By Dr. Vum Ko Hau
This article was published in The Guardian in 1955
During the latter part of Alaungpaya’s dynasty, Burma was split into different states again. Although Alaungpaya welded so many small states into the largest Burmese empire he did not do it by any treaty or agreement.
The first agreement ever to be signed by a Burmese leader with chosen leaders of indigenous races of Burma, viz the Frontier peoples, was executed by Bogyoke Aung San representing ministerial Burma and the various representatives of the frontier peoples, in a small hut on the 12th of February 1947 the day before Bogyoke’s Aung San’s 32nd birthday.
The place was Panglong, a tiny village a few miles from Loilem. It was selected as the meeting place of the representatives because it is accessible by surface transport from all directions. Loilem would have provided better accommodation but under the rules of the British regime such political conferences in any place notified as a civil station were forbidden.
It took me seven days from the Chin Hills to reach Panglong. It was just after the war and the military-controlled civil affairs service was still functioning. For transportation we, the Chin Hills delegation, had to rely on local transport officers at every stage. Some were most co-operative; some did not care much to provide us with free transport. No hired vehicle was available for such a distance and petrol was scarce. One Deputy Commissioner in central Burma refused to see us in his office but his junior officer in the same building was very helpful and he provided us with what we needed. His junior officer was also at a loss as to why his boss declined to see us. U Kyi Win a transport officer how in Rangoon was most helpful to us. He even invited us to his house for tea.
The Kachin delegates and we arrived at the conference one day before the start of the meeting i.e. on the 8th of February 1947. The Shan Sawbwas were already there and the Mahadevi of Yawnghwe and daughters were busy receiving us. We were given the best of food and the local delicacies including pig trotters soup, pe-poke… etc.
The Kachin delegates included Duwa Zau Lawn, Duwa Sinwa Naw, Uggyi Hting Nan, Labang Grong, Duwa Zau Rip, Ding Ratang and others.
The Chin delegation consisted of three tribal chiefs and myself. I was the representative of the war time Political Organization, the Chin Leaders’ Freedom League as their Chairman and also as representative of the Siyin Council. On previous occasions also for such meetings only chiefs were nominated by the government. The government would not think of allowing the people to send their own representatives. The government would rather send ‘yes men’ who knew little politics not to speak of current world events. They were expected to advocate the status quo if they could express themselves. The chiefs representatives were Hlur Hmung, Thong Za Khup and
The Burmese Executive Council was led by Bogyoke Aung San. The party consisted of AFPFL members such as Sir Maung Gyee, U Aung Zan Wai, U Tin Tut, Bo Khin Maung Gale, Thakin Wa Tin and a few others. Bogyoke’s colleagues were known and- respected by us. They were all very sincere people and won the love and admiration of the frontier peoples in no time.
Beside the formal meetings, many discussions formal and informal were carried on in the huts. We, the respective chief-spokesmen of the three tribes used to see and talk with Bogyoke and also with his senior advisers over CUDS of Shan tea in which salt rather than sugar was used. I think the salt of the earth has done more good for human beings than the sugar of the earth.
I would say that much of the understanding between my delegation and the, Burmese delegation was established at the informal talk we had over cups of tea and at dinner tables. Bogyoke Aung San had probably met the Kachin and Shan leaders somewhere before he came to Panglong but he had never met me before; so he invited me to sit with him at the first dinner we had at Panglong. After the usual greetings I told him that we were economically less advanced than Burma proper and that the sparsity of population and difficulty of communications which were never improved by the authorities concerned were serious obstacles to development and that I would have to base my political talks with him on those factors. He readily replied That those were his responsibilities and that it would be his duty to look after the frontier brethren and that his First duty was to see that the Frontier peoples won their Independence together with the Burmans, adding that Burma without the Frontier Areas would not be’complete.
The talks were friendly and cordial in every respect. My delegation got the promise of almost everything we were asked to demand from Bogyoke. The Frontier people are sentimental in many ways and we were most delighted when Bogyoke told us that he also hailed from Natmauk and U Tin Tut from Mindon; Sir Maung Gyee also told us that he had fifty percent Shan blood; U Aung Zan Wai is, of course, an Arakanese and one of Bogyoke’s lieutenants Bo Khin Maung Gale happened to be a schoolmate of mine. I was most happy to say that the greatest progress towards mutual understanding between the brethrens was achieved, for the first time in the modern age. Thus the thorny problem of relationship between the Frontier Areas and Burma, first likened by prejudiced parties to the Hindu-Muslim problem in India, disappeared like the morning mist. The only detailed problems to be further discussed were statehood for some of the Frontier areas. Thakin Wa Tin still likes to tell me how much he liked my bold speeches made at Panglong.
