‘There Must be a Mastermind Behind the Conflict’

By Khin Oo Tha 17 July 2014

Oo Hla Saw, a central executive committee member of the Arakan National Party (ANP), the biggest ethnic Arakanese political party in Burma, recently spoke with The Irrawaddy’s Khin Oo Tha about his views of the newly appointed chief minister of Arakan State, Maj-Gen Maung Maung Ohn. He also commented on the government’s approach to communal violence in Arakan State and its efforts to punish the perpetrators.

Question: The ANP issued a statement opposing the appointment of a major-general as the chief minister of Arakan State. But when the appointment was approved in the parliament, no one [from your party] raised any objections. So, ANP was criticized as lacking a firm standpoint and policies. How would your respond?

Answer: U Maung Maung Ohn was nominated [as the Arakan State chief minister] in parliament on June 25. Before the nomination, and after the resignation of [former Chief Minister] U Hla Maung Tin, the ANP issued a three-point statement: First, the chief minister must be Arakanese; second, the minister must be a representative elected by the people; and third, the minister must be from the ANP, which holds the largest number of seats in the Arakan State assembly. Arakanese people don’t like him. We also don’t like him. We didn’t want him to become the chief minister. But this is just another part of the question.

If we want object to him, there should be a way. But there is no way. The 2008 Constitution was designed for the convenience of the military to take up positions in the government. It provides for the appointment of a military officer as a lawmaker as well as a chief minister. So, what else could we do? The main problem lies in the Constitution. The Constitution therefore must be changed. If we want to raise objections to the appointment, we can only object on the grounds of something else like his performance and moral standards. The appointment can’t be overturned by the wish of the Arakanese people. It can only be overturned according to the constitutional framework.

The new chief minister has met with Arakanese people and explained his plans for Arakan State. Before the parliament came into existence, consecutive military commanders of Arakan State also spoke the same rhetoric about how to develop the state, saying things like, “We are under the same roof,” or, “I’m also an Arakanese man.” The new chief minister did the same. We have no choice. So all we can do is to wait and see.

He is Burmese [ethnic Bamar]. But if he could fairly settle the Arakanese, Bengali [Rohingya] and NGO issues and bring tangible economic benefits to the state, we’d have to applaud him. If not, we’ll have to wait and see if he has come to Arakan State to revive the military dictatorship, if he would be oppressive toward the people or if he would try to repeat the history of Bamar’s rule over the Arakanese people.

Q: What is your view of the actions of President U Thein Sein’s government in response to conflicts that began in 2012 in Arakan State?

A: We have talked continuously about things like the Bengalis’ incursion, plots and political ploys. Again, we have also pointed out the mismanagement of the government. I think U Hla Maung Tin was dismissed partly because we pointed this out. Myanmar [Burma] is seeing instability and riots now, and we can’t distinguish if they took place as they did [or if they were intentionally ignited by someone]. While Arakan State is facing the Bengali issue, there must be people who want to fish in troubled waters by instigating violence and riots in Arakan State. Among them may be retired military personnel or authorities as well as some Arakanese people.

Q: There is speculation that there must be manipulators behind the scene, including some members of the ruling party, the military and authorities. What do you think?

A: There may be manipulators behind every conflict. President U Thein Sein has also said that there are instigators behind the current conflicts. So, there must be manipulators behind the communal strife in Arakan State. Among them, maybe hard-liners from the ruling party, as well as Arakanese and Burmese people. Perhaps they are working hand in glove to create unrest. I have continuously said there must be a mastermind behind the conflict. But no one has been able to identify that mastermind yet.

Q: For example, in cases like the murdering [of Muslims] in Taungup Township and other violence in Arakan State, there were arrests, but the actual perpetrators were never found.

A: It is difficult to say why those perpetrators can’t be found. In March, there were attacks on international aid worker offices in Sittwe [the state capital]. While there are bad, dishonest NGOs, there are also many honest NGOs. However, the attacks were launched on all international aid workers. Arakanese people don’t accept ransacking all the houses. These are not good behaviors. To be frank, those who pull the strings are political experts. That’s why they are still on the loose. Those acts are aimed at gaining political advantages. Those are not the acts of Arakanese people and they need to be consciously aware of it. The attacks on foreign aid workers took place in Sittwe during the time of retired Chief Minister U Hla Maung Tin. We have yet to wait and see how the new chief minister will respond to it.

Q: U Thein Sein’s government formed a committee and commission after the Arakan conflict. But nothing has happened so far. So, do you have any plan of action besides monitoring?

A: If the government fails to take practical actions, we will mention, point out, urge and organize rallies within the legal framework. Neither our party nor the Arakanese people have authority. It’s a question of authority.

Q: What’s your assessment of Arakan State politics and internal affairs before and after 2015?

A: The ANP will win in Arakan State in the 2015 election. If the ANP party conference can adopt strong policies and positions, and if shrewd party members with strong leadership can emerge for the 2015 election, the future of Arakan State’s politics will get better. However, if the current situation continues, there will be no changes for Arakanese people.

Q: Now, Arakan State has become stable to a certain extent. What do you want to say to Arakanese people to bring about stability and development across the state?

A: We, Arakanese people, have for a long time lagged behind in all aspects. So, if we want to stand tall as a race, we have to march steadily with discipline and political awareness. I want to stress that if we are easily swayed by others, like we are now, and if we commit anarchic acts, we, Arakanese people, will remain slaves for long in the future.