Arakan Minister Struggles to Gain Trust of Rohingyas

By Lawi Weng 16 July 2014

RANGOON — The newly appointed chief minister of Burma’s conflict-torn Arakan State appears to be struggling to win the trust of Rohingya Muslims, who continue to live in squalid camps after being driven from their homes in rioting two years ago.

Chief Minister Maung Maung Ohn, who is also a general in the armed forces, has met four times with Rohingya community leaders since he was appointed last month. But in that time, he has been unable to convince the Rohingyas to participate in the government’s controversial “citizenship verification” scheme, according to state government spokesman Win Myaing.

“They are refusing to cooperate,” the spokesman told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday.

The Arakan State government implemented a pilot project in Myebon Township last month to determine who will qualify to become a naturalized citizen. Many Rohingya families have lived in the country for generations, but they are widely regarded as illegal immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh and are mostly denied citizenship by the government.

Win Myaing said the international community had pressured Naypyidaw to reconsider their pleas for citizenship. “But we cannot do anything, even though we are trying, because they refuse to cooperate,” he said.

Rohingya rights activists Aung Win said he believed the government wanted to appease the international community but had little interest in actually granting citizenship to the 1 million or so Rohingya people living in western Burma.

“After their work in Myebon, we did not see them grant citizenship to our people,” he said. “I believe that even though we agreed to identify as Bengali, they may grant citizenship only to a few of our people.”

The chief minister, who met most recently with Rohingya leaders on Monday, said applicants would be considered for citizenship only if they identified as Bengali, as they are known by the government. During the nationwide census earlier this year, the government also refused to count anybody who identified as ethnic Rohingya rather than Bengali.

Arakan State was torn apart by communal violence between Buddhists and Muslims in 2012. More than 140,000 people were displaced from their homes, and the majority of these were Rohingya Muslims who continue to live today in camps outside the state capital, Sittwe.