YANGON, MYANMAR. Sixteen people were killed yesterday in violent clashes between warring pro peace groups in Myanmar.
In reaction to deadly riots stemming from the suspicious death of Thet Win Aung in a state prison, two peace-focused groups held public demonstrations in Yangon protesting violence in every form. The Myanmar True Peace Association first announced the silent peace rally to begin at 1:00 P.M. Shortly after the True Peace Association’s proclamation, The Myanmar Authentic Peace Federation held a press conference to say that it, as the “really authentic representative of the Myanmar people’s quest for peace,” also would hold a silent peaceful demonstration at the same hour in the same location as that selected by the True Peace Association.
The two pro-peace groups have a long history of disagreement. The Myanmar True Peace Association, formerly known as the Myanmar Peace Association, was begun in 1996 in an effort to prove a role model for other groups in Myanmar.
The Myanmar Authentic Peace Federation, originally known as the Myanmar Peace Federation then renamed the Myanmar Authentic Peace Federation to even more clearly distinguish it from the Myanmar True Peace Association, was founded in 1997 by a splinter group of the then Myanmar Peace Association.
The two groups differ markedly in their approach. The Myanmar True Peace Association believes that peace can only be achieved by silent demonstrations where the participants communicate with one another using sign language. The rival Authentic Peace Federation also believes in silent public demonstrations but rejects the use of sign language and claims that hand-written signs are the only true way to communicate during demonstrations.
At the deadly demonstration-turned-riot yesterday, young men wearing the white “wife beater” shirts of the True Peace Association forced their way into the swarms of Authentic Peace Federation members wearing their trademark blue baseball caps and tore up scores of hand-written signs proclaiming the need for peace in Myanmar. Anticipating this bold challenge, members of the Authentic Peace Federation began using the Peace Association’s own sign language to convey obscene messages to their True Peace rivals.
True Peace Association advocates then produced their own signs written in the manner of the Authentic Peace Foundation and declaring that the Authentic Peace Federation was really made up of violent thugs who abhorred peace.
The insulting signs produced a reaction that was both swift and violent. Both sides began fighting first with wood sticks used to hold signs, then escalated the melee to one where fists, knives, and pistols were used. One group of Authentic Peace Federation members rolled out a colonial-era howitzer and tried to fire it at the True Peace Association leaders but were unable to do so when it was discovered that no one knew how to operate the ancient weapon.
When the air cleared, sixteen people were killed, evenly divided between the two groups. Brig. General Kyaw Hsan, Chairman of the Information Committee of the State Peace and Development Council, condemned the violence and stated that the Tatmadaw Government would do all in its power to eliminate the threat to peace of the two groups.