The Irrawaddy

Arakan Chief Minister: We ‘Haven’t Discussed’ the State’s IDP Camps

Newly appointed Arakan State Chief Minister Nyi Pu, of the NLD, attends the state’s parliament this week. (Photo: Min Aung Khine / The Irrawaddy)

After his appointment to the role of Arakan State Chief Minister by the National League for Democracy (NLD), party member and Lower House MP Nyi Pu spoke to The Irrawaddy’s Moe Myint on Tuesday about the local opposition to his selection for the post, the state level cabinet and terminology regarding the state’s Muslim minority.

Locals have been protesting against you and the NLD. What do you think about this?

I have heard there are several protests. All those matters are concerning the development of Arakan State and maybe they are expressing their personal wishes. I have nothing special to say about that [to protestors]. I would like to say that people should do what benefits their state.

If these rallies continue happening, what will you do?

I can’t say precisely what is going to happen next, it’s really difficult to say. As I said, if we have difficulties, we have to solve them together.

Many Arakanese have strong ideas regarding partisanship. What challenges could you face as the chief minister of Arakan State?

There may be some difficulties in Arakan State, but no matter whether we call them challenges or difficulties, we will try our best and collaborate with others to solve the problems—people who can help us. I will cooperate with them, but I haven’t specified who that might be.

The NLD government has decreased the number of Union ministries and ministers. What will the state-level cabinet look like? Will the number of state level ministers also decrease?

It is possible. I don’t know exactly right now. It is uncomfortable to say because it hasn’t officially been announced yet. I have selected some people. The central authorities [of the NLD] are choosing.

NLD chairwoman Aung San Suu Kyi met with the 14 appointed Union ministers in Naypyidaw last week and they reportedly discussed their conceptual plan for the first 100 days in power. Do you have a strategy for your first 100 days as chief minister?

We had a plan, but later, when we start to serve our duties, I will discuss and negotiate these matters with the state level ministers who are involved in the cabinet. We have many things to do. After the discussion, we will decide which matters should be targeted as the first priorities.

Would you give some examples of that?

They will concern Arakan State development.

After Arakan State’s riots in 2012, many people became displaced and were forced to seek shelter in refugee, or IDP, camps within the region. Community tensions have not eased yet and security has been heightened in several quarters and villages. How will you proceed—will you maintain these camps in the same manner as the previous administration?

I can’t say exactly at this time and haven’t discussed this.

Many locals refer to the people in these camps as ‘Bengali’ and allege that they migrated from Bangladesh, but many in the international community know them as ‘Rohingya.’ As you are an ethnic Arakanese minister, how do you regard them—which term will you use?

Before us, the previous government already specified which to use the word for them and Suu Kyi has considered it too, recently. That is all I can say.

So, you are going to follow the previous government’s usage?

At the moment, that still exists.

When the Arakan State state speaker read your name as the chief minister appointee to the regional legislature, all of the Arakan National Party (ANP) MPs walked out on Monday. Can you comment on that?

I realize they had [their own] feelings about how to develop their state and they showed their dissatisfaction. That’s all.

On the ground, are there any bad relationships between NLD and ANP MPs?

Not bad, but we have some difficulties—they vary but they are difficult to unveil.

Suu Kyi meet with Naypyidaw-based ANP MPs and asked about collaboration. You are the one who has to talk everyday with Sittwe-based ANP MPs. Have you asked also them for collaboration on the ground?

Collaboration is the designated policy of our party and I will do as much as I can, based on the party’s policies.

According to state media, the state of emergency that had been placed on Arakan State in June 2012 following communal riots was lifted on Monday, on the second to last day of the outgoing administration’s term. It also coincided with the protests mentioned earlier. What do you think about the government’s decision to do this? Was it intentional or coincidental?

When it is retracted, people are independent and they can protest freely. People also protested due to the military regime. In a democratic country, it is [their right to do this]. I have no feeling about this.