Dateline Irrawaddy: How Should Myanmar Respond to US Sanctions?

By The Irrawaddy 4 November 2017

Ye Ni: Welcome to Dateline Irrawaddy! This week, we’ll discuss political consequences of the United States of America’s plan to re-impose sanctions on military officials and instigators in connection with the northern Rakhine issue.

Chairman of Democratic Party for a New Society U Aung Moe Zaw and chief editor of Narinjara News Agency U Khaing Myat Kyaw will join me to discuss this. I’m Irrawaddy Burmese editor Ye Ni.

As you know, sanctions are coming back. The US recently said that it would impose targeted sanction on commanders and instigators involved in the Rakhine issue. The President’s Office has told us that the sanctions would hamper the democratic transition of the country. It has just been over one year since sanctions against Myanmar were lifted. What lessons can we learn from this and what corrections should we make in politics?

တေက်ာ့ျပန္ ပိတ္ဆို႔ဒဏ္ခတ္မႈနဲ႔ ျမန္မာ့ႏုုိင္ငံေရးဧရာဝတီအေမရိကန္က ပိတ္ဆို႔ဒဏ္ခတ္မႈေတြ ျပန္လုပ္မယ္ဆိုတဲ့ေနာက္ ျမန္မာ့ႏိုင္ငံေရးအေပၚ ဧရာဝတီ ျမန္မာပိုုင္းအယ္ဒီတာ ရဲနည္၊ လူ႔ေဘာင္သစ္ ဒီမိုကရက္တစ္ပါတီ ဥကၠ႒ ဦးေအာင္မိုးေဇာ္ နဲ႔ နိရၪၥရာ သတင္းဌာနရဲ႕ အယ္ဒီတာခ်ဳပ္ ဦးခိုင္ျမတ္ေက်ာ္တို႔က သုံးသပ္ေဆြးေႏြးထားၾကပါတယ္။

Posted by The Irrawaddy – Burmese Edition on Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Aung Moe Zaw: It will cost a lot for our country, and it is also upsetting. If sanctions are re-imposed, surely international aid will cease, and some cooperation with the international community will stall. This will cause a lot of hindrance in rebuilding the country, I assume. Here, I think we should take lesson in three aspects. Firstly, in cooperating with the international community, we should be committed to collaborating with them to find a solution. Secondly, it is about transparency. And finally, it is about responsibility and accountability. These are crucial, I think. The initial cause of [pending] sanctions are, as far as I’m concerned, that our country strongly rejected the UN human rights delegates Yanghee Lee’s proposal to investigate into the case. And there was barely cooperation [with the international community] to address the problem in Rakhine State. And regarding transparency, local and foreign media, as well as local and foreign organizations that should be informed [about the issue] were denied access to the conflict area. So, it appeared as if our country was deliberately covering up the issue. And concerning responsibility and accountability—the problem has occurred, and whatever good intention you have, you may make mistakes in handling it. The [government] has to take responsibility for those who make mistakes. And it appeared that our country is still denying those mistakes.

YN: There are suggestions that renewed sanctions would further widen the divide between the military and the government led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi who are finding it difficult to reconcile [with each other]. There is also increased suspicion, as chairman of the Arakan National Party (ANP) Dr. Aye Maung even suggested, that the Daw Aung San Suu Kyi government was deliberately creating a situation leading the international community to impose fresh sanctions on Myanmar. Ko Khaing Myat Kyaw, what do you think of the increase in suspicion?

Khaing Myat Kyaw: Frankly speaking, I don’t think the government has plotted to lead the international community to impose sanctions against the military. It is because clearance operations are led by the military and they therefore decided to impose targeted sanctions on it. Through this, the international community wants to pressure the military. I don’t think the government would be that inconsiderate to urge the international community to put pressure and sanctions on the military. I think it is because the international community wants to put pressure and take punitive action against it. The military is responsible for those operations, and the international community wants to directly impose sanctions on it. In every country, the government and military are related institutions. If the military’s reputation suffers, the country’s reputation also suffers. So, I don’t think government leaders would be that stupid.

