comparing to my salary in Canada. I had no choice at that time.
First, I was staying in Sathorn district while working at the Bangkok Bank. During the adjustment of my job transfers, I quit the banking job to work for Suphanimit Foundation. After sometime, I had a hard time to cope with my living conditions during my association with the foundation. Then I moved to Hong Kong to work for the Bible Association.
Do you associate and contact with Shan Resistance Groups at present?
No, because my brother has gone away from Shan Resistance Army. Honestly, Shan Resistance Army at that time had not got any assistance from outside. They were left with only two options to choose:
1) To be associated with BCP with the aim of getting logistic supplies and procurement of arms or
2) To be merged with SUA led by Khun Sa, the drug kingpin dealing in drug business.
My brother Chao Tzang chose neither of them and resigned from the leadership of the Shan resistance movement of SSA.
In 1988, while I was working in Hong Kong a massacre took place in Burma. I would like to go back to Burma to help people but I could not as I was blacklisted for treason by the military regime. The blacklist is still in place. In 1990, there was a general election which NLD party, led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, got a landslide victory but the junta refused to hand over power to the people. Moreover the regime started to root out the opposition parties and the dissident students. Some dissidents fled to the Thai border and set up their camps along the border. I proposed to help them and then, they agreed to appoint me as a Treasurer, a Foreign Liaison Officer and as a Diplomatic Officer. I am still acting as their main representative for foreigners to contact and bring their needs from donors who would like to change Burma into a democratic country.
What is your present role?
My current position is the Advisor for ENC. The present situation in Burma is increasingly deteriorating, especially along the border. People lacks good education, good healthcare and they are jobless. The schools are operating without teachers and adequate textbooks.
What is your target for your life by serving so?
I am doing it not for the purpose of establishing a Government and for nothing else. I want to gain nothing. The plight of Burma is not purely an internal affairs; it is of major international concerns. It is a big problem to be solved by international community. If the world does not take interests in solving the ongoing crisis in Burma and let the Military Regime to continue holding on to their power, the situation could threaten regional peace and the world as well.
Do you think there is a way to help them?
Yes! There is. In 2010, there will be a general election. We should try to help them and change Burma into democratic system. A coalition Government consisting of Military and Civilians must be set up to bring about peace in Burma. We must educate people to encourage them to vote for change. That is not going to be easy ( laughing) .
Moreover, Gen. Than Shwe is over 70 years old. So long as he is in power it is not easy to hold negotiations with him. But if somebody else is taking over there would be a way.
What about the hope of Shan Independence?
To be honest with myself, it is not easy. Even Laos, they found difficulties to settle with their own problem. Shan State has a lesser population and it is landlocked within many countries. If an alliance of nationalities including Shan, Mon, Karen and others could be set under the framework of JAC (Joint Action Committee) and JOC (Joint Operations Command) and by close coordination, there would be a way out for them. However, I don’t think this is the best way to solve the ongoing crisis. The best way is to bring BMJ to the table for negotiation. Certainly, the five decades long struggle has failed to make any headway in their quest to secede from the Union of Burma. What I understand now is all States need to follow the Panglong Agreement which offers the rights to Autonomy to each state and set up a federal government. The way we are struggling now is just the opposite of what I envisage. To be honest, all Burmese peoples need an urgent change for a genuine Federal UNION.
Nothing can be done at this moment.
Note: Translated by Soi Kham Saeng (SKS)
Thai version: http://www.matichon.co.th/matichon/view_news.php?newsid=01fun01021151§ionid=0140&day=2008-11-02