Nov 21, 2003

Military rules Mon state

Mon political forces have grown weak after leaders were systematically jailed and muted in the 1990s and official political parties were banned

The Thai-Burma border and Moulmein, the capital of Mon State, form a hub of political and commercial interests to many local people including Indian and Chinese descendents. Located on the banks of the Salween River, Moulmein is a seaport to national and regional waters but in a political context, the Mon people do not rule their own State but the Burman military does since its creation in 1974.

Under “Democracy and Human Rights on Burma”, a clarification is needed on how the social and political forces of the Mon community will play a role within the existing environment. In particular, what will the driving force of the Mon political community be in urban politics and whether the up coming political transition in the country will be valid for the Mon people as a whole.

Mon political forces has grown weak after leaders were systematically jailed and muted in the 1990s, official political parties were banned, like the Mon National Democratic Front in 1992. From this, the front-runner, a Mon nationalist organization, the New Mon State Party and its armed wing, Mon National Liberation Army adopted a new political stance in 1995 signing a cease-fire agreement with the ruling military authority.

Both have a common interest in establishing self-determination for the Mon but lack a political mandate in Moulmein and other major cities in Mon State. Despite social and cultural organizations supporting political operations in communities throughout the 1980-2000 period, the Mon nationalist leaders have stuck to local politics while Burmese politics have had an impact regionally for years. To meet this challenge, pragmatic leaders reshaped the image of urban-based national political operations using innovative ideas such as training young leaders.

The Mon, in fact are the prime stakeholders of Burmese Independence in 1948 but the Burman nationalist led political faction has rejected their political, cultural and human rights.

Successive Mon leaders both from the urban and rural elite have fought for sovereignty of the Mon until the present day. Weaknesses of Mon politics took place in a pre-Burma independence struggle, while a pro-AFPFL (Anti-Fascist People’s Freedom League) faction and the Mon nationalist political forces split over popular support in the 1940s.

Urban-based Mon national leaders formed a united Mon Front but were not granted equal status with the Burman under the constitution in 1947. The newly formed BSPP (Burmese Socialist Programme Party) government banned the existing rights of the Mon community who were not allowed to learn their mother language in public schools.

In 1977, after the formation of Mon State, Mon Language and Cultural Association of Ramanya (Moulmein) called a National Assembly at Bang Htaw monastery in central Moulmein. Over 300 representatives of Buddhist monks and over 300 representatives of political, social, cultural and youth leaders attended the assembly and proposed to the BSPP government (7) points demanding social and political rights of the Mon community in the Mon State. Nothing was granted. As a result, the national movement raised the political climate and hundreds of young leaders fled to the border and joined the Mon National Liberation Army. This assembly is organized by the Buddhist monks community and receive no support from the administration of Mon State.

During 1980-1990, Mon State suffered from serious armed conflicts between the Mon National Liberation Army and government troops. The government launched military offensives in rural areas with various acts of discrimination against the non-combatant people. Cultural repression has been the state of affairs for many years, the publication of Mon books was and continues to be banned and progressive Mon youth leaders at universities were jailed for political support to New Mon State Party. Despite Ramanya Nikaya, leading Mon Buddhist monks associations formed in Moulmein, the teaching of Mon language in public schools were totally dismissed by the BSPP government.

Military appointed native Mon speakers were to be the ears and eyes of the government troops, who rule in every single Mon village today.

Current military deployments in Mon State are another aspect for outsiders to seriously review in the country. The Southeast Military Command based in Moulmein, the capital of Mon State has expanded its military deployment in the southern part of Burma. The Military Operation Command No (19) is established in Ye after the Mon National Liberation Army and the Government troop reached a cease-fire in 1995.

Government troops proliferate in Infantries, Regiments, and Battalions throughout every town and major village in Mon State over the last ten years in which troops can spread out into armed conflict zones within a few hours in rural areas, while the Mon National Liberation Army only controls the border territory. Human Rights Foundation of Monland reported that the government troops have confiscated over 8,000 acres of farmland in southern Mon State in the last five years.

In November, Independent Mon News Agency reported that the military government is planning to develop a nuclear reactor in Ka-la-got Island, in Ye township. Government troops firmly occupy the border trade route to Thanphyuzayat town from Three Pagodas Pass, on the western border of the Thai-Burma boundary. No matter how loud the Mon people cry out for the formation of a Mon authority, the current military deployment in the territory shows that the regime firmly controls the overall territory with a massive military force.

The second major issue is whether political transition in Burma is a high stake game for the Mon people. The New Mon State Party (NMSP) has engaged in urban politics for over eight years but there is no strong evidence that the party will play a central role in political transition and mobilization, but at least it has signaled to the Rangoon ruling regime its unity with other non-Burman nationalities in the country.

Up to the present day, there is no clear agenda where the NMSP is heading to with the exception of releasing only a few occasional statements. The Party is formed with over thirty senior members who hold Executive and Central Committees positions with a back up support of District and Township Committees. The Party aims to administer five districts. The Mon community mostly resides in Thadhom, Moulmein, and Thavoy Districts while some others live in Pegu and Myeik Districts. The Thadohm district is mixed within Mon, Karen, Pa-o and Burman despite it being part of Mon State.

Mon National Democratic Front is the only nationalist party contested in General Election in 1990 and maintains its legitimate role as an official party despite the ruling military abolishing it in 1992. Veteran leader Nai Tun Thein, a key member of CRPP, conducts frequent political lectures and workshops for members and key supporters in the community despite the ruling authority banning it to operate. The party’s office is sealed off but the President opens up his home by inviting many from around the Mon community.

Whatever happens in the political transition in Burma; the Mon political community will structure itself well as an organization for coping with the change.

As long as Mon State is not ruled by the Mon nationality, the Mon nationalist movement will continue to remain active for the cause. A popular democratic transition in Burma may leave space for further parliamentary debate on many issues including those who rule the non-Burman states.