Thein Sein Urges People in Arakan State to ‘Look Forward’

By Khine Thant Su 1 August 2014

RANGOON — President Thein Sein has urged people in western Burma’s troubled Arakan State to accept and cooperate with a central government plan for peace and development in the region.

In his monthly radio address to the nation—first broadcast on Friday—Thein Sein said that his administration had consulted with civil society groups and the local government in Arakan State to come up with the plan. Violence between local Arakanese Buddhists and Muslims has hit the state sporadically since mid-2012, and about 140,000 people, mostly from the Rohingya Muslim minority, are still living in makeshift camps.

“We plan to implement the project systematically and if we can do that, we believe that the Arakan people’s lives will improve,” Thein Sein said, without giving details of the plan.

While the government was doing its best to improve the situation in the state, he said, the state’s people, civil society and international aid organizations must “look forward to development and cooperate open-mindedly.”

Arakanese Buddhist leaders have said they do not agree with the government’s decision, announced last week, to allow Médecins Sans Frontières to return to Arakan State after it was expelled in February for alleged bias in favor of the Rohingya. Other international NGOs have also had access to the state restricted since Arakanese Buddhists rioted in the state capital of Sittwe in March, ransacking their offices and residences.

During his speech, the president also warned that anyone threatening the peace and stability of the country would be severely punished. He gave the example of inter-communal clashes between Buddhists and Muslims in Mandalay early last month, which were triggered by an allegation of rape against two Muslims that was spread on social media but later turned out to have been entirely fabricated.

“We are finding out and penalizing the people responsible for instigating the religious conflicts in Mandalay using concocted accusations,” Thein Sein said.

Giving the example of martyrs in the past who sacrificed for the country’s welfare, the president encouraged Burmese to strive for peace and democracy in cooperation, instead of being divided on lines of race and religion.

He also acknowledged that the political reforms that he initiated when his nominally civilian government took power in 2011 were facing numerous challenges. However, he said, “the taking root of democracy through the continued survival of the political process would be the common standpoint among the political entities of differing views.”