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Karenni State Day held amid controversy

Part of the 2015 Karenni State Day celebrations (Photo: DVB)

The 63rd Karenni State Day, also known as Kayah Day, is being celebrated in the regional capital Loikaw.

Karenni State Day falls annually on 15 January. This year’s celebrations began on 10 January at Loikaw’s Kantarawaddy Park and are expected to last until the 16th, with festivities including displays of traditional dress, dance performances, rice pounding, sports and tournaments of lethwei, a traditional martial art.

A journalist from the area told DVB that many shops selling the traditional rice liquor khao yae are crowded with revellers.

On Thursday, regional government leaders, parliamentarians and representatives from ethnic armed groups and political parties attended an event for the celebrations. The eastern Burmese state is one of the least developed regions in the country and has seen much armed conflict.

In a message marking the occasion, President Thein Sein said, “There are rays of peace in the Kayah State nowadays, and prospective opportunities for development. Moreover, foundations for tranquillity and regional progress have been laid.”

However, Dr Khin Sithu, a community leader in Loikaw, said that peace is yet to prevail in the region, and that it is dependent on the amendment of the 2008 Constitution.

“Even though there is some electricity here, we only receive a tiny fraction of the output from the Lawpita hydropower dam. We cannot call this development,” he said.

The Karenni State formerly fell within Karen State under the 1947 Constitution but was renamed as Kayah State under a charter amendment in 1951.

The Karenni State Day was first celebrated on 15 January, 1952.

Khu Oo Reh, deputy-chairperson of the armed group Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP), said the Karenni people did not consent to the renaming of the state.

“We consider that there may be a political motive behind the name change, so we do not officially recognise the observation of Karenni State Day on 15 January, the date when the amendment was made,” he said.

There are also criticisms that the term “Kayah” is representative of only one of many ethnic groups in the region.