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"We Need Real Peace" The Palaung (

Subject: "We Need Real Peace"  The Palaung (or Da Ta-ang) people of  Burma

We Need Real Peace

The Palaung people, or Da Ta-ang as they call themselves, live mostly in the
mountains of northwestern Shan State. Numbering over one million, the
Palaung -- a Mon-Khmer sub-group -- have a long history and unique languge
and literature. The predominantly Buddhist Palaung are famous in Burma for
growing high quality tea.
The Palaung took up arms against the Burmse military regime in 1963 to
demand greater autonomy, but the main resistance army, the Palaung State
Liberation Army (PSLA) signed a ceasefire with the SLORC in April 1991. Some
PSLA members broke away to form the Palaung State Liberation Front (PSLF) in
1992. The following is an interview with Mai Aik Phone, member of the PSLF: 

Q. Why did the Palaung agree to a ceasefire with the SLORC in 1991?
A. They had no choice. After the collapse of the Communist Party in 1989,
all the armies around the Palaung made ceasefires -- the Kachin 4th Brigade,
the Shan State Army, the Kokang, the United 
Wa State Army. The Palaung was the only group Ieft, so there was great
pressure from the SLORC. They started terrorizing the Palaung civilian
popuIation. They burned down villages, and in early 1991 
they captured 3 Palaung monks from the village of Tached and put them in
sacks and burned them 
alive. The Palaung people begged their leaders to agree to a ceasefire, so
they finally gave in. 

Q. Have there been any benefits for the Palaung people since the ceasefire? 

A. The Palaung living in the areas controlled by the PSLA (around Namsan and
Mantong) have been left alone by the SLORC. But that is only one part of the
Palaung population. The Palaung living in other areas of Shan State are
suffering from human rights abuses like everyone else. They are being used
as porters, forced labour, and many were forcibly relocated last year.   The
PSLA has not been given any political rights by the SLORC. They can only
carry out some business in their area. They have been attending the SLORC's
so-called National Convention, but they know it is a farce. It is
humiliating for them to be referred to by the SLORC as a "peace" group, and
to have to put up the SLORC flag in their offices. This is to trick people
into thinking that real peace has come to the Palaung area. In fact, we know
it is a false peace, that is why we broke away to form the PSLF. 

Q. What is the aim of your front? 

A. We want true peace, democracy and human rights for the Palaung people. We
also want self-determination. To achieve this we must cooperate with the
other ethnic groups and Burmese pro-democracy groups to oppose the SLORC. 

We also want to spread information about what is really happening to the
Palaung people to the outside world. We have recently set up a human rights

Q. What problems are you facing? 

A. Many problems. We used to be based at the Karen Headquarters of
Manerplaw, but this was captured by the SLORC in 1995. From the Thai border,
it is also difficult to travel to the Palaung area. 
There are several thousand Palaung refugees in Thailand, mostly from central
and southern Shan State. They have fled to Thailand over the last 18 years
to escape fighting and forced recruitment into local armies. Unfortunately,
there has been little publicity about this. Some people do not even know
that any Palaung refugees exist. 

Q. Do you think there is any danger that Palaung culture will disappear? 

A. The longer that SLORC remains in power, the longer this danger exists for
all ethnic groups. The are trying to assimilate everyone into the Burman
culture. Until recently the teaching of ethnic languages was banned in
schools. Now they have started allowing some languages to be taught in
schools, but we know this is just a cosmetic move to make it look as if they
are promoting ethnic culture.  In fact, proper rights must be given to the
ethnic peoples so that they can safeguard their own culture. Until this
happens, instability and fighting will continue, which is a major threat to
indigenous culture. For example, the Palaung refugees in Thailand are now
forgetting their old customs. And how will all the Palaung villagers
recently relocated from the hills to large relocation sites by the SLORC be
able to maintain their culture? We need real peace and the right to
establish our own state to ensure that our culture survives. 

Burmese Relief Centre April 1997 Newsletter