Lawmaker Criticizes Govt on Rakhine Issue

By Htet Naing Zaw 30 June 2017

Former chief of general staff for the Myanmar Army U Hla Htay Win criticized the National League for Democracy (NLD)-led government for not doing enough to prevent international interference in Rakhine State on Thursday.

The ex-general, who is now a lawmaker in the Lower House, urged the NLD-led government to take action against a UN fact-finding mission appointed to investigate reports of extensive human rights abuses by Myanmar security forces in Rakhine State, among other places in Myanmar.

“My assessment is that what the government is doing is not enough. It should speak out and reject [the mission] as a necessity,” he told reporters at the Lower House on Thursday.

He also said the government had failed to oppose use of the word “Rohingya” by the UN and the US Embassy in Myanmar.

The Myanmar government does not recognize Rakhine State’s Muslim minority Rohingya among the country’s official ethnic groups, and labels them as “Bengali” to suggest they are interlopers from Bangladesh.

Attacks on police border guard posts by Rohingya militants on Oct. 9 of last year flared tensions among Buddhist and Muslim communities in Rakhine State, which remain largely segregated since anti-Muslim violence in 2012 and 2013 displaced around 140,000 people.

Myanmar Army “clearance operations” in response to the attacks led to the displacement of 75,000 Rohingya refugees to Bangladesh and allegations of torture, extrajudicial killings, and widespread sexual violence, prompting the UN Human Rights Council to assign a fact-finding mission to investigate.

Recently, the Myanmar Army and border police found evidence of training camps for suspected Muslim militants, including in the forests of Mayu mountain range of Rakhine State’s southern Maungdaw Township last week.

There have also been reports of villagers fleeing their homes after an increasing number of killings in the area.

“We are facing threats in all aspects. We are facing a terrorist threat,” said the ex-general. “Rakhine State is being portrayed as a national hotspot of international concern. Therefore there is a need for [the government] to exercise extra caution.”

The ex-general is a central executive committee member of the opposition Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) and was elected to the Lower House in the 2015 general elections to represent Naypyitaw’s Zayarthiri Township.

During the Lower House session on Thursday, he questioned what action the government had taken to stop the UN Fact-Finding Mission from coming to Myanmar, labeling it a “political trap” for Myanmar.

“There are difficulties for security agencies to do their jobs in line with the law, to protect the country from terrorism and to ensure national security due to the sensitivity surrounding the issue,” he said.

Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs U Kyaw Tin responded that his ministry had already told the UN that it would not accept the UN fact-finding mission.

The Myanmar government released a statement on March 24, rejecting the UN’s resolution to form the mission at the Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva.

“If they are going to send someone with regards to the fact-finding mission, then there’s no reason for us to let them come,” said U Kyaw Zeya, permanent secretary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Thursday, according to Reuters.

“Our missions worldwide are advised accordingly,” he said, explaining that visas to enter Myanmar would not be issued to the mission’s appointees or staff.

U Oo Hla Saw of the Arakan National Party (ANP), which won the largest number of seats in the Rakhine State Parliament, also criticized the government’s response as weak.

“The government should have opposed strongly rather than saying it could not accept it. I think its response is too weak,” U Oo Hla Saw told The Irrawaddy.