The Karens and Karenni did not send any delegates to the Conference. Therefore the Agreement was between the Burmese government and the leaders of the Shans, Chins and Kachins only.
Up to the time of the Japanese invasion of Burma the Frontier areas namely, the Chin Hills, the Kachin Hills, the Shan States and the Karenni states and the Papun districts were directly under the Ministry of Defense and External Affairs, the portfolio of which was held by a European Executive Counselor to the Governor of Burma. The post usually went to the most senior European I.C.S. man and carried with it a salary of Rs. 4500 per mensem.
When Bogyoke Aung San became Counselor for Defense he found his powers did not extend to any of those areas. They had been transferred overnight to the charge of the Director of Frontier Areas. As Defense Counselor the best he could do was to meet the personnel of the Frontier Force and, at that time there were some battalions of the Chins and Kachins already in the Frontier “Force. He took all the opportunities of meeting them. Once he inspected the Chin Hills Battalion and anti-tank regiment at Meiktila and he was very pleased with the senior Chin officers he met then. He visited the Mess and talked with them most of the time. It was probably Bogyoke’s first personal contact when he, could talk with the Chins, heart to heart.
Up to the time of signing the Panglong Agreement of 1947 it had not been possible even to hold: a political meeting of the same nature at the government civil station such as Loilem which is only six miles from Panglong. A meeting of the Frontier leaders and the Burmese leaders was convened one year earlier at the same place but as the Aung San-Atlee agreement had not yet been signed it was impossible to accomplish much. The Agreement opened the way for the frontier leaders and the Burmese leaders to begin important talks which would decide their destinies.
Some of the terms of the Panglong Agreement, which regulated relationships between Burma and the more important portion of the Frontier Areas when the Rees-Williams Commission began its work were as follows
“The Panglong Agreement, 1947.
A Conference having been held at Panglong, attended by certain Members of the Executive Council of the Governor of Burma, all Saophas and Representatives of the Shan States, the Kachin Hills and the Chin Hills . . . (It will be noted that the Karens and Karennis did not participate).
The Members of the Conference, believing that freedom will be more speedily achieved by the Shans, the Kachins and the Chins by their immediate co-operation with the Interim Burmese Government.
The Members of the Conference have accordingly, and without dissentients, agreed as follows.
7. Citizens of the Frontier Areas shall enjoy rights and privileges which are regarded as fundamental in democratic countries”.
It also provided for the appointment of three Frontier representatives, to attend meetings of the Executive Council.
After the signature of the Nu-Attlee Treaty the meetings of the provisional Government were attended by the Frontier Counselors at every Executive Meeting, and not only when subjects pertaining to the Frontier Areas were discussed.
Thus the importance of the Agreement lies not only in the fact that it settles the form of association during the interim period, but also in its enunciation of certain principles, notably that the Frontier peoples should be entitled to fundamental democratic rights, that they should have the right to full autonomy in the internal sphere, and that they should be entitled to receive a measure of assistance from the revenues of Ministerial Burma. All these had their influence on the ultimate form of-association. The formation of the Supreme Council of the United Hill Peoples was also a noteworthy step forward in the establishment of representative institutions among the Frontier peoples.
The Panglong Agreement helped the work of the Frontier Commission of Enquiry also known; as the Rees-Williams Commission to a great extent. The Members of this first important Committee to be created by the Governor of Burma were, as follows:
The Hon. U Tin Tut, Member without portfolio;
Hon. Sao Hsam Tun, Shan Counselor;
Thakin Nu, Vice-President, AFPFL;
Hon. U Vum Ko Hau, Chin Counselor,
Bo Khin Maung Gale, AFPFL;
Hon. Sinwa Naw, Kachin Counsellor;
Saw Myint Thein, KYO and,
Saw Sankey, KNU
Saw Myint Thein joined the Committee when It moved to Maymyo, in place of’ Hon. U Kyaw Nyein, Home Member, who was a member in Rangoon, but was forced to resign owing to pressure of work. U Kyaw Nyein attended some meetings in Maymyo as an observer.
Thus with those post war beginnings under the bold and gallant leadership of Bogyoke Aung San all the indigenous peoples of Burma began to unite again to fight for the attainment of the mother country’s rightful and honored place in the world. It was this unity which brought the struggle for independence to an early fruition.