Myanmar marks anniversary of historic pact with minorities

The head of Myanmar’s military government called for national unity among the country’s ethnic minorities as he led a parade marking the 75th anniversary of a landmark agreement that failed to deliver harmony.

Armed forces and government ministries took part in the Union Day parade in the capital Naypyitaw, with dozens of colorful floats representing areas of the country where majority minorities live.

Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, head of the military council that took power last year from the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi, praised minorities for signing the 1947 Panglong Accord, which was supposed to unify the different ethnic groups after decades of British colonial rule.

An amnesty has been announced for hundreds of prisoners (AP)

However, Myanmar has been plagued by near-constant conflict for decades, with minorities seeking the autonomy they believe has been promised.

Periods of armed conflict have alternated with fragile ceasefire agreements as civilian and military governments, dominated by the Burmese majority, have been unwilling to implement a political settlement acceptable to minority groups.

The military takeover last year added to the instability caused by an insurgency that sprung up in opposition to military rule.

Protesters initially staged peaceful demonstrations, but armed resistance grew after being suppressed with lethal force.

Myanmar Union Day
Traditional dancers perform on a decorated truck (AP)

About 1,500 civilians were killed but the government was unable to suppress the opposition. Some UN experts have called the conflict a civil war.

Complicating the situation are the alliances that opponents of the military regime have formed with some of the minorities, who maintain guerrilla forces with decades of combat experience.

General Min Aung Hlaing said in a prepared statement released on Saturday: “All ethnic national brothers understand well that internal armed conflicts triggered by disunity for various reasons soon after regaining independence cannot be fully resolved until present and the national unity and the peace of the Union cannot be firmly restored, the country sees the lagging of the development process.

“The strong and dynamic patriotic spirit of the citizen is crucial for a country. The patriotic spirit is defined as worshiping one’s own country, national races, language, literature and culture and having a feeling against encroachment on the nation and national races.

Myanmar Union Day
Military fighter jets fly overhead during a ceremony to mark Union Day (AP)

“The weak patriotic spirit can bring terrible danger to the national and national races.”

His government is trying to relaunch talks with ethnic minorities, inviting them to a new round to coincide with Saturday’s anniversary.

Opponents of the military regime have called for a virtual boycott of the anniversary ceremony, which they called wasteful, especially as the country still faces a significant challenge from the coronavirus pandemic.

They told people not to turn on their televisions while the parade was broadcast and not to post pictures of the ceremony on social media, saying it would only serve to boost General Min Aung Hlaing’s image.

At the same time, the armed wing of the resistance continued what became a persistent campaign of urban guerrilla action, supplementing the resistance in the countryside.

Various groups claimed on social media to have carried out bombings in Naypyitaw and Yangon, the country’s largest city.

union day
Union Day celebrates the 1947 pact when many of the country’s ethnic groups signed an agreement to unite after decades of British colonial rule (AP Photo)

A group from Naypyitaw said they detonated bombs in a police station and a market on Friday evening, just hours before the ceremony was to start.

Groups in Yangon claimed to have attacked a military vehicle and bombed a generator for army-owned mobile network operator Mytel on Saturday morning.

The claims could not immediately be confirmed, but such actions have become almost daily occurrences and are often reported in military statistics.

Burmese villages
Mwe Tone was one of two residents of the village and Myanmar news organizations said he was set on fire last month by soldiers searching for members of an armed militia opposed to the military government (PA)

Seemingly in anticipation of trouble, authorities ordered cellphone carriers to cut off mobile data services for most of Saturday, leaving only Wi-Fi available.

In a customary gesture for national holidays, General Min Aung Hlaing also announced an amnesty for more than 860 prisoners, state newspapers reported.

On Friday, the government kept 9,087 people in detention, according to the Association for Assistance to Political Prisoners.

It is unclear how many political detainees were among those released on Saturday.

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