Languages of Security in the Asia-Pacific

College of Asia and the Pacific, Australian National University

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Shan – Lawng Lawt Pay

May 27th, 2011 · No Comments · Security, Shan

Lawng Lawt Pay

Relates to safety; security

Lawt in itself means ‘to be free’ or ‘released’ from something. Pay translates as ‘danger’, ‘evil’ or ‘harm’, and is derived from the Burmese word for danger or harm, bay. Together, lawt pay means to be free from danger or harm. The prefix lawng, which denotes a topic, gives the word the final meaning of safety.

While lawng lawt pay can be used to talk about a country, it is more commonly used in reference to an individual, a group or a village being safe from nature or man. In the context of the civil war and military rule in Shan State, the word also includes being safe from fighting or from physical abuse – or the potential for physical abuse – from the Burmese Army, militia groups, ceasefire groups or non-ceasefire insurgents. The threat to safety could come from arrest, torture, rape, summary execution, deprivation or physical suffering while performing forced labour, or being caught in the crossfire during an engagement between insurgents and the government (or its militia allies).[1]

In the following quote about Khun Kyaw – a Shan State Army commander who surrendered to the Burmese Army – safety from physical harm for himself, his soldiers and villagers in the area is one of the reasons given for his surrender. Burmese Army guarantees for this physical safety were apparently crucial in his decision.

“Allowed to speak on 4 March, right after the verdict was read out, Khun Kyaw [a Shan State Army commander], according to one official who was present at the closed-door court proceedings, said he had decided to surrender due to two reasons:

  • He did not want the local people, who had been made to suffer by the Burma Army for his presence in the area, to suffer more
  • Burmese authorities had sent emissaries to guarantee their safety (lawng lawt pay).”[2]


In the following quote, Hseng Noung, a prominent Shan woman activist, makes the equation of safety, especially for women, with the withdrawal of Burmese soldiers from Shan State. For many in the region, the presence of the Burmese soldiers is the leading cause of fear for physical safety.

“ ‘A nationwide ceasefire alone would mean nothing if the Army is still allowed to prey on the people including women,’ Nang Hseng Noung said, in reply to S.H.A.N.’s question. ‘The only thing that could guarantee their safety (lawng lawt pay) is its departure from the ethnic areas.’ ”[3]


In much local discussion, therefore, the term lawng lawt pay (‘safety’) tends to be intricately associated with fear of the Burmese military. The mere presence of Burmese troops raises anxiety about ‘safety’. In fact, however, ‘lawng lawt pay’ is also an issue in reference to conditions in Thailand, where many are Shan migrant workers. Threats to safety can come in the form of beatings or rape from police officers for not possessing a Thai identity card or work permit. It can also come from on-the-job safety issues for Shan working in construction or as field hands, under circumstances where Thai employers do often not follow safety standards.[4]

“Shan workers who work in Thailand do not really have full rights like Thai people because I see many Shan are still working for a long time. Some of them have to work in jobs that are not safe. Like when they work in high places it is not safe for them. They also don’t know what will happen when they are working but they have to work to survive”.[5]



[1] Interviews with Shan opposition leaders and victims of human rights abuses in Shan State, 2008.

[2] “Khun Kyaw – Captured or Surrendered?”, Independence, Shan Herald Agency for News, No. 5, June 2006.

[3] “Women’s call for curtailing Army linked to abuses”, SHAN, 23 February 2004,

[4] Discussions with Shan migrant workers, 2008.

[5] Discussion with Sai Ne, a Shan migrant worker, Chiang Mai, 2008.



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