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Burma's exiled ethnic nationalities seminar held in North America

Viewpoint from a young Mon leader

INTERVIEW WITH PON NYA MON

Kao-Wao recently conducted an interview with Pon Nya Mon, Chairman of Monland Restoration Council (MRC) based in the USA . Pon Nya Mon was a leader of the Overseas Mon Young Monks Union (OMYMU) and served on the Foreign Relationship Committee in Thailand .

Pon Nya Mon holds a B.S. degree in Business Administration, a B.A. in Political Science from Indiana-Purdue University and a M.A. in Development Economics from Williams College, Massachusetts. Currently, he is a Ph.D. candidate in Political Science at the Washington State University .

KW:              When were you elected as Chairman / President of the Monland Restoration Council (MRC)?

PNM:            I was first elected in 1995. I was re-elected for three terms (every two years), I have been serving as the Chairman for the last 7 years.

KW:              Can you tell us the aims and activities of your organization? How was it formed and when?

PNM:            MRC was founded by a group of Mon exiles in the U.S.A. in November 1993, named Indigenous Mon Council of Burma (IMCOB). It was changed to Monland Restoration Council (MRC) at the first annual conference in 1994. Our main objective is to restore self-determination for our country, to promote Mon culture and literature both inside and outside of our homeland, and to restore democracy and human rights in Burma .

KW:              What is your impression of Mon communities in the USA and in exile?

PNM:            I am very impressed with the progress of our Mon community in the U.S.A. It's a success story, in Fort Wayne , Indiana and Akron , Ohio ; everyone is working very hard to build a strong Mon community although they face linguistic, cultural and environmental differences in this country. In order to promote the Mon culture and literature here, we established a Mon Buddhist temple in Fort Wayne in 2001 where all of us can meet, it made a big difference; it gives people a chance to be together. Now we are able to offer Mon literacy training classes every year at the temple.

Since I don't have close contact with other Mon groups in other countries, I couldn't say much about how they are managing. I believe they also work hard at maintaining Mon culture for our people. I have a general impression that Mon exiles around the world are working together for the Mon cause.

KW:              Can you tell us your experience as a young monk in Burma and Thailand ?  How did you get involved in the Mon national movement?

PNM:            My experience as a young monk in Burma was not much different from Mon monks in Burma . Mon monks have been oppressed and discriminated by the Burmese government in many ways. For example, in 1986, the Ne Win government banned the use of the Mon language in the government's Buddhist literature examination. As many of us know, Buddhist literature was introduced to Burma originally in the Mon language and has since been taught in this language in Mon monasteries for centuries. For that reason, the Mon language had been recognized by the government as an official language, along with the Burmese language, used in the government's Buddhist literature examination since Burma gained her independence.

Nevertheless, in 1986, Ne Win's government announced that all Mon monks in Burma were required to take government's Buddhist literature examination in Burmese language instead of Mon.  This outraged Mon Monks all over Burma , we believed it threatened our language and literature. To protect our language, literature, and culture, however, Mon monks, including myself, in Burma boycotted the examination held only in the Burmese language.

Since then, I have been active in the Mon national movement. In 1987, I joined the Mon Young Monks Organization in Rangoon to promote Mon culture and literature in Burma . I involved in 1988's general uprising to fight for a democratic change in Burma . After 1988, I fled to Thailand and joined the Overseas Mon Young Monks Union (OMYMU).

Being a young monk in Thailand was different from Burma . As refugee monks in Thailand , we were free to express our political views, which we couldn't do in Burma . We staged demonstrations against the Burmese military regime in front of the Burmese Embassy many times. We never were arrested. This was one of the advantages of being a refugee monk in Thailand compared to a normal refugee. However, in 1993 after I received a scholarship to study in the U.S, I disrobed. Right after I disrobed, one of my friends, Nai Thet Lwin, and I were arrested by the Thai police and deported to the Three Pagodas Pass , where the Burmese military camp was located. Fortunately, we escaped deportation by jumping off the truck that carried us to the Burmese territory, close to the Burmese army camp.

KW:              Do you see any change in the Mon politics after the death of New Mon State Party leader Nai Shwe Kyin?

