“This new village does not have electricity. Once his home is done constructing, electricity poles are immediately connecting to his home, it is seen so bright at night. When asked for the owner of the house, it is reported that it is owned by a former transportation minister Khun Ye Htwe,” disappointedly explained by a young Pa-O who lives in the new village in 6 miles, Naung Lay Ward, locating between Taunngyi city and Hopone township.
Khun Ye Htwe was a Shan State minister of transportation before the coup on 1st February 2021. After the coup, he was assigned as a chairperson of the Po-O self-administrative zone under the military junta State Administration Council (SAC).
Under 2008 constitution, Ho Pone, Hsi Hseng, and Panglaung townships in Southern Shan State were granted as a Pa-O self-administrative zone.
During 2010 and 2015 general election, one of the Pa-O national political parties, Pa-O National Organization (PNO) won the election in all Pa-O regions, and the party’s leader Khun San Lwin took the role as a chairperson for Pa-O Self-administrative Zone for two terms consecutively.
PNO also won the general election 2020 in the Pa-O regions, Khun San Lwin could have been the chairperson of the Pa-O Self-administrative Zone for the third term in a role.
This was the PNO political involvement before the coup during the multi-party democratic government from 2011-2021. Under the constitution, Pa-O party must be the administrator of the Pa-O regions although the party may not have won all. The administrator has full authority to decide the development of the regions. It means the natives could select whoever they want to serve them as an administrator.
Pa-O Militia (Pa-O National Army – PNA)
After the coup, the Pa-O militia PNA, which signed the ceasefire agreement with then the ruling State Peace and Development Council on 18 February 1991, has faced many criticisms. Then on 29 September 2009, the PNA merged with other paramilitary groups administered by Myanmar army, receiving funds and supplies from Myanmar army. PNA is an armed group that fully supports PNO and Myanmar army political agenda.
“The reality is that all Pa-O nationals are under the oppression of Myanmar army. Pa-O nationals should not be blamed because of the acts of PNO and its close relationship with the Myanmar army. There are many Pa-O people behind bars in Taung Lay Lone prison because they are taking part in the revolution. My point is that the blame should not point to every Pa-O overall,” a Pa-O woman who lives in the Pa-O self-administrative zone told SHAN.
Even though there are many paramilitary groups under Myanmar army in Southern Shan State, they are not formed based on a nationality like PNA. MTA (Nar Yine), MTA (Mat Kyan), SSS (Ho Mong), and Wan Pan/ Nar Pwe paramilitary groups are formed based on regions. The fact that PNA is the only group established based on a nationality became a puzzle.
Pa-O region after the Coup
Pa-O region is notoriously famous for its poppy plantations. Myanmar is the second largest opium growing country in the world, and Shan State is the top grower in Myanmar particularly in Pa-O region. However, economically the opium growers are less profitable than those who have connection with the military junta.
There has been a systematic brainwashing in the region saying whoever becomes the government, it is their government. The locals are not aware of the fact that they can choose their own government; instead, they are urged to accept any government without understanding the consequences.
“It is true that PNO won the election. However, the USDP is governing now. They must have been working together. We can say that PNO and USDP are the same. I heard somewhere I cannot recalled that PNO denied that accusation. Three townships, Ho Pone, Hsi Hseng, Panglaung, where PNO competed in the election, USDP did not take part. During 2020 election, USDP did not participate in a constituency where U Aung Kham Htee daughter was a candidate. We can clearly see how they work hand in hand. Right now after the coup, it is proven that USDP is now controlling the Pa-O Self-administrative Zone,” a Pa-O youth conveyed his opinions.
After the 1st February coup, the three consecutive election winning party PNO has been kicked out as the administrator of the regions and lost its chance to be the chairperson of the regions. The following day on 2nd February, Myanmar army has chosen Khun Ye Htwe, a USDP party member, to be the chairperson of the Pa-O self-administrative regions.
Apart from PNO/PNA, Pa-O nationals have other political parties that they can choose and rely on, such as Union Pa-O National Organization(Pa A Ma Pha) and Pa-O National Liberation Army (PNLA). The author provided this information as a reference only, and it is not intended to influence people’s political belief, it is their rights and decisions to be made.
Although the Pa-O self-administrative regions is close to Shan State capital city, Taunggyi, and geographically it is rich in resources, the regions have lost their prosperity and development because it has been fallen under the administrative of Myanmar junta.
