Advisory Commission Meets Civil Society, Hears IDPs’ Demands in Southern Arakan State

By Moe Myint 24 January 2017

RANGOON –Members of the Arakan State Advisory Commission conducted a meeting with civil society organizations from Kyaukphyu and Ramree townships, as well as with internally displaced people (IDPs) in southern Arakan State, during a two-day visit to the region last week.

Ko Soe Shwe, co-founder of the Arakanese Sky Youth Organization of Kyaukphyu, told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday that about 20 Arakanese civil society organizations met with the commission delegates in Hotel Kyaukphyu on Jan 18. The discussion lasted around three hours.

The Arakanese groups mainly focused on issues of economic development, concerning the special economic zone and the rights of the Arakanese communities, referring to what is perceived as poor resource-sharing practices of the Union government with residents of resource-rich Arakan State.

Commission members pointed out that neither resettlement nor reconciliation between the state’s Buddhist and Muslim communities were included in the agenda of Arakanese civil society organizations, Ko Soe Shwe acknowledged.

Commission member Al-Haj U Aye Lwin, who participated in the trip, said that the delegates had visited some Arakanese villages and two Muslim IDP camps in Kyaukphyu and Ramree, in addition to meeting with local organizations. He explained that the Arakanese groups mainly discussed development matters regarding the environmental impact of foreign investment in Kyaukphyu, compensation schemes for land grabbing, and what locals feel is unfair treatment of farmers and unequal rights to Arakanese natural resources.

U Aye Lwin said he concluded that the overall picture of the two-day trip was that the Arakanese from the southern part of the state sympathized with Muslims, who had a close relationship with the local Buddhist Arakanese in Kyaukphyu.He also said that freedom of movement in Kyaukphyu and Ramree appeared to be better than in northern Arakan State, but noted that access to health care was insufficient for IDPs, and that there was a lack of financial support for volunteers working in education in the camps.

At one time, he said the IDPs “could go without guards outside of the camps.” Yet the IDPs’ security diminished after attacks were carried out on police outposts in northern Arakan State’s Maungdaw Townshipin October, in which nine policemen were killed and firearms were looted, U Aye Lwin added.

Ko Phyu Chay, the chair of supervisory committee of Kyauktalone IDP camp, who presented at the meeting with the advisory commission delegates, reported that Muslims have been living for four years in the IDP camp, even though they did not face confrontations with the Buddhist Arakanese community in Kyaukphyu when conflict broke out in the region in 2012. At that time, the authorities evacuated hundreds of Muslims to Kyauktalonein what they saw as a move toward preventing further clashes between the Buddhist majority and the Muslim minority in Kyaukphyu Township.

“We are very tired. We have been selling our property to others in order to survive here,” said Ko Phyu Chay.

According to Ko Phyu Chay, more than 1,100 IDPs live in the Kyaukphyu camp.

Some of the IDPs owned houses in the western quarters of Kyaukphyu, including in Thanpan Chaung, Myitnartan, Ahyarchi. The areas were once a mix of Buddhist Arakanese and Muslims.

This Irrawaddy reporter visited Kyaukphyu last week and saw that the town’s Muslim quarter, which was completely burned down in riots in 2012, is now an empty field. Some Arakanese fishermen use the groundsto dry fish, but no policemen guard the ward like in the state capital of Sittwe.

Muslim houses in other quarters were empty and some had been rented to Buddhist Arakanese. Mosques had been visibly damaged and bricks littered the compounds, which were covered with dust.

The mainhope for IDPs in Kyauktalone is a government relocation plan, Ko Phyu Chay said, adding that he believes the Arakanese society will empathize with their plight and that the Arakan State Advisory Commission members had given their word that they would mention the struggles of the displaced in their report to the Union government.

Ko Phyu Chay said, “Sometimes my [Buddhist] friends visit my place [in the IDP camp] and drink together,” adding that “when we visit downtown they also are friendly welcome us as their family and give us hospitality like close friends.”

Regarding possible resettlement, the Arakanese Ko Soe Shwe feels that community interaction should restart first, in order to re-build trust between the two groups, through the holding of dialogue between Buddhists and Muslims.

“Some [Arakanese Buddhists] have no trust in them,” he said, referring to the displaced Muslims. “So to relocate to the downtown is impossible at this moment.”