Arakan Public Forum Draws 3,000 Spectators

By Nyein Nyein 26 September 2012

An estimated 3,000 people packed into a Buddhist monastery in Rathedaung, some 20 miles north of the Arakan State capital Sittwe, to listen to a two-day public forum focused on resolving the sectarian tensions between Arakanese Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims in the region, and discussing ways for the two communities to live together peacefully.

Organized by local civic groups, the seminars on Tuesday and Wednesday featured speeches and debates involving Rakhine politicians, academics, writers, representatives of civil society groups, and members of the general Arakanese Buddhist public. Organizers said the audience included people from as far away as Rangoon and Paletwa Township in Chin State.

Ko Ko Maung, a spokesman for the organizers, told The Irrawaddy that the huge turn-out was proof of the importance that people in Arakan State place on resolving the crisis.

“About 3,000 people joined the meeting and listened to the talks,” he said. “This despite the fact that there were signs the forum would not be permitted to go ahead. We were told only 350 persons would be allowed into the Aung Myay Bodi Alotawpyae monastery as spectators.”

Speaking to The Irrawaddy on Wednesday, Saw Khin Tint, the chairperson of the Arakan Literature and Culture Organization (Rangoon) who addressed the forum, said, “The meeting mainly focused on the peaceful co-existence of people in Arakan State.”

Thar Hla, a writer and a resident of Maungdaw, told The Irrawaddy that the local authorities did not obstruct the seminar going ahead despite the massive crowd. “That’s because the general public simply came to listen to the debate,” he said.

“Most Rakhine [Arakanese Buddhists] are concerned about their relationship with the Bengali Muslims [Rohingyas] in the long term,” he said. “Even assuming the government has a better plan for peace co-existence, they believe the experts [at this seminar] can contribute their input toward it.”

A statement offering recommendations will be issued after the meeting on Wednesday evening, said spokesman Ko Ko Maung, adding that it would be sent to President Thein Sein and the government-appointed Investigation Committee into Communal Strife in Arakan State, which was formed last month.

Speaking last weekend in Naypyidaw at the “Workshop on Rehabilitation, Resettlement, Rule of Law and Sustainable Development in Rakhine State,” which was held at the Myanmar International Convention Centre, Burma’s Vice-President Dr. Sai Mauk Kham said that a “Roadmap” will be drafted to sustain peace and to promote development in Arakan State.

Legislators, politicians, foreign ambassadors, academics and the government-appointed Arakan Investigation Committee members joined the workshop, which was jointly organized by the Ministry for Border Affairs, the Myanmar Development Resource Institute and relevant UN agencies.