U Khun Tun Htoo

The Fight For Fed­er­al­ism

Mizzima Business Weekly - - CONTENTS - By Por­tia Lar­lee

In Fe­bru­ary 2005, Shan Na­tion­al­i­ties League for Democ­racy chair­man Khun Tun Oo and seven other Shan lead­ers were ar­rested, con­victed of high trea­son and sentenced to jail terms rang­ing from 79 to 106 years. Khun Tun Oo, 71, who was born in Hsi­paw, Shan State, and stud­ied Law at Yan­gon Univer­sity, was re­leased un­der amnesty in 2012 and re­sumed the chair­man­ship of the SNLD. The party regis­tered with the Union Elec­tion Com­mis­sion after the 2012 by-elec­tions and in­tends to run in the 2015 gen­eral elec­tion. It will be its first cam­paign since the elec­tions in 1990 for a con­stituent assem­bly in which it won 23 seats. In a wide-rang­ing in­ter­view, Mizzima’s Por­tia Lar­lee asked Khun Tun Oo about eth­nic pol­i­tics, fed­er­al­ism and the drug trade.

Why do you think the 2014 by-elec­tions were can­celled?

There were ex­cuses, such as it was can­celled be­cause of fi­nan­cial af­fairs. The Union Elec­tion Com­mis­sion said they would need to spend K2 bil­lion (about US$2 mil­lion) on the by-elec­tions, which was too ex­pen­sive. In my opin­ion, the in­ner story is that the rul­ing party [USDP] needs another year to pre­pare. The MPs are not to­tally qual­i­fied or po­lit­i­cally trained. There is a lack of ex­pe­ri­ence and in­tel­lect. Some mem­bers of the nom­i­nated old guard from the mil­i­tary are just salary earn­ers.

Our [SNLD] po­si­tion is nom­i­nat­ing from the grass­roots level; we [SNLD] do not in­ter­fere with the choice of the peo­ple. Then, what­ever hap­pens, good or bad, it is your do­ing, your choice. We try to get the best can­di­dates. This is un­like other par­ties – es­pe­cially the USDP.

What is the SNLD’s guid­ing prin­ci­ple?

Shan na­tion­al­ism. Un­like the USDP, we [the SNLD] have our own clear-cut pol­icy. Ba­mar par­ties don’t have this. As far as I know, not a sin­gle USDP mem­ber has gone to prison for po­lit­i­cal rea­sons. It is a stan­dard now and a main qual­i­fi­ca­tion for politi­cians. We have this credit.

What is your opin­ion about pro­por­tional rep­re­sen­ta­tion at the Union level?

The Na­tional Demo­cratic Force sub­mit­ted the pro­posal for pro­por­tional rep­re­sen­ta­tion and within a month it was rat­i­fied by par­lia­ment. The USDP doesn’t want a first past the post sys­tem; they are cling­ing to PR for safety.

Should there be PR at the state and re­gional level?

In my opin­ion, in Shan State, we need more time to ed­u­cate peo­ple, es­pe­cially in the hilly ar­eas and con­sid­er­ing lan­guage bar­ri­ers. PR is the only way left for the USDP to be in par­lia­ment. In

Ba­mar ar­eas, most votes will go to NLD.

An eth­nic po­lit­i­cal al­liance, the Na­tion­al­i­ties Brother­hood Fed­er­a­tion - which in­cludes an SNLD ri­val, the Shan Na­tion­al­i­ties Demo­cratic Party - es­tab­lished the Fed­er­ated Union Party in 2013. Does it pose a threat to the SNLD?

We be­lieve some of the par­ties in NBF were sup­ported by Myan­mar Egress dur­ing the 2010 elec­tion. Its sis­ter party, theFUP, made of two rep­re­sen­ta­tives from each group in NBF, will contest in [re­gions] such as Man­dalay, Sa­gaing and Yan­gon, as well as Kachin State to win eth­nic votes. Oth­er­wise NLD would win. We can­not trust FUP be­cause of its link to USDP. FUP does not pose a threat; we don’t be­lieve in their pol­icy.

The SNLD is a mem­ber of the Union Na­tion­al­i­ties Al­liance. How does it dif­fer from the NBF?

UNA was formed after the 1990 elec­tion and com­prises of Arakan, Shan, Mon, Chin, Kokang, Kachin groups. NBF calls for 14 states; an idea from Gen­eral Ne Win in 1974. It is try­ing to at­tract the na­tion­al­i­ties, like the Tia-leng in Kachin State, Kayan in Kayah State and In­tha in Shan State at Inle Lake. One day th­ese groups may want an

au­ton­o­mous re­gion. UNA has a pol­icy of eight states, agreed upon be­tween Gen­eral Aung San and the lead­ers of the na­tion­al­i­ties in the 1947 Pan­g­long agree­ment. Our state pol­icy is to up­hold the fed­er­al­ism agreed upon be­tween Aung San and our lead­ers. We be­lieve in fed­er­al­ism, we fought for it, we’ve been to jail for it. We want a fed­er­al­ism of equal­ity and self-de­ter­mi­na­tion and the right to our cul­ture and lit­er­a­ture. We want to up­hold the prom­ises made at the Pan­g­long agree­ment, so we will go on fight­ing for that right as UNA pol­icy.

Is there any pos­si­bil­ity of a merger be­tween the SNLD and SNDP?

