REBUTTAL: On Secession Clause and Panglong Agreement

weekly_472_wansaiLately, quite a number of non-Bamar ethnic leaders and people in general were airing their opinions that the 1947 Panglong Agreement didn't mention “secession” and that it was not “all-inclusive”, as only Kachin, Chin, Shan and Burma Proper or Ministerial Burma were involved and not all the other ethnic nationalities were included in the treaty.
Let us look into the said two arguments in an objective approach, so that history would be treated as it is and not as we like them to be seen or interpreted.
The first question that Panglong Agreement didn't include “secession” is only partly true and that the treaty didn't also mention “federalism” in any way.
It is true that such words were no where to be seen, but the treaty has to be viewed together with the 1948 Union of Burma Constitution, so that the whole picture of the secession issue and that of federalism  could be viewed in a comprehensive light.
After this, the second argument of the treaty not being “all-inclusive” and thus is flawed will be discussed.
Panglong Promises and Secession Clause
The 1947 Panglong Agreement underpinned the ethnic aspirations of democracy, rights of self-determination, equality and democracy, as could be seen by the three clauses included in the nine points accord.
They are:
  • The Frontier Areas will enjoy full autonomy in internal administration
  • Citizens of the Frontier Areas shall enjoy rights and privileges which are regarded as fundamental in democratic countries.
  • Financial autonomy vested in the Federated Shan States shall be maintained
In this conjunction, one of the now defunct Ethnic Nationalities Council (ENC) statements, on 12 February 2007, is also worth mentioning.
  • When the ethnic nationalities leaders met again for the second time in Panglong in February 1947, Bogyoke Aung San came to join them. He had been to London to negotiate with Prime Minister Atlee for Burma’s independence, which was conditional on the unification of the Frontier Areas with Burma. Based on Aung San’s promises of democracy, equality and self rule, the ethnic nationalities agreed to work together with Aung San’s interim government to form the Union of Burma. Some of the historical quotations are as follows:
  • “We stand for full freedom of all the races in our country, including those so-called Karenni states…” (Aung San, 14 January 1947 – The Times, London).
  • “If the Burmese receive one kyat, the Shan will also get one kyat.” (Aung San at Panglong, February 1947).
On how the inclusion of secession clause enshrined in 1948 Union of Burma Constitution came about was documented by Pangmu Shayi as below:-
  • Duwa Shan Lone recalled the exchanges that took place between the Nyaung Shwe Sawbwa (Prince of Yawnghwe) and Bogyoke Aung San thus:
  • Bogyoke: Sawbwa Gyi, let me put to rest all your concerns regarding union with Burma. Federated or not, your rights to secession will be honoured. I would strongly urge you to join hands with us to form a union after we gain independence from the British.
  • Sao Shwe Thaike: Bogyoke, we the Sawbwas and the people of Shan States have complete trust in you, but we cannot say the same about the other Burmese leaders around you.
  • Bogyoke: I am glad to hear your expression of trust in me, but let me tell you this. Do not put your trust in man. Rather, trust the constitution that we will be drafting. I can assure you here and now, that all matters such as the right to secession and other safeguards you wish included in the constitution, will be fully addressed. So please join hands with us in the Constituent Assembly where further details will be discussed and thrashed out. (Source: Kachinland News – 20 April 2015)
In short, arguing that Panglong Agreement has nothing to do with secession is only partly true, as the Shans particularly didn't feel safe and thought that they would be only changing the colonial master from  British to Bamar, which later proved to be exactly the case following the independence from the British.
As a consequence, the Shan Saohpas, also pronounced Sawbwa in Bamar pronunciation, even rejected the notion that U Aung San represented them – The Federated Shan States - by mentioning that it was not the case in a telegram sent to the British government, when in 1947, he was then negotiating for Burma's independence from Prime Minister Clement Attlee, in London.
It is not for nothing that the said Aung San-Attlee Agreement had included a paragraph below:
“It is agreed objective of both His Majesty’s Government and the Burmese Delegates to achieve the early unification of the Frontier Areas and Ministerial Burma with the free consent of the inhabitants of those areas. In the meantime, it is agreed that the people of the Frontier Areas should, in respect of subjects of common interest, be closely associated with the Government of Burma in a manner acceptable to both parties.”
Following this, U Aung San negotiated with the Hill peoples – Shan, Chin and Kachin –  to alleviate their doubts and angsts, the Chapter 10, Secession Clause was included in the 1948 Union of Burma Constitution.
