Paletwa territorial dispute reignited after Panglong summit
CHIN politicians are furious after the head of a nationalist party in neighbouring Rakhine State reopened an old territorial feud amid strides for ethnic unity.
During the Ethnic Youth Conference in Panglong, Shan State, at the end of July, U Aye Maung, chair of the Arakan National Party (ANP), delivered a contentious history of Paletwa, a border region on the Kaladan River claimed by both the Chin and the Rakhine. U Aye Maung appeared to be implying that the disputed territory rightfully belongs to the Rakhine, and was reallocated in the wake of independence.
“Our hill track Paletwa became Chin territory only in 1953-54 under the Anti-Fascist People’s Freedom League [Hpa Hsa Pa La],” he said during a speech about the federal Union.
Ethnic Chin youth quickly rebuked the ANP leader for re-enflaming the long-simmering spat and demanded a retraction. On July 31, the Chin youth published a statement condemning the remarks and any attempt to reignite old territory squabbles between ethnic groups as the carving-out of a federal Union is re-examined within the framework of peace negotiations.
“We want him [U Aye Maung] to take responsibility for his remarks,” said Salai Robert Thawng Ling, a Chin ethnic youth participant. “Bringing up a controversial territorial affair could spark conflict between the two ethnic groups.’’
After the comments also provoked uproar on social media, on August 2 the Chin League for Democracy party released an alternative perspective on the Chin’s historical ties to Paletwa.
Preceding British colonial rule, the Chin people resided in the area known as Paletwa, according to the statement. Then, under British occupation, Paletwa was considered a Chin hill station, dating back to 1896.
The Chin party said it will rebuke anyone who refers to Paletwa as a part, or former part, of Rakhine State.
“The Chin people are the original owners of Paletwa, according to the laws of 1896, 1947, 1974 and 2008,” said Chin League for Democracy chair Ngai Sak, who also called on the ANP to stop spreading propaganda.
“Now is the time for trying to be united. Some things should not be said without considering the consequences first. It could cause misunderstanding between ethnic groups,” he said.
Both the recent Panglong youth meet and the simultaneously held Mai Ja Yang ethnic armed group summit concluded with calls for unity and alliance among ethnic groups in the lead-up to the cornerstone of the government’s peace process. The 21stcentury Panglong Conference is slated for the end of this month.
When pressed about his remarks, U Aye Maung offered further evidence to substantiate his point. The 1947 constitution, part 5, specifically addressed a special division for the Chin people, comprised of the hill districts and the Arakan hill tracts, as to be determined by the president, he said.
“We need to dig into the real history to understand, and must accept both the good and the bad examples as lessons if we want to form a real federal Union together,” he said.
“I am not asking the Chin to give it back to Rakhine,” he added.
Paletwa, home to just under 65,000 residents according to census data, is among the most impoverished townships in Chin State.
U Aye Maung, chair of the Arakan National Party, attends the first day of the new parliament session in Sittwe, Rakhine State, on February 8.