The Irrawaddy

USDP Lawmaker Accused of Politicizing Resettlement of Displaced Kaman

Two Kaman boys play in Htauk Kyant village in Rangoon’s Mingaladon Township. (Photo: The Irrawaddy)

YANGON – Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) lawmaker U Maung Myint on Monday submitted a motion to the Lower House accusing the government of having relocated ethnic Kaman internally displaced persons (IDPs) from Rakhine State to Yangon’s outskirts since 2015, in breach of the Kofi Annan commission’s recommendations.

The Kaman are one of Myanmar’s 135 officially recognized ethnic groups and one of seven subgroups in Arakan State. Their ancestors served the Arakan kings as archers before Rakhine was conquered by the Burmese Konbaung Dynasty in 1784. Nowadays, the total Kaman population is estimated at a mere 45,000 nationwide. The majority live in Rakhine and most practice Islam.

Unexpectedly, several thousand ethnic Kaman were targeted in 2012 when communal violence erupted between Rohingya Muslims and the Buddhist Rakhine population. Although some of their homes were spared during conflicts in Kyaukphyu and Ramree, authorities evacuated them to the outskirts of the town and established IDP camps.

U Maung Myint said the Annan Commission’s report clearly states that displaced people must return to their place of origin. In violation of this, however, the National League for Democracy (NLD)-led government had resettled Kaman people in Yangon.

Another USDP lawmaker, U Maung Thin, seconded U Maung Myint’s proposal, which the Lower House speaker approved for debate. U Maung Thin claimed that the government, by declaring that 55 Kaman families from Ramree township had been relocated without precisely stating the total number of people, had created a loophole through which people from other groups could migrate to Yangon posing as Kaman. He was apparently referring to Rohingya Muslims, who are restricted from traveling without a permit.

U Tun Ngwe of the Kaman Social Network, who has been providing jobs and modest houses for new arrivals in Htauk Kyant in recent years, told The Irrawaddy over the phone on Tuesday that the Rakhine State Government provided evacuees from Ramree with a total of 5 lakh to cover travel expenses. He said they hadn’t received any humanitarian assistance from non-government organizations or the authorities.

U Tun Ngwe said, “I see this as an attempt to inflame religious sensitivities for political purposes,” adding, “They should not label us as illegal Bengali immigrants. I would like to send a message that all Myanmar citizens should oppose this action, as it aims to exploit religious attitudes toward an ethnic minority group.”

He explained that 55 families comprise around 200 people at most, adding that they consistently urged the authorities to relocate them back to their place of origin when they were housed at IDP camps in Kyaukphyu, Sittwe and Ramree townships, as they were concerned about the education of their children and faced financial hardship.

In 2015, Social Welfare Minister Dr. Win Myat Aye, who was handpicked by the country’s de facto leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and now chairs the Union Enterprise of Humanitarian, Resettlement and Development (UEHRD) in Rakhine State, submitted to Yangon a relocation plan for the Kaman. Last July, the government paid about 80 million kyats in compensation to displaced Kaman for 45 homes. Authorities did not disclose details of the agreement between Kaman community leaders and the government.

“We really thank U Maung Myint for his proposal because our people are keen to return their place of origin. But the government must assist on security and promise there will be no further restrictions upon the Kaman minority,” U Tun Ngwe said.

In early 2018, Rakhine civil society groups and community leaders held a meeting regarding the government’s relocation plan for Kaman displaced within Rakhine quarters in Kyaukphyu and Ramree townships. Participants opposed the plan, purportedly over concerns about what would happen if further violence erupted between Muslim and Buddhist Rakhine groups.