Myanmar’s Rakhine plan runs into trouble


Rohingya refugees walk in the rain as they arrive at Bangladesh border in Teknaf, Bangladesh, 09 September 2017. Photo: Abir Abdullah/EPA-EFE

Aung San Suu Kyi’s civilian initiative for Rakhine state in western Myanmar is already running into trouble. The country’s fervent Buddhist nationalists, a movement led by the extremist monk, Ashin Wirathu, are vehemently opposed to the return of the country’s Muslim refugees who have fled across the border over the last two months. It has created a situation that the UN calls the world’s worst humanitarian crises.

On Sunday a few hundred protestors marched through Rakhine’s capital, Sittwe demanding that the Muslim Rohingya refugees not be allowed to return, unless they were citizens. Meanwhile in the country’s capital Naypyidaw several thousand – many wearing or carrying images of the country’s civilian leader, Aung San Suu Kyi – rallied to support the government’s handling of the Rohingya crisis.

Most of the Rohingya, as they call themselves, in Rakhine are stateless, even though some have lived there for several generations. The government and Myanmar’s overwhelming majority ethnic population the Bamar, reject the term and instead call them Bengalis, to denote they are interlopers from Bangladesh. They are not listed among the government’s official list of ethic races.

There is a growing belief within the army that they are under siege. This is an ominous development, for if they feel that Aung San Suu Kyi cannot protect them from international condemnation and sanctions, they may feel they have no other option but launch an administrative coup, which is possible under the military-written constitution of 2008.

The immediate crisis erupted some two months ago when Rohingya terrorists – calling themselves members of the Arakan Rohingya Solidarity Army (ARSA) – attacked several border security posts killing scores of police. The military immediately launched a counter offensive, as they tried to track down the attackers.

More than half-a-million Rohingyas have sought safety since in Bangladesh, accusing the Myanmar military of forcing them to leave, razing their homes to the ground and being responsible for hundreds of deaths during the recent security operations. Many Muslim women also allege that Myanmar soldiers raped them. The UN has continually raised concerns about the human rights abuses being committed against the Rohingya and labelled it “ethnic cleansing”.

Both the Myanmar government and the military commander have strenuously denied all allegations levelled against the military operations in Rakhine. More recently the authorities have accused supporters of the insurgents of murdering and abducting dozens of villagers, who they say are perceived as government collaborators. They also accuse the Rohingya attackers of killing hundreds of Hindus and ethnic Myo in the past few weeks.

Over a week ago Aung San Suu Kyi announced the formation of a new national level committee to oversee the government’s comprehensive plans to deliver aid to the refugees, oversee their return and help resettle them. It is a civilian-cantered enterprise, government insiders told South Asian Monitor (SAM). She appealed to the country to support the initiative. Myanmar’s business community — including many of the country’s infamous tycoons — has rallied to her side.

Under the umbrella of the independent business association – the Union of Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry (UMFCCI) – the businessmen pledged more than US$13 million for economic projects in the violence-prone Rakhine state. Nine working groups have been formed to carry out the government’s plans as part of the Union Enterprise for Humanitarian Assistance, Resettlement and Development in Rakhine, announced ten days ago.

She cancelled her planned trip to the UN at the last moment because she feared that in her absence the Vice President, Myint Swe – the military’s appointment – would sign the state of emergency for Rakhine as he would be in charge of the government in her absence. At the time the President Htin Kyaw was incapacitated and undergoing medical treatment.

The working groups will focus on nine key areas – infrastructure, livestock and fisheries livelihood programs, implementation of the planned economic zones, information and public relations, the creation of job opportunities, providing vocational trainings healthcare, micro loans, and boosting the tourism sector. The businessmen announced their plans last weekend after meeting with the State Counsellor in Naypyidaw.

This falls into line with Aung San Suu Kyi’s strategy to tackle the underlying causes of communal conflict and mistrust in Rakhine a civilian-led initiative, and involve the nation as a whole. The army though will provide security. Aung San Suu Kyi’s concern has been to ensure that the civilian government plays the major role in solving the problems in Rakhine and not the military commander.

“The mistrust of Aung San Suu Kyi is growing within the military, not just between her and Min Aung Hlaing but the army as a whole” a senior retired military officer, who is also close to the army commander, told SAM.

Ever since the first recent outbreak of violence in Rakhine last October, when the previously unknown ARSA attacked a number of border guard posts killed nine policemen, the State Counselor has resisted the military’s attempts to militarize the conflict. The army commander has continued to urge the civilian government to declare a “state of emergency” in Rakhine that would allow the military a completely freehand to deal with the security in the state. Aung San Suu Kyi has continuously resisted this demand, according to sources close to her.

She cancelled her planned trip to the UN at the last moment because she feared that in her absence the Vice President, Myint Swe – the military’s appointment – would sign the state of emergency for Rakhine as he would be in charge of the government in her absence. At the time the President Htin Kyaw was incapacitated and undergoing medical treatment.

At the same time, she has resisted attempts by human rights groups, the UN and the international community to condemn the military’s actions. This, she has done, in an effort to keep the military on side. “She feels inflammatory responses would make things worse and could harm the whole peace process and democracy,” one of Aung San Suu Kyi’s close confidants told SAM. The UN wants Myanmar to abrogate sovereignty, he added. They have actually delayed the solution.

But this strategy has also been to no avail, as she has increasingly alienated the commander-in-chief, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing. “The mistrust of Aung San Suu Kyi is growing within the military, not just between her and Min Aung Hlaing but the army as a whole” a senior retired military officer, who is also close to the army commander, told SAM.

The international community’s recent consideration of imposing renewed sanctions – at least against the military – because of the Rakhine situation, has exacerbated the situation. “They [the army] now believe she [Aung San Suu Kyi] is a sabotage agent,” said the retired army officer. The international criticism of their [military] operations in Rakhine and the growing pressure for sanctions is viewed as a “UK-US conspiracy”, orchestrated behind the scenes by Aung San Suu Kyi.

There is a growing belief within the army that they are under siege. This is an ominous development, for if they feel that Aung San Suu Kyi cannot protect them from international condemnation and sanctions, they may feel they have no other option but launch an administrative coup, which is possible under the military-written constitution of 2008.

Courtesy South Asia Monitor, reproduced with permission

https://southasianmonitor.com/2017/10/24/myanmars-rakhine-plan-runs-trou...

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