The Shwe Gas Campaign that was launched by a group of Arakanese youths in their traditional tug-of-war or “Rahta-Swe-Bwe” held in Sittwe in western Burma’s Arakan State was forcibly stopped by the police, said a leader of the campaign.
Over 100 local youths who were organized by a local campaign group known as the Ray of Arakan or “Rakkha Ahluntan” were said to have participated in competitions of their traditional tug-of war held from 3 to 7 February, between the urban wards in Sittwe wearing the t-shirts that read “Stop the Shwe Gas Project” and “Give 24-hour Electricity in Arakan”.
“We started our campaign wearing the t-shirts on the first day of our traditional game in Sittwe. There were police but they had not disturbed us. But on second day they forcibly stripped the t-shirts off our youths. Some of the youths who did not want to take off their t-shirts had to run away from the game”, said Daw Mar Mar who is one of the leaders of the campaign.
Daw Mar Mar said the “Ratha Swe Bwe” is one of the most popular traditional games in Arakan State and they launched the campaign with the game to raise wider awareness among their own Arakanese people who are being deprived of their rights in their own region.
Ma Khine Khine, another leader of the campaign who is a resident of Shwebrar Ward in Sittwe, also said she was warned by the organizing committee of the game not to launch the campaign using the game.
“Eight of the organizing committee of the game came to my residence on the day before the game started and told me not to launch the campaign with the game as they had signed agreements with the authorities not to do anything affiliated with political activities. We understood that they had difficulties with the authorities, but we had to continue what we had decided to do for the cause of our whole Arakanese people, who have been starving for electricity for development in their homeland”, said Ma Khine Khine.
She said her group had organized a team of youths from her own ward to compete in the game wearing the t-shirts of the campaign, but the committee members of the game and police had not allowed them to compete in the game and confiscated their t-shirts.
She also said she and other leaders of the group have to hide away from their residences, as the authorities are closely watching them after they had launched the campaign.
The group have distributed the pamphlets that urge all Arakanese peoples to demand their rights from the Shwe Gas Project as part of their campaign in the traditional game as well.