The Irrawaddy

Dateline Irrawaddy: In Rakhine, ‘Cooperation is Essential’

Kyaw Zwa Moe State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi held a diplomatic briefing at 10 a.m. on Tuesday. Her address focused on the political situation in Myanmar, including issues concerning Rakhine State. It also placed an emphasis on promoting harmony, understanding, peace and development in the community without placing blame on any one side, and urged the international community to help reduce hatred and anger. We are discussing her address with Editor of the Irrawaddy Burmese Edition Ko Ye Ni and our News Editor Kyaw Phyo Tha. I am Kyaw Zwa Moe, Editor of the Irrawaddy English Edition.

It can be said that the entire country was closely watching this morning’s address by the State Counselor. It was her first since the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army [ARSA] launched attacks in Rakhine State on August 25. As far as I am concerned, she placed emphasis on the fact that the government had not yet been in power for 18 months and that Myanmar’s democracy is young and fragile.

She continued to say that Myanmar was a complex country because it was undergoing a transition to democracy after half a century or more of authoritarian rule and nearly 70 years of internal conflict. As I have just said, she did not blame any parties and urged everyone to help with the democratic transition, peace, stability and development of Myanmar. What did you think of her speech, Ko Ye Ni?

Ko Ye Ni: As you have just said, it was her first speech since the attacks, and the UN has said about 400,000 refugees fled to Bangladesh but we don’t know how they estimated the number of refugees. After the exodus, supporters of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in her struggle for democracy, including the UN, Desmond Tutu, Malala [Yousafzai] and Angelina Jolie, accused the Myanmar government of ethnic cleansing and have been pressuring her to speak out. Under such circumstances, this was her first address to the nation.

Analyzing the speech, I found that it was aimed at the UN General Assembly, which she could not attend and had to send Vice President U Henry Van Thio in her stead. She delivered the speech one day before the vice president did so at the UN. As she clearly stated where she and her government stood and explained future plans, it can be said that it was a strategic address.

Although she managed to deliver the strategic address to her best [ability], she still needs to work out and negotiate many details on how the strategies will be implemented on the ground.

KZM: Ko Kyaw Phyo Tha, Ko Ye Ni has just said the UN estimated the number of the refugees at 400,000. This is a problem for the image of the country. When we looked at statements of the UN, reports of other countries and the international media, we learned that they were just hurling accusations one-sidedly against Myanmar. The Myanmar government rejected the terms used in UN statements. As Ko Ye Ni has just said, the State Counselor pointed out that there were many allegations and counter-allegations and she did not want to comment on them. So the objective of her speech was not to make allegations but to restore harmony and peace. More allegations will fuel conflict. Based on these and other facts, what do you think of her address?

Ko Kyaw Phyo Tha:  She made some important points, including how she and her government planned to address the issue. For instance, she explained the implementation of the Kofi Annan report, which was released on August 25. She said the report is being implemented. Concerning peace and stability in Rakhine State, she said priority would be given to matters that contribute to peace, harmony and development. Another interesting thing she said was more than 50 percent of Muslim villages in the area were still intact and she was interested in why they didn’t flee, while the UN and others said more than 400,000 had escaped the violence.

She invited the international community and the diplomats to ask [the villagers that remained] and find out for themselves why these villagers didn’t flee. It is very interesting.

KZM: She wanted to point out her findings that more than 50 percent of Muslims villagers in Maungdaw still live in harmony with the Arakanese community there.

So she urged the international community not just to look at problems but also to look at the areas where there were no problems, and invited them to see for themselves. Another interesting point is concerned with citizenship. She said her government had solved the issue to some extent. However, some Muslim leaders told [self-identifying Rohingya] not to apply for citizenship. She urged the international community to help persuade them to join in the process because they had nothing to lose from it.

Another important point made by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was that action would be taken against anyone who violates human rights regardless of their race, religion or political background. The entire world, including the UN, has been making accusations of human rights abuses—they wanted to know whether security forces attacked civilians or committed a widespread arson. She made reference to these issues and how to solve them, as Ko Ye Ni has pointed out. Another point she made is that there had been no clearance operations since September 5. So, I think she invited the diplomats. It is interesting to see how she will arrange such transparent trips. We will have to wait and see. Only then will the international community trust Myanmar. Otherwise, it won’t.

Ko Ye Ni: Some people who maintained human rights expectations for Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and are now broken-hearted will not be pleased with her stance on human rights. This can be seen because human rights statements are still being released after her address. They blamed her for not criticizing the army, which mainly committed human rights abuses. In my opinion, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said she would not tolerate or accept any human rights abuses committed not only by the army and ARSA but also by anyone, including civilians, who did so by taking advantage of the situation. She was able to express her firm human rights stance.

KZM: Were there any important points for the international community that she failed to make, Ko Kyaw Phyo Tha?

KPT: The international community was mainly talking about her silence in previous weeks and did not necessarily blame her for the current crisis. Last week, the direction began to change and [the international community] started criticizing her but also pointed out that she is not the only person to be blamed. The commander-in-chief of defense services is also responsible for the problems. Why didn’t they blame him, [the international community] asked. As Ko Ye Ni has just pointed out, her address failed to criticize the commander-in- chief of defense services. So, this is likely to be a point to continue the criticism of her.

KZM: What other important points did you find in her speech, Ko Ye Ni?

KYN: Another point I was interested in in her speech was that it placed emphasis on implementation of the recommendations of the Kofi Annan commission as soon as possible and NVC [national verification card] process. Those who fled to Bangladesh would be allowed to come back after negotiations with the country. At first, Muslims resisted the process unless they were recognized as Rohingya [as opposed to Bengali]. She asked the international community to persuade them to join in the process. When her friends persuade them, will those who sympathize with the Muslims and Muslim community leaders cooperate with the government? On which ground will they cooperate with the offer of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi? It is very interesting. As she said in her speech that she had to think for the entire country, will those who are still clinging to the Rohingya, accept the offer of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi?

KZM: I think this will lead to political issues. The Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army [ARSA] launched attacks on police posts the day after Kofi Annan released recommendations for Rakhine State. The recommendations have been recognized by the government and international organizations including the UN, but [ARSA] does not accept it. It is not practical for them to have a higher ambition but the attacks will not end. What is your opinion, Ko Kyaw Phyo Tha?

KPT: I feel similarly. As you have just said, I want them to accept what shoud be accepted rather than make demands that are not practical. The diplomatic briefing is more than that, she said at the end [of her speech]. She was reaching out as a friend to those who want Myanmar to be peaceful and to develop. All the points she made must be carried out successfully.

KZM: To summarize the points we have discussed, she talked with those who want Myanmar to prosper in a very friendly manner. I don’t think she was talking to the terrorists. All of us have pointed out that cooperation is essential. Cooperation of not just the UN, the international community and other diplomatic attendees but also of the forces in the country including local Muslims, security forces and even those who are opposed to the Kofi Annan report. We will have to wait and see the situation on the ground but it will be a very difficult task.