Regarding the word “federalism” not being included in the Panglong Agreement, the inclusion of full administrative and financial autonomy, including fundamental democratic rights, for Shan States and as well the Kachin and Chin indicated that it was meant to form a political system of federal union, if not explicitly or particularly mentioned in words in the accord.
Panglong Agreement not “all-inclusive”
The treaty of Panglong signed in 1947 was between the Burma Proper, represented by U Aung San for the Burmese Government, Kachin, Chin and Shan Committees.
While understandably that the Mon, Karen, Arakan States were rejecting the treaty as not all-inclusive, for their representatives were not participating at the Panglong Conference and eventual signing of the agreement, in official point of view they are included. For all the said territories then were not yet being created as States and were included in the then called Burma Proper, which was represented by U Aung San.
In a way, this rejection is like saying, “We can't accept the legacy – meaning: being all-inclusive – for we were not at the maturity stage, when our parent's – in this case: U Aung San - signed the treaty on our behalf.”
The point is an historical legacy is a legacy that could not be denied, whether we like it or not.
As for the Karenni State, its Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP) maintained that “In 1948, it was annexed by Burma without the knowledge of Karenni Supreme Council or the consent of the Karenni people.” (Source: UNPO Year Book 1997)
However, the Constitution of the Union of Burma in 1947 proclaimed that the three Karenni States be amalgamated into a single constituent state of the union, called Karenni State. It also provided for the possibility of secession from the Union after 10 years.
In conclusion, to do justice to the history, Panglong Agreement could be said to tacitly include Secession Clause and was all-inclusive, in a legal sense, so to speak.
(1948 Union of Burma Constitution)
  1. Save as otherwise expressly provided in this Constitution or in any Act of Parliament
made  under  section  199,  every  State  shall  have  the  right  to  secede  from  the  Union  in
accordance with the conditions hereinafter prescribed.
  1. The right of secession shall not be exercised within ten years from the date on which
this Constitution comes into operation.
  1. (1) Any  State  wishing  to  exercise  the  right  of  secession  shall  have  a  resolution  to
that effect passed by its State Council. No such resolution shall be deemed to have been
passed unless not less than two-thirds of the total number of members of the State Council
concerned have voted in its favour.
(2) The Head of the State concerned shall notify the President of any such resolution passed
by the Council and shall send him a copy of such resolution certified by the Chairman of
the Council by which it was passed.
  1. The President  shall  thereupon  order  a  plebiscite  to  be  taken  for  the  purpose  of
ascertaining the will of the people of the State concerned.
Repealed Laws
  1. The President  shall  appoint  a  Plebiscite  Commission  consisting  an  equal  number
of  members  representing  the  Union  and  the  State  concerned  in  order  to  supervise  the
  1. Subject to the provisions of this Chapter, all matters relating to the exercise of the right
of secession shall be regulated by law
(Source: 1948 Union of Burma Constitution)
Part of Aung San -Attlee Agreement (27 January 1947)
  1. Frontier Areas
It is agreed objective of both His Majesty’s Government and the Burmese Delegates to achieve the early unification of the Frontier Areas and Ministerial Burma with the free consent of the inhabitants of those areas. In the meantime, it is agreed that the people of the Frontier Areas should, in respect of subjects of common interest, be closely associated with the Government of Burma in a manner acceptable to both parties. For these purposes it has been agreed: -
(a) There shall be free intercourse between the peoples of the Frontier Areas and the people of Ministerial Burma without hindrance.
(b) The leaders and representatives of the peoples of the Frontier Areas shall be asked, either at the Panglong Conference to be held at the beginning of next month or at a special Conference to be convened for the purpose, to express their views upon the form of association with the Government of Burma which they consider acceptable during the transition period: whether –
(I) by the appointment of a small group of Frontier representatives to advise the Governor on Frontier affairs and to have close liaison with the Executive Council; or
(II) by the appointment of the Frontier Area representative as Executive Councillor in charge of Frontier affairs;
(III) by some other method.
(c) After the Panglong meeting, or the special conference, His Majesty’s Government and the Government of Burma will agree upon the best method of advancing their common aims in accordance with the expressed views of the peoples of the Frontier Areas.
(d) A Committee of Enquiry shall be set up forthwith as to the best method of associating the Frontier peoples with the working out of the new Constitution for Burma. Such Committee will consist of equal numbers of person from Ministerial Burma, nominated by the Executive Council, and persons from the Frontier Areas, nominated by the Governor after consultation with the leaders of those areas, with a neutral Chairman from outside of Burma selected by agreement. Such Committee shall be asked to report to the Government of Burma and His Majesty’s
Government before the summoning of the Constituent Assembly.
{Source: Aung San-Atlee Agreement (27 January 1947)}


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