A number of Arakanese civil society organisations (CSOs) on Tuesday released a joint-statement, saying they “strongly condemned” the inclusion of pro-military activists dressed as ethnic protestors at a rally in support of Burma’s armed forces.
Thousands marched through the streets of downtown Rangoon, from Shwedagon Pagoda to Maha Bandoola Park, on Sunday, 18 December. The rally was called to voice support for Burmese military offensives in Shan State, where government forces are engaged in hostilities against a coalition of ethnic militias known as the Northern Alliance.
Among those chanting, playing military songs on loudspeakers, and carrying banners was a prominent contingent of protestors wearing the traditional costumes of various Burmese ethnic groups, including marchers in Kachin, Shan, Karen, Mon and Arakanese dress.
Afterwards, several Kachin and Shan CSOs told DVB that these people were not in fact ethnic nationals, and they criticised the rally organisers for trying to create the false impression that Burma’s minority groups were taking to the streets in support of government action against ethnic rebels.
Now, Arakanese groups including Buddhist organisations have added their weight to the condemnation against what has been dubbed a “masquerade”.
Buddhist monk Pyinnya Zawta, patron of the Rakhine Youth Force, which co-signed yesterday’s statement, said the protesters in Arakanese dress were not from Arakan State, which is also known as Rakhine.
“There was not a single Arakanese, individually or as a group, in the rally,” said the senior monk. “We object to seeing non-ethnic protestors dressing in Arakanese attire.”
Pyinnya Zawta added: “Arakanese people would never join such a demonstration. It is damaging to ethnic unity, and we denounce it.”
Rakhine Youth Organisation chairman Maung Lay seconded the sentiment.
“This rally was held to voice support for the Tatmadaw [Burmese armed forces]. We denounce the misuse of Arakan tradition dress at such an event,” he said. “This was an attempt to create misunderstandings and divisions among ethnic groups. We strongly object to it.”
Sunday’s pro-Tatmadaw rally followed reports of the Burmese army capturing key strongholds of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) in Waingmaw Township in Kachin State.
The KIA recently banded together with the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) and Arakan Army to form what they call the Northern Alliance or Northern Alliance- Burma.
Last month, they synchronised attacks on Burmese military and police outposts in northern Shan State, mostly in and around Muse Township, which is a major trading post situated on the Chinese border.
The Tatmadaw reinforced its troop strength in the area, and also brought in close air support and artillery. The city of Muse became a virtual ghost town after thousands of residents fled their homes and businesses to escape the fighting. Many crossed the border into China where they were sheltered in makeshift camps.
On 4 December, the Burmese army recaptured the strategic town of Mongko from the Northern Alliance, and has since consolidated its positions in the region.
In an emergency session on 7 December, the Shan State assembly passed a motion to label the four Northern Alliance members as “terrorist organisations”, a move that was criticised by other ethnic armed groups.
The military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party has a majority in the Shan State parliament. MPs from Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy were among those opposing the proposal.