Kyaw Kha: Welcome to Dateline Irrawaddy! This week, we’ll discuss the visit of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) delegation, which arrived in Myanmar on Monday. I’m The Irrawaddy chief reporter Kyaw Kha and editor Ko Kyaw Zwa Moe and Rakhine affairs reporter Ko Moe Myint of The Irrawaddy English edition join me for the discussion.
The UNSC delegation arrived in Naypyitaw and met leaders of the country on Monday. Ko Kyaw Zwa Moe, what is your view of the UNSC delegation’s visit to Myanmar?
Kyaw Zwa Moe: There have been tensions between the Myanmar government and the UN over the past few months. So, I would call the visit a diplomatic achievement of the Myanmar government to ease those tensions. The delegation came to discuss the Rakhine issue, which saw the exodus of around 700,000 refugees from the country last year. They came to speak with the Myanmar government to solve that problem. Previously, the two sides were not able to hold talks. The Myanmar government was not happy with the allegations of the UN and responded angrily. And the UN was also not happy with the statements of the Myanmar government.
It is fair to say that there were tensions. The Myanmar government denied the UN special representative an entry visa to the country. Then the UN appointed a new special representative. Now the two sides finally met after months of negotiations. Rakhine is a very complex issue. Myanmar needs the assistance of the international community to solve this and the international community needs the cooperation of Myanmar. We can say the UNSC delegation’s visit is a step to start the necessary cooperation. We can view this as a breakthrough and a good step for cooperation.
KK: The UNSC delegation visited the Cox’s Bazar refugee camp in Bangladesh before visiting Myanmar. They held a press conference at the camp on Sunday evening. Ko Moe Myint, what did you notice about their visit to Bangladesh?
Moe Myint: It was the very first visit of the UNSC to address the refugee issue between Myanmar and Bangladesh. So, the trip was important. The camp in Cox’s Bazar is said to be the biggest refugee camp in the world. The delegation observed the experiences of refugees and their living conditions there. One or two things that they said at the press conference were worth noting. They said they would hold detailed discussions with concerned authorities and also pass a resolution at the UNSC Headquarters in New York based on discussions during their visit. It was quite interesting.
Each of the 15 members of the UNSC team is from a different country, including China and Russia. What they said at the press conference was quite interesting. First Deputy Permanent Representative of Russia to the UN Dmitry Polyanskiy said that the problem could not be solved overnight and that the UNSC would act as a facilitator to broker constructive discussions between Bangladesh and Myanmar to improve relations. The envoy of China, which has veto power in the UNSC, said that he hoped that they all would play a constructive role in providing assistance to solve the problem. So considering what the two countries with veto power in the UNSC said, the UNSC delegation’s visit will not put much pressure on Myanmar.
KK: It will reduce the pressure on the Myanmar government. Ko Kyaw Zwa Moe, you talked positively about the UNSC delegation’s visit to Myanmar. Previously, Myanmar responded aggressively to proposed visits of UN officials. But this time, Myanmar has adopted a much more moderate approach and invited the UNSC to visit. Why do you think this happened?
KZM: What you said is right. Under the military regime, the relationship between the UN and the regime was quite strained, and the relationship between Myanmar and the international community was quite poor. We could even call it hostile diplomacy.
The military regime rejected the visits of UN officials to Myanmar, citing various reasons. But the current government and the military regime are different. The current government did impose bans after the Rakhine crisis broke out. At first, it did not allow a UN fact-finding mission. But I don’t think that was their permanent policy. There was a lot of misunderstanding. From the point of view of the Myanmar government and Rakhine people, the claims of the international community including the UN are quite one-sided.
The UN is responsible for playing the role of a mediator. It is their responsibility to de-escalate the problem. But then, certain actions of the UN, in the eyes of the Myanmar government, further create misunderstanding. As a result, the government rejected their entry.
As I’ve said, it is not the permanent policy of the government to shut the doors. They apparently have a policy to cooperate. Considering the UNSC delegation’s visit, the government has decided to cooperate to a certain extent. But then, the question is whether the visit will deliver positive results.
All of the members of the UNSC delegation should understand that the issue is quite complicated, deep and serious. There are armed insurgents and human rights violations on the ground, and widely varied historical narratives. What’s more, the socio-economic status is quite low in Rakhine State. Plus, there is also the immigration issue. The UNSC delegation should be open-minded about those factors. It is important that they do not view things here with a jaundiced eye. The government also needs to understand that this problem can’t be solved without cooperation with the international community, otherwise there won’t be progress. As Ko Moe Myint has said, it will take time. It is very good that Myanmar has invited people like Kofi Annan to the advisory committee and sought their recommendations.
But the problem is how to implement those recommendations. Attacks broke out on the day he was invited to join the committee. I think it is very important that the UNSC delegation makes decisions in a constructive way.
As to your question, the government must cooperate with the international community in solving this problem. It must cooperate not only with the UN but also with regional countries like ASEAN countries and China. Otherwise, the problem will only get worse.
KK: Looking at previous examples, we knew at least one week in advance before Yanghee Lee and the Kofi Annan-led Commission went to Rakhine State. There were critical voices at least one week before their visits and there were protests. The UNSC delegation arrived in Myanmar on Monday, but it is strange that we heard no critical voices from Rakhine this time.
MM: I found that Arakanese people have responded less aggressively regarding the Rakhine issue lately. [Union Minister] Dr. Win Myat Aye revealed the government’s plan to issue NVCs [national verification cards]. The Union Solidarity and Development Party objected to the plan, but most of the Arakanese people remained silent. We conducted a small survey, and most of the educated Arakanese remarked that freedom of movement should be granted to NVC holders.
This time, I didn’t see posts by Arakanese people that called for protests against the UNSC delegation visit. I saw only one person write something like that and he was not Arakanese. It was former information minister U Ye Htut. He shared on his Facebook his perceived agenda of the UN and suggested Arakanese people should do this and that.
I asked some Arakanese lawmakers who are active in Parliament and they view the visit as the government’s efforts to improve relations with the UN. They think we shouldn’t accept international pressure silently but that the government is trying its best to solve the problem in a constructive way. They have a more moderate attitude toward the UNSC compared to the past.
KK: We can say that it is a notable change. Ko Kyaw Zwa Moe, what do you think will be the benefits and complications of inviting the UNSC into the country?
KZM: It is already a complicated issue. It was a big problem for both Myanmar and the world last year. As I’ve said, their visit is positive but the question is how open-minded they are. It is important that they try to understand the complicated issue no matter whom they meet during their visit. They should try to analyze the political, racial and religious complexity of the problem. The most important thing they should understand is that Myanmar is riddled with problems. Besides the Rakhine issue, there is also the problem of peace. Again, there is the problem of civil-military relations between the government and the Tatmadaw, as well as national reconciliation. Rakhine is a big issue, but they should understand that solving this issue should not affect the democratization process of Myanmar, which is the most important thing for the country. So, when they handle this problem, they should try to understand that there are also other problems. Rakhine is a problem for us, but there are bigger cancerous problems for us to handle. They should understand this point.
KK: Thank you for your contributions! We’ll wait and see the developments of the UNSC delegation’s visit.