Local Officials Resign En Masse in Myanmar's Conflict-Torn Rakhine State

By Lei Lei 22 June 2020

YANGON—Dozens of ward and village administrators in Rakhine State’s Myebon Township have resigned, according to Deputy Township Administrator U Sein Hla Maung.

Sixty administrators from 73 wards and villages in Myebon have handed in resignations, some of whom told The Irrawaddy they resigned because it was difficult for them to perform their duties as the Myanmar military and the Arakan Army (AA) are engaged in ongoing fighting in northern Rakhine.

“Whether it’s the AA or the Myanmar military, we have to do what they ask when they come into our villages carrying arms. We have to be afraid of the guns that can harm us immediately.  How can administrators continue to serve in their positions when the government does not show any understanding, but instead arrests us under the Counter-Terrorism Law?” said an administrator from Myebon Township who asked to remain anonymous due to security concerns.

“Every day, we have to live in fear of being arrested. We have to stay in urban Myebon, and our head department [the General Administration Department (GAD)] does not take responsibility for us. It should assume responsibility when administrators are arrested,” he added.

The administrators submitted resignations in the first week of June, saying they no longer want to live in fear of the AA and of being detained by the government.

At the start of this year, there were 73 administrators for 59 villages and 14 wards in Myebon. In the last week of May, the government arrested three administrators in Myebon under the Counter-Terrorism Law for allegedly providing food and conducting recruitment for the AA. One other administrator had already resigned nearly a year ago. With 60 administrators resigning, there are only nine administrators remaining in Myebon apart from the township GAD office.

“The AA is attempting to replace the government administrative mechanisms with their own administration. I heard that in some villages, the AA asked villagers to cook for them and asked village administrators to undergo small arms training,” said Dr. Min Zaw Oo, executive director of the Myanmar Institute for Peace and Security.

Both the Myanmar government and military, or Tatmadaw, have declared the AA to be a terrorist organization. Lower House Myebon Township lawmaker U Pe Than said local people will have to suffer due to the lack of government administration.

“No administrator means no one who will report crimes. Criminals will become more daring in the absence of administration and regional development works will lapse. Lack of communication between the urban and rural administrations will undermine the rule of law and administrative mechanisms,” said U Pe Than.

“Because the government administrators resigned, their positions will be left vacant and the AA may fill those places with their men,” said Dr. Min Zaw Oo.

In May, 40 ward and village administrators in nearby Kyauktaw Township also submitted resignations, according to the township’s GAD.

Similarly, some administrators in Minbya and Mrauk-U townships also tendered their resignations, but the government has already filled their positions.

Dr. Min Zaw Oo said the situation could potentially mirror a recent local government crisis in Laukkai, Shan State, following an attack by the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army in 2017.

“In that case, the administration was handed over to the Tatmadaw temporarily. It appears that the Tatmadaw is asking for something similar now: if government administrative mechanisms can no longer function, the government might consider giving the Tatmadaw administrative control over Rakhine,” said Dr. Min Zaw Oo.

However, the Myanmar government said last week that attacks by the AA in Rakhine State neither pose a threat to the administration of the state nor will they cause the military to take administrative control over Rakhine.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.

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