YANGON — Arakan National Party (ANP) lawmaker U Tun Aung Thein submitted a proposal to the Rakhine State legislature on Tuesday urging the union government not to resettle Rohingya refugees in southern Maungdaw Township.
The Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army mounted a major attack on security posts across Maungdaw District and neighboring Rathedaung Township in late August. The Myanmar military launched a months-long clearance operation in response that has driven some 680,000 Muslim Rohingya to neighboring Bangladesh.
Drawing on widespread reports of arson, rape and arbitrary killings by the military, the UN has called the its operation “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.” Rights activists have urged the UN Security Council to refer Myanmar and its military leaders to the International Criminal Court.
Although Myanmar and Bangladesh authorities agreed to repatriate the refugees back to Rakhine in November, not one has been brought to a reception camp set up along the border in Maungdaw as of Tuesday.
U Tun Aung Thein’s proposal was not new. His party, composed of Buddhist Arakanese, suggested segregating Maungdaw Township along religious lines in November to Social Welfare Minister U Win Myat Aye, who also chairs the Union Enterprise for Humanitarian Assistance, Resettlement and Development in Rakhine.
The minister has said the returnees would be resettled near their original homes.
“This proposal is not an objection to the repatriation project for those who fled to the neighboring country, but an encouragement to take them back systematically in a way that can meet the wishes of the public, who demand that they not be relocated in southern Maungdaw,” U Tun Aung Thein said in Parliament.
He also said that establishing new ethnic Arakanese villages in southern Maungdaw would prove a more effective security measure than the barbed-wire fences along the border and the Navy patrols along the Naf River, which marks part of Myanmar’s border with Bangladesh. With the support of other Arakanese lawmakers, Parliament agreed to schedule debate on the segregation proposal during its next session in late April.
The proposal has the backing of some residents. In November, more than 30 Arakanese villages in southern Maungdaw Township issued a joint statement demanding that Rohingya returnees be resettled strictly in the north and warning that all ethnic Arakanese would leave Maungdaw if they were ignored.
In late 2017, the state Parliament approved a proposal calling on the Rakhine government to establish ethnic Arakanese villages in southern Maungdaw. On Tuesday, some Arakanese lawmakers rebuked the state cabinet, appointed by the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD), for failing to follow through.
Separately, US Ambassador to Myanmar Scot Marciel visited the Rakhine State capital, Sittwe, on Monday and held a one-hour meeting with the steering committee of the ANP. On Tuesday he met with Muslim community leaders at a local hotel, after authorities denied a trip to a camp on the city’s outskirts for people displaced by the communal violence.
ANP Vice Chairwoman Daw Aye Nu Sein, who joined Monday’s meeting, said the ambassador asked party leaders for their thoughts on repatriation. She said they told the ambassador that the NLD should listen to the ANP’s concerns on the matter.
“It’s totally wrong that we are reporting our ideas to the union government via a foreigner even though we have many civilian elected lawmakers in both the regional and Union Parliament,” Daw Aye Nu Sein said.