YN: Speaking of sanctions, I think the international community may take the 2008 Constitution into consideration and assume that there are two governments [in Myanmar] and the elected government doesn’t have control over the military. So, they planned to target the military. That’s why security forces have withdrawn, ended the blockade against the WFP’s [World Food Bank] food supplies [into the area], and there has been negotiation with Bangladesh on repatriation of refugees in the wake of the news that sanctions would be imposed. But at the same time, there are groups that approach [the government’s handling of the problem] with suspicion. As there is pressure from the Union Solidarity and Development Party [USDP], Ma Ba Tha [Association for Protection of Race and Religion], and nationalist forces, do you think the government will be able to handle the problem effectively, Ko Aung Moe Zaw?

AMZ: It depends on how much the military is willing to cooperate. USDP, being the opposition party, will understandably try to force the ruling party into a corner. But Ma Ba Tha is different. They are somewhat radical nationalists. They will try to drive either the ruling party or liberal forces into a corner. I think the government will be able to handle their pressure. But it needs the cooperation of the military. I support what you’ve said. Surely, it seems that there are two governments in Myanmar because of the Constitution. No one knows if the elected government has influence over the military. So, if the international community imposes sanctions, it would go directly to the military. Anyway, I think the government will be able to overcome the pressures of the USDP and Ma Ba Tha.

YN: Ko Khaing Myat Kyaw, you recently went to Maungdaw. In solving the Rakhine problem, the military, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi government, and local Arakanese people have different approaches. Under such circumstances, what will you suggest as long-term solutions to this problem?

KMK: This problem happens in Rakhine and Arakanese people are experiencing it first-hand. The government in office is a democratic government elected by the people. So they should listen to the voices of people and solve this problem in cooperation with people. But now Rakhine political parties are not able to participate in solving the problem. And so are Rakhine civil society organizations. Arakanese people know nothing about what actions are being taken [by the government]. It seems that the government is acting on itself and [Arakanese] people are acting on themselves. The elected government, whether it likes it or not, needs to enter dialogue with the ANP, which is supported by Arakanese people. There are scholars and individuals respected by the Arakanese people. The government should also negotiate with them. It should discuss frankly with them. Only then, will we get an answer that is acceptable to Arakanese people. But now all the Arakanese people feel like they are marginalized. Rakhine political parties, people and CSOs feel like they are marginalized and the government is acting as if Rakhine was nothing to do with this problem. So, if the government wants to resolve this problem, it should negotiate with Rakhine political parties, community leaders, and scholars. Though the problem is happening in Rakhine State, it concerns the whole country. People of the entire country must join hands to solve this. Arakanese locals are not happy that they are being left out. If this continues, it will be harder to solve this problem. Arakanese people now have a certain understanding of the problem. They now know the causes of this problem, what they should compromise and what they should demand. So, I think if the government negotiates with all [Rakhine stakeholders], this problem will be solved. The government should hold talks with Rakhine political parties, scholars, and representatives of CSOs, and modest community leaders of each township [in Rakhine]. Then we’ll be able to find an answer, I think. Otherwise, opposition may arise. For example, regarding international non-governmental organizations [INGOs], the government should have satisfactorily explained why they are needed. But as the government didn’t, [Arakanese] people are hostile toward INGOs, thinking that they are helping the other community. This has marred the image of Rakhine State, and the image problem of Rakhine is also the image problem of the country. The government should explain to [Arakanese] people why they need to accept INGOs and why they provide humanitarian assistance. The people are likely to accept it if the government explains well. So, I think the government needs to cooperate closely with Arakanese people and political parties to solve these problems.

AMZ: I’d like to add to what Ko Khaing Myat Kyaw has said. The major weakness of the current government is —for example, in Shan State—major Shan political parties appear to be marginalized. Likewise, CSOs are seemingly counted out. A government surely needs to talk to CSOs, political parties, and representatives of local communities. And the current government is failing to do so, I think. So, this has made it difficult to solve most of the problems.

KMK: Another thing is the government needs to carefully observe INGOs, and discuss thoroughly with Arakanese people because Arakanese people feel there is bias [in INGOs’ provision of humanitarian aid]. The international community should treat the two communities equally if they want the problem solved. The United Nations is one-sided now. Over 30,000 [Arakanese and other ethnic people] have fled [the violence]. And [dozens] were killed. But neither the UN nor the international community has shown sympathy. So, this has made Rakhine people think they are not being treated as [equal] human beings. So, consequently they have become hostile toward INGOs. They are not able to complain to the international community directly, so they have shifted their anger to Muslims in the area.

YN: Thank you for your contributions!