PNM:            I don't see any major changes in Mon politics soon after the death of Nai Shwe Kyin. From my point of view, an individual leader or elite does not dictate Mon politics. It is based on the will of our people. Unless there are major changes in the will of Mon people, I do not think there would be major changes in Mon politics.

In this case, the death of Nai Shwe Kyin will not affect Mon revolution or Mon politics. But he left us a very strong Mon political platform and foundation. Even though the founding father died, our Mon revolution is alive and will continue. Therefore, Mon younger generation must prepare for the future leadership role of our revolution.

KW:              What is your campaign for the Mons back home?

PNM:            MRC has done a lot of campaigns for the past ten years to raise awareness on human rights abuse both in Mon state and in Burma . We joined other Mon organizations around the world; we wrote letters to the United Nations and issued many statements. We often staged demonstrations in front of the Burmese Embassy in Washington DC and in front of the United Nations in New York to raise awareness on the cause of Mon people in Burma .

From 1995 to 1998, our campaigns mostly concentrated on human rights abuses in the Unocal-Total gas pipeline areas. In 1996, I attended the Unocal shareholders meeting in Los Angeles to encourage the company to withdraw its business from Burma . We joined other NGOs and held demonstrations in front of Texaco shareholders meeting in Huston , Texas in 1997.

However, in the last couple years, our campaigns have concentrated mostly on the land confiscation in Mon areas, the release of three Mon political leaders who have been imprisoned in Mon State and the tripartite dialogue in Burma .

KW:              Do you see the possibility of a tripartite dialogue in Burma ?

PNM:            I don't see a tripartite dialogue any time soon in Burma unless the international communities, Burmese democratic forces, and ethnic nationalities apply a much more tougher stand against the SPDC. So far, the SPDC is not interested in dialogue with the NLD and non-Burman ethnic nationalities. Even though the SPDC has released some political prisoners, it does not mean they are moving toward a tripartite dialogue.
The SPDC uses political prisoners as a political tool to play games with the international community in order, for them, to stay in power as long as possible. In other words, the SPDC is buying time by releasing some political prisoners. But there is a lack of will to maintain the pressure and to get on with real democratic change in
Burma .

KW:              Has the international campaign work for "Mon or ethnic issue" developed during the past years?

PNM:            The international campaign has worked very well in terms of raising awareness of human rights abuses in Mon and other ethnic nationality areas.  The campaign brought the ILO, Red Cross, and UN special rapporteur to Burma to monitor human rights abuses in ethnic areas. Of course, the human rights situation has not yet significantly improved in Burma .

KW:              What is your opinion on the current cease-fire deal of the NMSP with the military junta?

PNM:            I think the SPDC does not fully honor, as it should, the cease-fire agreement. Since the two parties reached a cease-fire agreement in 1995, thousands of acres of land have been confiscated and thousands of Burmese troops have been deployed in Mon state. These operations violate the cease-fire agreement and also threaten the securities of both NMSP and Mon people.

The NMSP has become increasingly dissatisfied with the SPDC on these matters. If the SPDC continues such violations, the cease-fire between the two parties could not be sustained very long.

KW:              How do you see the Mons conflict during the previous years (HRP, NMSP)?

PNM:            It was very unfortunate for us. Because of the conflict, many Mons died including a respectful Mon leader, Nai Min Htut. Moreover, the unity of among Mon people was also affected.

KW:              What plans should we work on to obtain or increase the Mon movement?

PNM:            First and foremost, we need to strengthen our unity. Unity among our Mon people is very important for the movement. Once our unity falls apart, so does our movement. 

Second, Mon national movement should be mobilized at all local, national, and international levels. To do so, all Mon political parties and organizations inside and outside Burma need to work together. Finally, we should work with other ethnic nationalities and Burmese democratic forces, and international communities.

As most of us know, human rights situations in Burma , especially in Mon and other ethnic areas, have not yet improved, and the SPDC is not willing to initiate the tripartite dialogue with the NLD and the non-Burma ethnic nationalities for a peaceful change. Any effort to pressure the SPDC on these matters will be significant.



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