National Security Adviser Highlights Development Plans for Arakan Conflict Zone

By Moe Myint 11 April 2017

RANGOON — Burma’s National Security Adviser U Thaung Tun emphasized the government’s plans for development in Arakan State and downplayed international reports of crimes against the Muslim minority in the region, when speaking to the press on Tuesday in Rangoon.

U Thaung Tun held a closed-door meeting with several foreign diplomats on Tuesday at the National Reconciliation and Peace Center, as well as with dozens of representatives from international non-profit organizations, none of whom could be reached for comment.

Before the meeting, he told reporters at a press conference that the government would draw upon a development fund of US$140 million to invest in health and education facilities in conflict-torn northern Arakan State, and would employ more Muslim minority staff members in these sectors, but did not provide specifics on their potential roles or a timeframe for implementation. The government is currently setting up vocational schools and working out plans to to provide eight townships with electricity which are currently off of the national power grid.

The security adviser highlighted current government activities in Arakan State, such as the issuing of national verification cards (NVCs), the provision of humanitarian assistance, and access to media—in the form of government organized reporting trips to Maungdaw Township—and collaboration with international relief organizations.

“The government is very challenged in continuing the NVC project,” he said of the controversial initiative which has served as a replacement for “white cards,” or temporary identification cards, which were abolished in 2015 by the previous U Thein Sein-led government. Many self-identifying Rohingya have rejected the new NVCs, pointing out that they do not recognize the holder’s ethnicity. Conversely, many Buddhist Arakanese have protested against NVC securitization bodies for “wrongly” issuing citizenship to Muslim residents, who they say are actually interlopers from Bangladesh.

U Thaung Tun blamed problems with NVC issuance on international organizations’ intervention, without elaborating on how these groups could have disrupted the process.

“We will put in twice the effort to take care of our civilians but our capability is very limited in Rakhine State,” said U Thaung Tun.

Reuters reported on Tuesday that the U Thaung Tun also repeated State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s statement made last week to the BBC that ethnic cleansing had not taken place against the Muslim population in Arakan State.

As a result of the clearance operations in the northern part of the state, about 75,000 people have fled to neighboring Bangladesh, where there are reports that they live under “inhumane conditions.”

International rights groups have reported that Burmese security forces committed rapes, arson, torture and extra judicial killings during these clearance operations—the United Nations Human Rights Commission has called for an independent fact-finding mission into the allegations, a move which has been rejected by the Burmese government.

The call by the UN “does not reflect the situation on the ground,” U Thaung Tun said, adding that he was dismayed that there had been “no consideration for the government’s efforts to stabilize the situation and address the root causes [of conflict].”

Regarding the outside allegations, he said that the government had already responded sufficiently, by forming its own investigation commission into reports of abuses by security forces; the commission is headed by military-appointed Vice President U Myint Swe.

“Where there is clear evidence of wrongdoing, we will take firm action in accordance with the law,” U Thaung Tun said.

The security adviser also played some videos at the press conference published by a Rohingya Muslim insurgent group calling itself the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, stating that the organization is prepared to carry out further attacks—a reference to coordinated attacks on police outposts in October—until the government takes action to protect the Muslim minority.