About 20 people were injured as police used rubber bullets and a water cannon to break up a protest in Myanmar over a statue of Gen. Aung San, the father of de facto civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi
. The protest was held in Loikaw, the capital city of Kayah State
, on Feb. 12, Myanmar’s Union Day commemorating a 1947 pact promising autonomy for ethnic minorities. Khu Ree Reh, one of the protest leaders, said they condemned the excessive force by police cracking down on peaceful protesters as it was inappropriate under a democratic government. “How can we build up a federal democracy while our ethnic voices have been ignored?” the ethnic Karenni told ucanews.com. Thousands of Karenni protesters demanded that officials remove the statue and called for the resignation of Kayah’s chief minister and finance minister. They oppose the statue because Aung San was from the Bamar ethnic group that dominates Myanmar and they feel Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy-led government should focus on equal rights and self-determination. Despite strong opposition, the bronze structure that depicts Aung San on horseback was unveiled in early February in a public park in Loikaw. Following the demonstration, protest leaders and state officials had a meeting and agreed that charges would be dropped against 55 protesters. They also agreed to continue negotiations over the statue and in the meantime protests will be halted. “Our goal is not ending yet as we totally oppose the statue of Aung San,” Khu Reh Reh said. At least 82 protesters have been arrested in Kayah since July 2018 when plans for the statue were announced. Aung San is widely revered by the Bamar population as a Myanmar independence hero after leading the struggle against British colonial rule. Kayah, formerly known as Karenni State, is a remote, underdeveloped and mountainous region. The main ethnic groups are Kayah, Kayaw and Kayan (also known as Padaung). Nearly 50 percent are Buddhists while Catholics and Baptists account for 46 percent. Two percent are animists and there are small Hindu and Muslim communities of about 300,000 people. Yanghee Lee
, the United Nations’ special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, said the government must respect the right of all people to peaceful assembly to express their views about issues that concern them. “This is yet another example of the government sidelining the rights of ethnic minorities and failing to truly do what is necessary to unite the country and bring about peace and democracy,” Lee said in a statement on Feb. 12. Myanmar’s President Win Myint said in a ceremony marking the 72nd Union Day in Naypyitaw that Aung San and ethnic leaders rebuilt the unity of all national races and sacrificed their lives to regain the independence that Myanmar had lost.
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“Misunderstandings, mistrust and doubt crept in among ethnic people, leading to 70 years of armed conflicts, and the fire of armed conflicts has not yet ceased,” he said.