Bipartisan Delegation Visits Arakan State Fighting’s Displaced

By Su Myat Mon 26 April 2016

RANGOON — Five lawmakers, representing the National League for Democracy (NLD) and Arakan National Party (ANP), on Monday led a delegation to groups of Arakanese, an ethnic minority in western Burma, who have been displaced by recent fighting.

Hundreds of civilians have been displaced by fighting between the government and ethnic Arakanese rebels of the Arakan Army in recent weeks, leaving many homeless or living temporarily in monasteries.

The ANP and NLD lawmakers provided the displaced people in Arakan State with rice, oil, medicine and noodles. Some NGOs and other civil society organizations are supplying water and necessities like mosquito nets.

“This is the first time the government has visited displaced Arakanese,” Khin Saw Wai, an ANP member of Burma’s Parliament, told The Irrawaddy. “But there are still people who are displaced in other townships, and they also need help. The government needs to make sure that all displaced people receive the same amount of support.”

Though it marked the first time sitting parliamentarians had visited pockets of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Arakan State, one member of the delegation said there were no plans currently to make a similar visit to the state’s better-known IDPs: the persecuted and stateless Rohingya Muslim minority.

‘I Have a Responsibility to Them’

“[This area] is my home constituency,” Khin Saw Wai said of Monday’s travels to Rathedaung and Buthidaung townships. “They elected me to Parliament, so I have a responsibility to them.”

UN officials also traveled with the joint ANP-NLD group, and discussed plans for providing the internally displaced Arakanese, a predominantly Buddhist people, with drinking water and other supplies.

“With the rainy season approaching, things will get more difficult for the displaced Arakanese, and the future of the conflict between the Arakan Army and the Burma Army remains unclear,” Khin Saw Wai said, adding that since April 16, the Burma Army had detained dozens of people and forced them to serve as porters.

“To handle displaced populations, all of the government agencies and civil society groups have to cooperate,” Khin Saw Wai said. “We hope that the government will start paying more attention.”

Khin Saw Wai’s NLD colleague agreed.

“The government is responsible for helping citizens who are in difficult situations,” Min Aung, an NLD member of the Arakan state parliament who was traveling with the group, told The Irrawaddy.

What remained unclear on Tuesday was whether a similar outreach would be extended to the state’s Rohingya Muslim IDPs, more than 100,000 of whom have lived in displacement camps since violence between Buddhists and Muslims in 2012 forced them from their homes. The UN special rapporteur on human rights in Burma in 2014 described conditions at the camps as “deplorable.”

Asked if those camps might also receive a visit from a parliamentary or state government delegation in the future, one member of Monday’s group said nothing was yet on the books.

“We just formed a new government and it is too early. We do not have a plan yet for a visit to go to help those IDPs,” said Chan Tha, the state government’s social affairs minister, who was part of Monday’s delegation.

Such a visit, if it comes to pass, would be far more politically charged than this week’s, given that the former government referred to the Rohingya as “Bengalis,” implying that they are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, despite many tracing familial roots in Burma back generations. That sentiment is believed widely held in majority-Buddhist Burma, where fear of a rise in anti-Islamic sentiment in recent years led many political parties, including the NLD, to field no Muslim candidates in the 2015 general election.

This story was updated at 10:31am on April 27. A previous version was uploaded in error.