Dying Shan in Burma

Dying Shan in Burma

_ By Antonio Graceffo (In Shanland, Behind Enemy Lines in Burma)

I am a published journalist and book author working in South East Asia. Currently, I am trying to raise awareness of the situation in Burma’s tribal areas and particularly Shan State.
This article tells about the plight of the Shan people of Burma and dedicated to telling the world about their situation.
Recently, I went into Burma to do a story with the Shan State Army, a rebel group fighting the Burmese government. The government doesn’t allow any journalists into the country. They control the internet and citizens have to use a thumb-print reader if they want to logon. They control the phones, mail, and cable TV. Basically the only news that can get in or out of Burma is by people crossing illegally, under the protection of one of the tribal armies.
When I lived in the Muay Thai monastery, above Chiangrai, with Pra Kruh Ba a few years ago, there were a lot of Shan monks. Shan are even more religious than Thais and close to 100% of Shan boys will serve as monks at some point in their lives. At that time, I discovered that I really liked the Shan people. They aren’t a tribe in the sense of some of the other tribes I
have written about. They are an ethnic minority, if you can call 10 million people a minority. They have had their own government and their own state for centuries. Originally they had a Shan king. Later, the country was divided into states with each state being ruled by a prince. That was still the system, going into World War II and after. The last princes were either murdered by the government, or forced to abandon Shan State in the 1960s.
They are incredibly intelligent people and school is the number one priority. Even in the face of the horrible atrocities committed against them, they struggle to find a way to send their children to school in Thailand or send them to monastery schools, where they can study with monks. Most of the important leaders of the revolution are former monks.
I hit it off well with the Shan resistance soldiers and civilians. I met Colonel Yawd Serk, the commander of the resistance army, and he asked me to wear the uniform, and teach Kung Fu to the soldiers and teach English to the children at the school. There are nearly 1,000 students at the school. Two hundred and fifty of them are orphans. Their parents were killed by the Burmese army. Some of them walked for months through the jungle to arrive at the army base and live in safety. There are children as young as ten years old who made that journey alone, or carrying a younger brother or sister. There are others who had to make the horrific choice of leaving a small sibling behind.
Once they arrive at the base, in Loi Tailang, they are no longer in Burma and not yet in Thailand. They are in Shanland, an island of freedom and Shan culture, surrounded by war.
One of my friends at Loi Tailang, Kawn Wan, who group up in the orphanage and now teaches English and Kung Fu to the children said, “We have people. We have land. We have a government. We have an army. We have everything except a country.”
The Shan State is asking for recognition throughout the world, to be independent of Burma.
“If you ask even the smallest children in the orphanage,” Said Kawn Wan, “He will tell you his greatest wish is just to go home.”
The people of Loi Tailang can’t go home until the war is over and Shanland is independent. And even then, with their villages burned, and their families murdered, what could they go home to?
“Someday, we will be able to issue you a visa to Shanland.” The Lieutenant told me.
Staying with the Shan in the jungle made me realize how much I liked them. They had almost nothing, but they shared, always giving me the best food, the best sleeping place, and the warmest clothing. It is unfair that they held no passport, had no freedom, and that they had suffered so much.
I came back to Chiang Mai to write my stories and drop off my video tapes before going back up the mountain. I really missed the Shan when I was in town. I went back and my second trip was even better than the first. I began concentrating on filming interviews with Shan people, recently arrived at Doi Tailang, documenting human rights abuses perpetrated by the SPDC, the Burmese Junta.
The situation of the Shan people is so sad. The Burmese government burns down whole villages. They rape the girls, murder the men, and take the boys to be in the army. They force villagers to work as porters, unpaid for periods of anywhere from twenty days to a year. One man told me he had been a forced porter, a slave, for four years. The porters are barely fed, frequently beaten, and when they collapse they are executed. The SPDC soldiers use Shan people as shields. They stand behind a Shan man, put a gun over his shoulder, and march into battle.
The Shan Army base has several thousand residents. It is like a small city with a school, a hospital, a temple, shops, and restaurants. It is the only place where villagers are safe. The children go to school and study their own language plus Thai, Burmese, and English.
My new work partners when I am up there are a group of about six guys who graduated from a Shan college in Thailand. To even go there they had to sneak into Thailand illegally and hope that they were never discovered by immigration police. The nine month intensive course was taught all in English and open to the best and brightest of all of the tribes living in Shan State: including Lahu, Pa-O, and Shan. The students had courses in world affairs, politics, and social studies. They knew more about the outside world than most Thai kids of the same age who lived under unrestricted freedom. (Technically Thailand is also under martial law, but it is a very puny version of martial law that doesn’t affect anything.)
These kids are incredibly bright. In some ways, they lack maturity you would see in twenty year-olds in the west. In other ways, they have seen so much and suffered so much, they have the wisdom of a forty-one year old. (I just turned forty.)