Pa-O ethnicity and its movement
On 11 December, 2021, it was the 72nd anniversary of the national revolution day for Pa-O. On this occasion, a Pa-O national federal conference, where Pa-O political parties, armed groups, and nationals from all sort of lives were participated, was organized in order to form Pa-O National Federal Council (PNFC). From the conference, a statement, expressing to fight against all kind of dictatorships including military dictatorship, was released.
Pa-O nationals must decide whether they will collaborate with the PNFC in order to be free from the Myanmar junta oppression and build a federal democracy together or to continue to serve Myanmar military junta.
The Chairperson of Pa-O Self-administrative Zone
Khun Ye Htwe, who was assigned as a chairperson of the Pa-O self-administrative regions by the military junta government, is a Pa-O ethnicity and was born in January 1961 in Taungoo district, Bago region.
His permanent resident is No. (11/B), San Yake Nyein (5) Street, Kamaryut township, Yangon. However, he is currently living in No. (3/17) Cherry Street, Kan Gyi Ward, Taunggyi, Shan State.
Additionally, before 2020 general election, he received a plot of land in 6 miles, Don Muu Raung Pa-O ward, Naung Lay sub-ward, and constructed a new house there.
He studied in various government schools in Bago region before entering into college. He graduated with a bachelor of science in physic from a college in Mawlamyine, Mon State.
Khun Ye Htwe was a Myanmar army soldier, and he served in many infantry battalions and special operations throughout his career. He obtained colonel rank before resigning and entering into politics.
Without experience in politics and social activities, he resigned from Myanmar army, and became a party member of USDP. After winning the constituency No.1 Taunggyi during the 2015 general election, he was selected to be the Shan State minister of transportation.
He has never been stationed in Pa-O regions during his previous career as a soldier or politician.
Even though he lost in 2020 general election, he was offered to be the leader of the Pa-O Self-administrative Zone by the Myanmar junta government while other politicians from the previous government were arrested and detained. It could be because he was a party member of USDP and a Pa-O ethnicity.
Who Is Governing?
In short, Pa-O Self-administrative Zone is controlled by USDP and its close link militia group. The “self-administrative zone” is just a term because it is not being governed by its natives although there are political parties and armed groups formed based on the native ethnicity.
“Pa-O people are very obedience to the elders. Elders mean the ward administrators and the PNO leaders. They accept whoever the government is. They believe that the government does not have an impact on their daily lives, it is not their business. However, the younger generation is no longer holding such belief though the elders are still conservative,” a young man from Hsi Hseng township told SHAN.
Even though Pa-O regions are seen to be free of conflicts, the natives know well of the oppression they are facing. Pa-O people are religious and often it has been exploited by the oppressors in order to control over the regions, thus, in reality, there is no respect of rule of law, human rights, and freedom.
During the international human rights day on 10 December 2021, a number of Pa-O youth have been arrested in Ho Pone, the capital of Pa-O regions, with the accusation of revolting against the military junta. They were charged with article section 505 (A) and sentenced them three years in prison. Additionally, another young Pa-O woman was detained afterward.
After the military illegally took over the government on 1st February 2021, the military has been illegally governing the country including the Pa-O regions.
Due to such situation, it is a dilemma if Pa-O regions are actually peaceful, if they have their human rights respected, and if they have control over their self-administrative zone.
The needs of Pa-O People
Pa-O leaders and nationalists started their armed struggle to achieve democracy, equality, and self-determination for Pa-O ethnicity on 11 December 1949. It has been 72 years, and they have yet to achieve their goals.
On the 72 anniversary of Pa-O national revolution day, the Pa-O National Federal Council (PNFC) released a statement that it would fight against all kind of dictatorships.
In addition to that five Pa-O pillars have been formed in order to establish a united Pa-O group and achieve their objectives.
All Pa-O from the Southern Shan State, from the plain of Mon State, Karen State, Bago region, and those living abroad will work together in order to realize their goals and human rights regardless of the barriers.
“The military has overthrown the civilian elected government, and arrested many leaders. Our dream of a federal democratic nation has been shattered. Our trust was annihilated. That is why we have to strive to eradicate the military dictatorship and ethnocentrism. That is our main commitment,” a Pa-O university student in Taunggyi optimistically expressed her view.