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Ethnic Mon gathered en masse in Rangoon yesterday to mark the first public celebration of Mon National Day in more than a decade, after the government relaxed a ban first enacted in a bid to clamp down on displays of ethnic nationalism in mainland Burma.
Hundreds gathered at the People’s Square and Park in the former capital to watch traditional dance shows and tuck into Mon food. The decision to allow celebrations to go ahead follows the signing of a tentative ceasefire agreement between the government and the armed New Mon State Party (NMSP) in late January.
Nai Pe Tin, chairman of the event’s organising committee, said that the decision to drop the ban was another sign of the pseudo-civilian government’s attempts to reach out to ethnic groups. After 2009 the regime had begun to roll back restrictions on Mon National Day, but until yesterday continued to block public events.
Naypyidaw has moved to secure a number of ceasefire deals with rebel armies which ostensibly represent the interests of millions of disparate minority populations who have long been persecuted by the government.
Meals were offered to monks in the Mon state capital of Moulmein, while migrant workers as far afield as Bangkok marked the day, which celebrates the founding in 573 CE of Hanthawaddy, the Mon kingdom, with smaller ceremonies.
The NMSP, which was formed in 1962, agreed to a ceasefire with the former junta in 1995, but relations have dramatically fluctuated since 2010 when the government demanded that the NMSP become a Border Guard Force.
The January agreement, while not a formal ceasefire, could pave the way for an official truce once planned future negotiations take place.