Thousands of ethnic Shans had planned to gather in Kachin state capital Myitkyina in front of the Kachin Independence Army’s (KIA’s) liaison office to protest alleged human rights violations by the rebel group against the ethnic Shan population.
However, learning that local authorities had denied them permission to hold a rally, the demonstrators re-invented themselves, meeting in a local Buddhist monastery compound and telling officials they were holding a “public seminar”.
Nonetheless, the crowd at Wintho monastery included villagers from across Shan state holding placards calling for the government to protect innocent civilians, and accusing the KIA of forcibly recruiting Shan villagers.
They also called for the release for a number of youths and villagers they say are still being held by the Kachin rebels.
“The event started around 8am and included speeches by community leaders,” said monk U Thunanda. “The participants chanted slogans and met with a British consular official.”
Saw Win Htun, general secretary of the Taileng (Red Shan) Nationalities Development Party, was co-organiser of the scheduled protest on Friday. He said the group was informed by the state police on Thursday evening that permission for the rally would not be granted because the country was presently hosting the 27th SEA Games. He said they were told they could apply to stage a protest after the games were over.
“The state police told us the rally could not be approved until around 25 December, so we are planning to hold a protest on 26 December,” said Saw Htun Win. “However, as a number of participants had already gathered in the town, we decided to hold a public seminar at Wintho Monastery.”