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Burmese prince dies in small Alberta town after years living in exile

Ryan Rumbolt

Published on: October 9, 2016 | Last Updated: October 10, 2016 7:24 PM MDT

Tiger Yawnghwe, known in his homeland as Prince Sur Khan Pha.

The Prairie is not a place you would expect to find southeast Asian royalty, but that is where an exiled prince decided to spend his final days.

Prince Hso Khan Pha of Yawnghwe — the Shan state that is now part of Myanmar — died Oct. 4 at the age of 78.

Settling in Innisfail to be near friends, Yawnghwe lived in exile for almost 50 years, spending time living in Edmonton and Calgary.

Working as a geologist in Alberta since 1979, Yawnghwe — also known as Tiger Yawnghwe in certain circles — was a dedicated family man and an outspoken advocate for the independence of the Shan States from the Union of Burma.

Yawnghwe’s father was also a Prince of Yawnghwe and the first president of an independent Burma, helping form the Union of Burma in 1948.

“What is now Myanmar started as the Union of Burma consisting of many nations including the Shan States,” Yawnghwe’s son, Kham Serk of Yawnghwe, said.

After a left-leaning military coup in 1962, a dictatorship was established in Burma. Most of the Yawnghwe family were either imprisoned, killed or fled to Thailand.

Tiger was studying geology at Keele University in the U.K. at the time of the coup. Unable to return home, he travelled to Ivory Coast for work before settling in Canada.

“He was a kind man and he was passionate,” Kham Serk said. “He loved his family a lot . . . his home was full of photos. It wasn’t easy for him to abandon everything he grew up with.”

Friend and co-worker Dick Westbury described Tiger as a pleasant man who “enjoyed a glass a beer,” but adds that “he was not all that quick with puns.”

Westbury said Tiger was a talented geologist, working in Alberta’s oilpatch for decades. Westbury said Tiger once located “one of the best prospects I’ve ever seen . . . in an area where it’s almost impossible to drill a dry hole.”

During all his years in exile, Westbury and Kham Serk said Tiger was dedicated to promoting the cause of the Shan people.

“He was trying to help his people recover their independence,” Westbury said. “He formed an association with most of the other Shan States families . . . the Burmese military very resolutely stopped (independence) from going on.”

Burma again went through a political upheaval in 1988 when a military junta overthrew the dictatorship established in 1962, changing the official country name from Burma to Myanmar.

In 2005, Tiger was appointed by other exiled Shan independents as the President of the Federation of Shan States in 2005.

Kham Serk said his father’s fight for Shan independence was a source of frustration. Being so far from his homeland and the Shan people, Kham Serk said it wasn’t easy for Tiger “to be here as a regular guy with bills to pay.”

“He worked hard his entire life, and maybe he thought that in his lifetime he would see more improvement for the people of the Shan States.”

Serk said he is unsure if any of the Yawnghwe family will pick up where Tiger left off in regards to independence for the Shan States, but has not ruled out the possibility of someone from the family continuing his father’s work.

“That was a weight that he carried on his shoulders, and a burden,” Kham Serk said.

“But as a person, he was a very kind man.”

A memorial service for Prince Hso Khan Pha of Yawnghwe will be held in Edmonton on Oct. 16 at the McKernan Community Centre.

ALberto, Admin.

11 Oct 2016, 15:07
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