[Antonio is currently making a project of a non-commercial documentary film, entitled: “A Life in Shan State.” If you wish to help, please contact Antonio@speakingadventure.com
Antonio Graceffo is an adventure and martial arts author living in Asia. He is the Host of the web TV show, “Martial Arts Odyssey,”. Antonio is also the author of four books available on amazon.com . See his website www.speakingadventure.com]

One Response to “Dying Shan in Burma”

  • #1 Abid Bahar Says:

    Dying Rohingyas and The Arakanese Monk’s Burmese Way to Democracy

    Abid Bahar

    Ashin Nayaka a native of Arakan, Burma is a leading member of the International Burmese Monks Organization in USA and a visiting professor, Department of History at Columbia University, New York. Recently he gave testimony to the US senate led by United States Commission on International Religious Freedom. But unknown to the outside world, at home in Arakan he spreads xenophobia among the Rakhines against other ethnic Arakani minority people’s freedom. In a book written by U Shw zan and Dr. Aye Chan,(2005) Rohingya are being demonized as being “Influx Viruses.” Ashin Nayaka in encouraging the above ultra-nationalists wrote in the forward section of the book the following:

    “Rohingya movements have been accompanied by certain dangers and challenges, particularly for the Arakan State and beyond.”

    Here Asin Nayaka due to his ethnic superiority feelings refused to acknowledge Rohingyas as a people and says “dangers and challenges” should be feared by the Rakhine and the Burmese people. It is to note that Rohingyas are a racially and religiously different group of Burmese people.

    About the book “Influx Viruses” he further says:

    “I hope this collective contribution will give both a broader understanding of so-called Rohingya issues and practical measures to address challenges of the future. I extend my heartfelt gratitude to both contributors whose scholastic works are credibly expected to give appropriate answers to all…”

    In dehumanizing the Rohingyas the authors of the “Influx Viruses” refused to accept the birth right of the Rohingyas and calls the Rohingyas as “Viruses.”

    Ashin Nayaka justifies this claim by calling the Rohingyas as the “so-called-Rohingyas.” The “practical measures” he refers had been taken by the ultra-nationalists Rakhines in 2001 to destroy the Rohingya historic sites in Arakan and even before renamed the Rohingya names such as Akyab into Sittwe. And for the army ofcourse the “practical measures” were to exterminate the so-called Rohingya “virus.” It appears that Ashin Nayaka opposes the military rule in Burma but supports the military’s Rohingya extermination policy in Arakan.

    Today, there are atleast 700,000 stateless Rohingya people live in Malaysia, Japan and in the Middle East and approximately 200,000 live in Bangladesh.

    Surprisingly Ashin Nayaka is an honorable Buddhist Monk who is supposed to be preaching nonviolence. Whereas he keeps his xenophobia and hate in his closet at home in Arakan and pretends to be a great democracy movement Monk leader in abroad deserving a prize on behalf of the Monks of Burma.

    As a democracy movement activist recently he said to the US Senate, “We remain steadfast in our commitment to the freedom in our country and the freedom in our own hearts. All these things Americans value and cherish. Freedom for the people of Burma cannot be denied. The cost of that freedom is the only question in Burma,”

    This is Ashin Nayaka style of Burmese way to democracy. To him ofcourse human rights is only for its Buddhist majority. Due to such dual roles played by certain Monks as Ashin Nayaka and some ultra-nationalist Arakani intellectuals,like Aye Chan and Aye Kyaw, Rohingya people’s rights of citizenship were being officially denied by the military government. Rohingyas have been suffering genocidal repression inside Arakan state and outside the country sufferes as stateless people.

    Remarkably, Ashin Nayaka’s style is a typical Burmese way to democracy by most Arakanese ultra-nationalists: xenophobia at home and great democratic demonstration in abroad. No wonder why the military government has been successful in ruling Burma for such a long time!

    For dehumanizing the Burmese born Rohingyas, and misrepresenting Buddhism, inciting Rohingya genocide and extermination policy in Arakan, it is imperative on the genuine democracy movement leaders of Burma to refer the fake democrat like Ashin Nayaka along with his team of ultra-nationalists to the international tribunal.

    (Dr. Abid Bahar, a Sociologist and historian of Arakan, during the 80’s wrote his thesis on Ethnic Relations in Burmese society.) abidbahar@gmail.com

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