Red Shan rally for an ethnic state
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.