NAYPYITAW — A former Myanmar Army general and ex-minister from a previous administration said at a rally in Naypyitaw on Thursday that the government needs to exercise caution, warning that current conflict in Rakhine State could lead to a “territorial loss” for Myanmar.
During a rally staged by the former ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) and centered on perceived national security threats in Rakhine, former defense minister Lt-Gen Wai Lwin and former foreign minister U Wunna Maung Lwin alleged that the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) aimed to establish an Islamic state in the area. Both of the speakers are senior officials from the USDP, which is made up largely of former military officials.
“Haven’t you seen that they kill Hindus? It is not a problem between the Buddhists and Muslims anymore,” U Wunna Maung Lwin told the audience at the 1,000-strong rally in the capital.
He said that the previous government had risked their lives “not to lose an inch of land” and that they could not accept either ARSA’s presence in the region or calls to halt the military’s clearance operations in northern Rakhine State.
“Can’t we protect our nation? Are we not supposed to protect our ethnic people?” he asked.
The USDP’s current chairman is U Than Htay, and before him, it was former President U Thein Sein. The party suffered a marked loss to the Daw Aung San Suu Kyi-led National League for Democracy (NLD) in Myanmar’s 2015 general election. Currently, the military-backed USDP comprises the country’s main political opposition.
The USDP protested the current government’s formation of the Rakhine Advisory Commission in 2016, headed by former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan. It rejected the commission’s recommendations outlined in a final report, which was publicly launched on Aug. 24. One day later, the ARSA launched attacks on 30 police outposts, and Myanmar military “clearance operations” followed. Since then, more than 400,000 self-identifying Rohingya Muslims have been displaced to Bangladesh, and some 30,000 Arakanese Buddhists and Hindus are displaced internally.
The USDP has complained about the NLD government’s failure to call a meeting of the National Defense and Security Council (NDSC)—an executive body in which the military commands a 6-5 majority, and whose power is outlined in the 2008 Constitution. It can formulate policy regarding certain military and security issues, including the right to petition the President—U Htin Kyaw—to declare a nationwide state of emergency.
USDP members speculated at the rally that the NLD government may fear international pressure concerning issues in Rakhine State, and argued that the administration has failed to protect the military’s operations there.
Ex-foreign affairs minister U Wunna Maung Lwin said that issues surrounding the citizenship of more than one million stateless Muslims could affect the country’s sovereignty and should be decided only under the existing 1982 Citizenship Law, which defines citizenship along ethnic lines; the Rakhine Commission recommended amending the law.
If Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s administration instead chooses to listen to the advice of the UN Security Council, her government’s affection for the country and its people could be called into question, he suggested.
Former Minister of Defense Lt-Gen Wai Lwin said in his speech that the NLD government needed to work closely with other political parties and the military by drawing up a strategy to protect Myanmar’s national security, instead of “prioritizing human rights.”
He said that under the previous government, there were heated discussions in the NDSC on a range of issues, and that strategies were drawn out of the meeting and thus its members were able to “protect the country’s sovereignty” and “overcome international pressure.”
“But now who is accepting the government’s decision? Who is behind it? Who is leading? From whom is the government taking advice and making decisions? Our public has no idea. Who is determining the country’s fate? It should be in the hands of the public,” Lt-Gen Wai Lwin said.
He argued that if the government follows the Kofi Annan-led commission’s recommendations to amend the 1982 Citizenship Law, Myanmar would “disappear.”
“I felt heartily sorry that the [final] report of Kofi Annan is the will for Myanmar as determined by the UN and OIC [Organization of Islamic Cooperation],” the former defense minister added.
The government formed a 15-member committee led by the Minister of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement on Sept. 12 to implement the recommendations of the advisory commission, and it also formed a government investigation commission led by military-appoitned Vice President U Myint Swe.
The committee members said they would set priorities for implementing the recommendations and draw up an action plan within two weeks.