Yangon - The abrupt cancellation of thescreening of a film critical of Myanmar's military has exposedsensitivities over portrayal of the army as the country dealswith the legacy of 49 years of harsh military rule.
Twilight Over Burma: My Life as a Shan Princess", directedby Austrian filmmaker Sabine Derflinger, was pulled from theopening night of the Human Rights Human Dignity InternationalFilm Festival in Yangon on Tuesday, after being rejected by thecensorship board.
The film tells the true story of Inge Sargent, an Austrianwoman who married Sao Kya Seng, a prince - or saopha - ofMyanmar's Shan ethnic minority.
Sao Kya Seng, who pushed for land reform and was active inShan politics, was detained by the military following a 1962coup. His subsequent death has never been fully explained.
"There are certain criteria used for censoring Myanmarfilms. An important point is that issues that can affect unityamong national races shouldn't be allowed," Myo Myint Maung, thedeputy permanent secretary at the ministry of information, toldReuters, referring to the country's ethnic groups.
Separatist and autonomy-seeking guerrillas from severalminorities battled the central government for decades, sowingdeep distrust between the army, which is dominated by members ofthe majority Bamar, or Burman, community.
Guerrillas and human rights groups have also long complainedof rights abuses by the army. The army denied abuses and fordecades portrayed itself as the only institution capable ofholding the diverse country together.
"The censor board found 'Twilight Over Burma' can causedisunity among national races so they decided by vote that thisfilm shouldn't be allowed for public showing," Myo Myint Maungsaid.
Derflinger, the filmmaker, did not respond to a request forcomment.
New Wine, Old Bottles
A festival organiser, Mon Mon Myat, said the cancellationshowed the limits of change in Myanmar, which has undergonereform since 2011 when the military stepped back from directrule for the first time in nearly half a century, paving the wayfor a 2015 election won by democracy champion Aung San Suu Kyi.
"The reason is they don't want to show the bad image of themilitary, so we have so-called human rights," Mon Mon Myat toldan audience that included activists, journalists and Tin Oo,party patron of Suu Kyi's ruling National League for Democracy.
"We cannot touch the issue if it is related to the military,and if it is related to religion, this is reality," she said.
A truck of police officers was parked in front of the cinemawhere the film had been due to be shown on Tuesday night, andremained there on Wednesday.
In 2014, a documentary dealing with an outbreak of violencebetween Buddhists and minority Muslims a year earlier was pulledfrom the festival, drawing sharp criticism from rights groups.
Sai Aung Lwin, a prominent Shan journalist, said screening"Twilight Over Burma" was an important step in addressing thepast.
"This film should definitely be allowed to be shown inpublic so that we can learn lessons from it for our future," he said.
The irony that the film was censored by the governmentformed by the NLD, a party whose many members sacrificed yearsin prison for freedom of expression, was not lost on theorganizers of the event.
Mon Mon Myat drew laughter and applause as she explained whythe movie would not be shown.
"We have new wine, but in the old bottles."//Reuters