Rakhine leaders have decided to dissolve their working committee on national-level political dialogue after the government and the military prevented them from holding public meetings, according to local sources.
Rakhine leaders from the Arakan Liberation Party (ALP), the Arakan National Party (ANP), and civil society groups have abolished the committee, which was formed last year, in frustration at the government’s refusal to allow it to hold public consultations, ALP secretary Saw Mra Razar Lin told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday.
“We had a gentlemen’s agreement with the UPDJC [Union Peace Dialogue Joint Committee] that we would be allowed to hold public meetings. But when we tried to do it, we were denied permission. This has been very demoralizing. So we discussed the issue with the RNP and decided to abolish our working committee on public meetings,” she said.
The ALP signed the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) along with eight other armed groups in October 2015. Under the NCA, the ALP has the right to hold a national-level political dialogue. It planned to hold public meetings before opening the political dialogue in the region.
“When we signed the NCA, we had no idea we would face these restrictions. We believed we would be able to consult and discuss with our people at any time,” Saw Mra Razar Lin said.
The government said the ALP could not hold public meetings, despite signing the NCA, because the conflict with Rohingya militants had affected the stability of the state.
“Our region has conflicts. But the public is able to travel, and it is safe to hold public meetings. It [the government] is afraid of coming under international pressure over the conflict in Rakhine. They have blocked us from holding public meetings, but our situation is not related to the international issue,” Saw Mra Razar Lin said.
The ALP cooperated with the Union government to work for peace in the country after signing the NCA, the party secretary said. Since the first session of the 21st-Century Panglong Peace Conference in 2016, the ALP has not be able to submit its own proposals on the type of political system to be implemented in the region in the future. This situation continued when it was denied permission to hold public meetings by the second Panglong session in 2017.
“[The government] just told us that it could not permit us to hold public meetings because of the conflict with the Bengalis [Rohingya]. We asked them if the Bengali conflict would lead to our being denied democracy or a federal system,” she said.
The ALP, ANP, and civil society groups in Rakhine were deeply disappointed by the repeated denials of the ALP’s requests, Saw Mra Razar Lin said.
“We signed the NCA because we want peace in our region. We have waged an armed revolution since 1988. We drafted a federal system along with other ethnic armed groups, as we understand our country needs a federal system. Without one, our country will continue to see fighting,” she said.
She urged the government to view the eight armed groups as actors who seek peace and want to work hard for the country, adding that if it believes there is a problem with holding public meetings, the government should sit and meet with the Rakhine leadership informally so they can discuss the root causes of the problem. The government should say honestly why it doesn’t want to allow public meetings in Rakhine, and needs to build trust with the state’s leaders, she said.
ANP vice chairman Khaing Pyi Soe said, “We should be able to hold public consultations, even though they denied us permission to hold a national-level political dialogue.”
“The government only let civil society groups organize public consultations, but not the ALP or ANP. Therefore, we have decided not to work towards that anymore; we are no longer interested,” he said.