YANGON – Rakhine State legislators on Monday urged visiting Union Minister for Social Welfare Dr. Win Myat Aye to ensure Muslim and Rakhine communities in the conflict-torn Maungdaw region would be segregated before the repatriation of refugees begins from neighboring Bangladesh.
The informal consultation marked the first time Union government and state-level lawmakers from the Rakhine Parliament had met since the National League for Democracy assumed power in 2016. According to lawmakers, the meeting lasted for half an hour.
One of the attendees, independent lawmaker Than Maung Oo, told The Irrawaddy that the meeting was led by Chief Minister U Nyi Pu, Dr. Win Myat Aye, who also serves as chair of the Union Enterprise for Humanitarian Assistance, Resettlement and Development (UEHRD) in Rakhine, and State Parliament Speaker San Kyaw Hla.
The Myanmar Army launched an offensive against the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) in reprisal for a series of attacks on Maungdaw border outposts by ARSA units in late August. However, the harsh response by the army resulted in more than 600,000 Rohingya refugees fleeing to neighboring Bangladesh.
Last week, Myanmar and Bangladesh signed a memorandum of outstanding (MoU) on refugee repatriation although the details have yet to be released.
During the meeting, regional lawmakers raised questions regarding the repatriation timeframe, the resettlement process and the central government’s plans for infrastructure development in the region. However, Dr. Win Myat Aye was unable to provide precise answers to their queries. The regional lawmakers then discussed their opinions on refugee relocation.
“We asked the Union minister where they would relocate the Bengali [Rohingya] Muslims but he could not answer us,” Than Maung Oo said.
The lawmaker said he made four suggestions to the union minister concerning the repatriation and rehabilitation project, stressing that the government needed to make law enforcement its top priority by reserving southern Maungdaw for non-Muslims and settling the Rohingya Muslim refugees in the northern part of the district.
“No one wants to live with Bengalis in the same location. It’s impossible,” Than Maung Oo said.
He said that keeping the two communities apart would prevent conflicts as well as future attacks on security forces, adding that the government needed to specify precise locations for internally displaced non-Muslim people as well. Moreover, he demanded the Union cabinet create agricultural and livestock zones for poor ethnic Arakanese as part of a rehabilitation project to stop them from leaving Maungdaw.
In addition, state parliamentarians advised the chief minister and Union minister to ensure 40 billion kyat contributed by Burmese tycoons and the international community to the UEHRD was used effectively for rehabilitation of northern Rakhine State — as corruption was widespread in the area.
U Mya Than, deputy speaker of Rakhine State Parliament, said that the Union minister also raised the issue of domestic businesses seeking to invest in infrastructure projects, including housing and apartments in northern Rakhine State, although no firm details were provided by the minister.
“There is a lack of collaboration not only between the state government and the Rakhine parliament on the ground but between the union government and elected Arakanese lawmakers as well,” U Mya Than said.
On Monday Chief Minister Nyi Pu posted explanations to the lawmakers’ queries on his Facebook page, stating the government had established four working committees for resettlement and socioeconomic development to come up with a plan to address the devastation caused in northern Rakhine. Under the oversight of the UEHRD, the government also formed nine working committees with local businesspeople to manage development projects.
Nyi Pu’s statement says, “As a member of the United Nations, we (Myanmar) cannot ignore related international procedures” and “(the government) will prioritize the public interest practically.”
The Union minister, Dr. Win Myat Aye, and the chief minister could not be immediately reached for comment.