In Arakan State, Resource Control Fuels Conflict

By Moe Myint 22 March 2016

RANGOON — In a new report, Arakan Oil Watch (AOW) has urged Burma’s incoming government to amend the Constitution in an effort to quell tensions between the military and the country’s ethnic armed groups.

“Breaking the Curse,” released on Tuesday by the environmental non-government organization, describes the “decentralization of natural resource management” as “key to ending the conflict and ‘resource curse’” in Burma.

The problem’s legislative roots can be traced to two constitutional articles: 37(a) and (b), according to AOW. Article 37(a) stipulates that the national government is the owner of all lands and all natural resources both above and below ground and water, while 37(b) says that the government can enact necessary laws to supervise the extraction and utilization of state-owned resources.

Kyaw Khine, AOW’s director, explained that if the government were to amend these two articles, states and regions would be able to manage their own natural resources. This, he argues, would contribute to greater self-determination for Burma’s ethnic states and potentially de-escalate the country’s decades-long civil war.

Specifically, “gas and jade projects should be postponed until the existing laws have been amended,” he said.

There have been several natural resource projects pursued in Arakan State, including titanium and marble mining, offshore gas projects and the construction of deep-sea ports. Local civil society groups in the region have also urged lawmakers to delay development of the Kyaukphyu Special Economic Zone, led by the Chinese state-owned conglomerate CITIC (China International Trust and Investment Corporation), because of potentially negative environmental impacts and a lack of transparency.

Tun Kyi, secretary of the Kyaukphyu Rural Development Association, a local AOW partner, echoed Kyaw Khine’s concern over links between ethnic clashes and control of resources.

“We [ethnic groups] want to know how the government is spending the budget,” Tun Kyi said at the conference. “Our [Arakanese] situation is like government enslavement.”

AOW has been working to expose violations of human and environmental rights by the extractive industries since 2006. According to Kyaw Khine, no political parties in the region have submitted a proposal that would call on the government to amend articles 37(a) and (b) of the 2008 Constitution.