Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Equal rights essential to revive Union Spirit: Ethnic leaders

By Salai Pi Pi

New Delhi (Mizzima) – Burma's ethnic leaders have said the essence of Unions Day has been degraded and have urged the ruling junta to revise the Constitution to ensure the rights of ethnic people, which will re-establish the true spirit of Union Day.

Dr. Lian Hmung Sakhong, Vice-president of the Ethnic Nationalities Council (ENC) in exile, said the revision of the Constitution and tripartite dialogue with the National League for Democracy (NLD) and ethnic nationalities could revive the true spirit of the Union Day in Burma.

"If the regime wants to see unity, they must revise the junta drafted and endorsed Constitution to ensure the rights of ethnic nationalities," Dr. Sakhong told Mizzima, adding, "The junta should also call for tripartite dialogue with NLD and ethnic groups."

However, in order to hold a tripartite dialogue, Sakhong said, "Initially, the regime must release all political prisoners, including Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and Shan ethnic leader Khun Htun Oo."

The ethnic leader's call came following Burmese military supremo Senior General Than Shwe's message on the 62nd anniversary of Union Day, published by the state-run newspaper New Light of Myanmar yesterday.

In his message, Than Shwe said the Union Day marks the signing of the 'Panglong' agreement between Burmese independence architect General Aung San and ethnic leaders to form the Union of Burma in 1947 and urged the people to nurture the Burmese spirit regardless of where they were.

"Only the Union Spirit is true patriotism that will ever protect and safeguard all the national races," the paper quoted Than Shwe as saying.

Sakhong, however, said the Union Spirit could not be obtained in the absence of equal rights for ethnic nationalities. "Words are not enough, and action needs to be taken," he said.

Meanwhile, veteran Arakanese politician Aye Thar Aung said, with the military junta's Constitution, which largely fails to recognize the rights of ethnic nationalities, unity among all nationalities in Burma is be a dream, which cannot be realized.

"The Constitution will not lead to unity as it failed to include self-determination rights of ethnic groups," said Aye Thar Aung, who is also the Secretary of the Committee Representing People's Parliament (CRPP), a group formed with the Members of Parliament elected in the 1990 election.

"If they [the junta], really want to build unity, the Constitution must include the equal rights of ethnic nationalities," Aye Thar Aung added.

He added that the regime by refusing to accept proposals from ethnic representatives on equal rights at the National Convention, proved their unwillingness to recognize the rights of ethnic nationalities.

Burma, on February 12, will mark the 62nd anniversary of the Union Day, on which date General Aung San and ethnic leaders in Panglong Town of Shan state, signed the historic 'Panglong Agreement' to form the Union of Burma.

General Aung San along with his eight other colleagues were assassinated on July 19, 1947. However, Burma gained independence from the British colonial rule on January 4, 1948.

Barely a month later, the ethnic Karen group began to revolt demanding rights of self-determination. Burma has been plagued with civil war since then.

The ethnic nationalities' aspiration of a federal state was further crushed in 1962, when General Ne Win took over in a military coup and re-wrote the Constitution in 1974. The new Constitution introduced a unitary system and denied the existence of a multi-party system, giving way only to Ne Win's Burmese Socialist Programme Party (BSPP).

"We do not want a unity that is forcibly built without regard for the rights of ethnics' self-determination," Sakhong said.

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