It will not hap­pen. Re­cently nine town­ships have swung to us, in­clud­ing Lashio, Namtu, Hsih­seng, Mongkaung, Pan­laung, Mong­nai and we can ex­pect more – there are 15 months to go be­fore the elec­tion. We will run in 2015 be­cause we think we will win. The pub­lic is aware of our pol­icy. We have a Shan State Joint Ac­tion Com­mit­tee, which in­cludes Shan State Progress Party, Shan State Army and SNLD. In 2005, the Shan State Na­tional Army dis­solved and its mem­bers went to Loi Tai Leng, the Restora­tion Coun­cil of Shan State head­quar­ters. Th­ese forces also support us – and they have a lot of con­trol, since, you know, the na­tion­al­i­ties only support their own peo­ple be­cause they don’t trust the Ba­mars at all.

The drug trade in Myan­mar is boom­ing and sus­tained, in part, by peo­ple’s mili­tias. What is the sit­u­a­tion in Shan State?

Ac­cord­ing to statis­tics there are more than 5,000 peo­ple’s mili­tias in Myan­mar, start­ing from five troops to more than 400. Some in Shan State are in­volved in trad­ing ya ba, opium and ec­stasy. Metham­phetamine is K2,000 per pill and ec­stasy is K8,000. Ma­te­rial comes from Moreh, In­dia, the drugs are man­u­fac­tured in the Golden Tri­an­gle area, the banks of the Mekong River, and sur­round­ing ar­eas. For ec­stasy and yaba, you need a small lab and man­power guarded by your own mili­tia. But not all peo­ple’s mili­tias are in­volved in this trade; some are de­fence forces.

Opium is a way to make money. The farm­ers peel the flow­ers, dry the opium over a fire and sell it to buy­ers who know the area. The buyer will trade MSG, salt, rice, zinc, nails and other es­sen­tials for the opium.

How is the gov­ern­ment han­dling the drug trade?

They can’t. As you know, ev­ery­one is cor­rupted. The higher you are the more of the share you get and you can’t stop it. Those guys on the road sell­ing, they get ar­rested – not the big guys.

‘As far as I know, not a sin­gle USDP mem­ber has gone to prison for po­lit­i­cal rea­sons’

What is the SNLD’s plat­form re­gard­ing the drug trade?

Right now we don’t touch it at all. If we do it will be a head-on is­sue. Not that we are not re­spon­si­ble or du­ti­ful – we are. It’s been go­ing on be­tween plan­ta­tion own­ers, the mid­dle men and the high­est guy. They can stop it.

Later we have to sit down about this is­sue. The things that are hap­pen­ing are so se­vere, such as land grab­bing. Some groups are col­lect­ing bribes or “taxes” from the pub­lic for car per­mits and land rights. But there is less pres­sure on the pub­lic now and that is good.

How did your prison term af­fect your pol­i­tics?

In 2004 I met with Dr Sai Mauk Kham to dis­cuss the Shan Con­sul­ta­tive Coun­cil [Shan State Aca­demics Con­sul­ta­tive Coun­cil] as or­dered by Gen­eral Khin Nyunt, Mil­i­tary In­tel­li­gence chief. I went to prison for this in 2005 and Dr Sai Mauk Kham went on to be­come vice pres­i­dent.

My pol­i­tics did not change. The gov­ern­ment ac­cused us for hav­ing con­tact with Yawd Serk [who led the Shan State Army-South for nearly two decades un­til 2014). It was a high trea­son case; there was no ev­i­dence.

The Na­tional Con­ven­tion [to draft a con­sti­tu­tion] be­gan in 1993. The 104 prin­ci­ples were in­tro­duced in 1995, which would have cre­ated self-ad­min­is­tered zones in Shan State. Since then the SNLD de­cided it shouldn’t con­tinue. We can’t go on any­more; the 2008 Con­sti­tu­tion is prob­lem­atic and must be amended. If not, things will get worse.

What is your re­sponse to the ne­go­ti­a­tions for a na­tion­wide cease­fire?

Be care­ful and be on alert. Every­body is hold­ing their own weapons with them; all are ready. If it is not agreed we’ll go back another 50 years. All of us eth­nics ‒ Karen, Kayan, Shan, Chin, Arakan, Naga – are sur­round­ing the union. The na­tion­al­i­ties do not to­tally trust the Ba­mars, es­pe­cially be­cause the na­tion­al­i­ties suf­fer so much.

How is the SNLD funded?

I may be naive but we don’t en­joy money from oth­ers. We spend from our own pock­ets. We do what we be­lieve in. The pub­lic trusts us. We don’t get priv­i­leges like gold min­ing. Some­times we re­ceive money from party mem­bers.

What is your opin­ion the about self-ad­min­is­tered or “au­ton­o­mous” zones in Shan State and through­out Myan­mar.

You know the gov­ern­ment slo­gan is to up­hold the sovereignt­y of the Union. But in Wa self-ad­min­is­tered zone, for ex­am­ple, there is no cen­tral au­thor­ity, no bank­ing, no ju­di­ciary, no po­lice sta­tion, no doc­tors, no hos­pi­tal, no school­ing – and they use Chi­nese cur­rency. The cen­tral au­thor­i­ties can­not even go there. They gave the Naga a self-ad­min­is­tered zone. The Kachin pop­u­la­tion is much lower, but it has a state. The Pa-O de­mand a state. The gov­ern­ment them­selves are slic­ing Shan State and slic­ing the Union. It is a big mis­take. I have al­ways said, you bully us and treat us na­tion­al­i­ties like this, one day the Ir­rawaddy River will be­come the bor­der of China and In­dia.

U Khun Tun Oo pos­ing in the liv­ing room of his Yan­gon home. Photo: Hein Htet

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