Military Defends Conduct in Arakan as Lawmakers Debate Conflict

By Su Myat Mon 5 May 2016

RANGOON — Fighting in Arakan State was the focus of heated discussions in Parliament on Wednesday, but a legislative path to resolution of the conflict appears unlikely.

A proposal was submitted by Arakan National Party (ANP) lawmaker Wai Sein Aung to the Upper House of Parliament on Monday, urging the Union government to include the Arakan Army (AA) in the peace process and requesting that the military agree to a cessation of hostilities.

Legislators early this week agreed to discuss the motion, but on Wednesday the chamber’s speaker, Mahn Win Khaing Than of the National League for Democracy (NLD), opted to put a debate that began a day earlier on record rather than pushing for a more forceful endorsement of the ANP lawmaker’s proposal.

Following a defense of the Burma Army’s operations in the western state by militarily appointed parliamentarians, the upper chamber voted to document the proposal by a vote of 195-6.

Several elected MPs on Tuesday spoke in support of bringing the Arakan Army into Burma’s peace process. In explaining the decision to merely document the proposal on Wednesday, Mahn Win Khaing Than noted State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi’s pledge to lead peace negotiations in an inclusive manner.

The latest round of hostilities in Arakan State kicked off last month.

According to Khin Maung Latt, a lawmaker for the ANP, 1,500 civilians have been displaced and the number of homeless is increasing due to the rising violence.

Union Defense Minister Lt-Gen Sein Win took the floor of Parliament on Wednesday and stated that the Burma Army was working for all the people of Burma in accordance with the rule of law, adding that it protected all nationalities in the country.

The military was defending against the attacks of the Arakan Army, which is responsible for the current conflict, Sein Win said. “They have a right to express their desires in a democratic way, but taking up arms and fighting against the army is worrisome for the future of our country’s democracy.”

Echoing an assertion put forward by the institution a few days earlier, the minister said the Burma Army should be called the “Union Army” or “Tatmadaw,” while the Arakan Army should be referred to as an “armed group.”

He added that the proposal was an attempt to cause trouble for President Htin Kyaw’s new government, and put the new president in a difficult position.

“Conflicts have been ongoing since we achieved independence from the British empire,” said Sai Wan Hlaing Kham, an Upper House parliamentarian from the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy. “And since then, the government has failed to guarantee equal rights for all ethnicities.”

“This has led people to take up arms and fight for their rights,” he added.

Naw Hla Hla Soe, an Upper House lawmaker, said that Burma’s democratic transformation should allow for conflicts to be addressed through political dialogue.

“We can resolve this case through the political process,” she said in the chamber.

“Fighting creates many problems for our country, erecting obstacles for economic development and sowing discord among the people.”

A total of 10 lawmakers, including three representatives from the military, gave speeches regarding the proposal.

Suu Kyi will hold a meeting next week to address formation of the National Reconciliation and Peace Center, a reincarnation of the Myanmar Peace Center, which was an initiative of the previous government.

“According to the state counselor, the armed groups that were not a part of last year’s ceasefire agreement will also be brought into discussions and there will be a peace conference,” Mahn Win Khaing Than told the session.