Protesters Push for Peace in Arakan, While Lawmakers Bicker in Rangoon

By Moe Myint & Su Myat Mon 2 May 2016

RANGOON — Thousands of people protested throughout northern Arakan State on Sunday demanding that the Burma Army halt operations against the Arakan Army (AA), an ethnic armed organization. Fighting has flared in the restive state since April 16, forcing thousands of villagers to flee their homes.

According to local sources, thousands of Arakanese staged peaceful protests in nine townships of northern Arakan State, which borders Bangladesh.

Saw Shwe Maung, a police officer in the ancient city of Mrauk-U, said that 1,500 people participated in a protest in the township, which was led by two influential monks. They had received permission from local authorities.

The Arakan National Party (ANP) led about 1,000 protesters in the state capital of Sittwe, according to police officer Aye Khin Maung, who said that permission had been granted for the demonstration.

Local sources told The Irrawaddy that some protesters held posters that read: “Burma Army, get out of Arakan State!”

An official with the Arakan State government, Min Aung, said that the state administration had discussed how to approach resolving the conflict, but the recent intensification of hostilities had been largely ignored. The Arakan Liberation Party, another ethnic political organization, has accused the Burma Army of war crimes and violating the Geneva Conventions.

Min Aung declined to comment on the accusations, saying that it was a military matter.

A delegation of lawmakers from across the political spectrum supplied rice and oil to internally displaced people (IDPs) last week. According to the government, more than 1,000 IDPs are now living in monasteries.

The Arakan State government does not yet have a resettlement plan for the IDPs, according to Min Aung, who said that the victims “are not too far from their homes to return, but we don’t have an official count of how many there are.”

Khine Pyay Soe, vice chairman of the ANP, said his party has donated five million kyats (US$4,265) to those who have found shelter in monasteries.

Some villagers were killed by the Burma Army after being forced to be porters, said Ba Gyi Kyaw of Wunlark Development Foundation, which is providing relief efforts, stressing that the state’s affected civilians e“need more support.”

Meanwhile, ANP members are trying to generate support in Rangoon.

Wai Sein Aung, an ANP parliamentarian in the Upper House, submitted an emergency proposal to call a halt to further hostilities in Arakan. This move received immediate opposition from military appointees in the Upper House, who objected to referring to the ethnic armed organization as the “Arakan Army,” rather than the “Arakan Armed Group,” which the military prefers.

Upper House Speaker Mhan Win Khaing Than said that the term “Arakan Armed Group” will be used in the proposal, which is expected to generate heated debate tomorrow.

“We mainly proposed two things,” the ANP’s Wai Sein Aung said. “We want to stop deadly clashes and invite the AA to join peace discussions.”