The NLD government has come under fire on social media after allegedly making General Yawd Serk, chairperson of the Restoration Council of Shan State/Shan State Army (RCSS/SSA), deliver his opening speech in Burmese during the 21st Century Panglong Conference that concluded this Friday (August 21).
Sai Leng, a leading committee member of RCSS’s peace implementation committee, said Yawd Serk told him because the peace conference in Naypyidaw is a national event he spoke in Burmese and not Shan so everyone could understand him.
The Shan leader reportedly gave his speech in Burmese on August 20 after a request by Kyaw Tint Swe, minister for the Office of the State Counsellor .
Sai Leng said Burma is a multicultural country trying to create a democratic federal union, which will grant equality and self-determination to ethnic groups. “If we are not allowed to read the opening speech in the Shan language, where is ethnic equality? Stakeholders agreed to form a federal union and accept diversity. We accept peaceful coexistence. Do they really accept diversity in this country? I still have questions about that,” he said.
Some on social media networks referred to the incident as a human rights violation, criticizing the government for bullying ethnic groups to speak in Burmese.
While political analysts said to build a federalist union the government needs to welcome diversity by being more accepting of the different languages, customs and traditions in Burma. Not allowing ethnic leaders to use their own languages in opening speeches is ‘burmanization’.
“Even though they’re talking about federalism, they (the government) doesn’t want to recognize ethnic identity. So the road to a federal system will be long,” said Maung Maung Soe. At a prominent event like this, he said the speaker should be able to speak in their native language with Burmese subtitles.
In his opening speech, Army Chief Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing said the Burma Army has been trying to end the armed conflicts, restore peace in the country and build a federal union based on democratic and federalist principles. At the same time, he chastised the NLD government and some of the ethnic armed organizations for being insincere.”Obstacles in the peace process are dishonesty” Min Aung Hlaing said, as well as “attachment to other issues” without being committed to a “clear policy.”
In Yawd Serk’s opening speech in Burmese, he said there were many challenges in moving forward with the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) including deadlocks in negotiations, while reminding NCA stakeholders it’s up to them to cooperate and resolve them.
Sai Nyunt Lwin, deputy chairperson-1 for Shan Nationalities League for Democracy Sai Nyunt Lwin, said that Union spirit rather than ethnic patriotism would prevail in leading Burma towards national reconciliation. At the same time, “it shouldn’t have happened that a group of people or an organization ended up dominating this country,” he said.