Red Shan rally for an eth­nic state

The Myanmar Times - - News - KHIN SU WAI khin­suwai@mm­times.com

SUP­PORT for a new Red Shan state could com­pli­cate gov­ern­ment ef­forts to end eth­nic-based armed con­flict and to look beyond the 2008 con­sti­tu­tion at the pos­si­ble fu­ture shape of the coun­try, an­a­lysts believe.

The re-emer­gence of the eth­nic group came into fo­cus at the August meet­ing of the 21st-cen­tury Pan­g­long Con­fer­ence, when Red Shan rep­re­sen­ta­tives de­manded recog­ni­tion as a sep­a­rate eth­nic group. The idea was put for­ward by Sai Htay Aung, chair of the Tai-Leng Na­tion­al­i­ties De­vel­op­ment Party (TNDP). Sai Htay Aung said that Red Shan had their own cul­ture and de­served their own ter­ri­tory, specif­i­cally, three districts in Kachin State and five in Sa­gaing Re­gion.

This brought an an­gry re­ac­tion from eth­nic Kachin par­ties fear­ful that their al­ready-frag­ile unity could be un­der­mined by the ap­pear­ance of yet an­other claimant for recog­ni­tion.

At a rally on Septem­ber in Ho­ma­lin town­ship, which is partly rep­re­sented in the Sa­gaing Re­gional hlut­taw by a TNDP MP, about 30,000 peo­ple from Kachin State and Sa­gaing Re­gion demon­strated in favour of a state for the Red Shan. Or­gan­iser Sai Naing Kyaw Kyaw promised fur­ther such ral­lies.

“We sup­port Sai Htay Aung’s po­si­tion,” he told The Myan­mar Times, con­firm­ing that the demon­stra­tors shared the view ex­pressed at the 21stcen­tury Pan­g­long Con­fer­ence.

The TNDP, which was founded in 2012, wants recog­ni­tion of the name “Red Shan” and its right to oc­cupy ter­ri­tory. The party boasts its own lit­er­a­ture and cul­ture. It is not clear how far that po­si­tion is shared by an­other eth­nic party, the Shanni and North­ern Shan eth­nic sol­i­dar­ity party SNSP, formed in May 2015.

Since in­de­pen­dence, most Red Shan have lived in what is now Kachin State.

A 1972 at­tempt by the eth­nic leader Bo Tun Yin to re­cover ter­ri­tory failed, with most lead­ers be­ing jailed. Lit­tle ac­tiv­ity was then seen un­til the 2014 cen­sus, the first at­tempt for more than 30 years to es­tab­lish the num­ber and size of Myan­mar’s eth­nic groups.

TNDP chair Sai Htay Aung said his party had chal­lenged the sys­tem of iden­ti­fi­ca­tion codes used in the cen­sus. “Bo Tun Yin es­tab­lished the size of our population in 1972. It was es­ti­mated that the Red Shan com­prised 1 mil­lion from Sa­gaing Re­gion, 0.5 mil­lion from Kachin State and 0.2 mil­lion from Shan State. But we faced many dif­fi­cul­ties in the 2014 cen­sus,” he said.

Dur­ing the pe­riod of Union Sol­i­dar­ity and De­vel­op­ment Party rule, Red Shan worked with U Thein Sein’s gov­ern­ment at the na­tional and lo­cal lev­els, an ef­fort de­nounced by eth­nic Kachin politi­cians as “build­ing a small house in­side a big house”.

Though the 1947 and 1974 con­sti­tu­tions stip­u­lated the con­di­tions for the for­ma­tion of an eth­nic state, the cur­rent 2008 con­sti­tu­tion is less pre­cise. It lists seven points, in­clud­ing the ex­is­tence of a ter­ri­tory, a lan­guage, a sep­a­rate his­tory and a suf­fi­cient population.

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