Arakan Violence Risks Reform U-turn

By Kyaw Zwa Moe 26 October 2012

Violence in Burma’s western state of Arakan is threatening to derail the country’s nascent and unstable reform process. The government and all concerned parties need to take urgent action to end this sectarian strife quickly and speed up prospects of national reconciliation.

On Friday afternoon, local government spokesperson Win Myaing told The Irrawaddy over the phone from Arakan State that more than 100 people had already been killed since bloody clashes between Rohingya Muslims and ethnic Arakanese Buddhists resurfaced on Sunday. Official reports also indicate that around 2,000 homes have been burned down.

The ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party MP said that 112 people—51 men and 61 women—were killed, yet it was unclear how many of the victims were Rohingya and how many were Arakanese.

It does not matter which group suffered more. It is the sheer level of violence that has sullied the nation’s dignity. Politically, the conflict is chipping away at the legitimacy of the democratic revival which itself has already faced lots of problems.

In June, sectarian clashes killed at least 90 people and destroyed around 3,000 houses in Arakan State. Around 70,000 Rohingya remain in displacement camps. This current cycle of violence seems certain to escalate unless the government takes immediate and effective action to end all forms of conflict.

President Thein Sein and government ministers should have tried harder to solve the problem before now. Otherwise, the communal strife will undermine the country’s overall political and economic reform.

In August, the government formed an investigation commission to delve into what really happened in western Burma during June. But so far, the commission—comprised of ethnic leaders, government officials and prominent political activists—has not even managed to release a thorough report to disclose the causes of or possible solutions to the crisis.

Apart from the government, the Naypyidaw Parliament must seriously discuss how to address the ongoing violence.

On Friday, a member of the Committee for Rule of Law and Tranquility of the Lower House, chaired by opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, proposed discussing the sectarian strife in Parliament. After the debate, MPs agreed that the government must send more troops to quell the violence.

In fact, the issue should been given more attention in the legislature. As chairwoman of the Rule of Law Committee and a respected pro-democracy leader, Suu Kyi herself should take it upon herself to do more to help end this communal discord.

During her visit to the United States last month, Suu Kyi stressed that she had no desire to make the president’s job any more difficult than it already was when it came to tackling the Arakan clashes.

“We do not want to criticize the government just for the sake of making political capital. We want to help the government in any way possible to bring about peace and harmony in [Arakan] State. Whatever help is asked from us, we are prepared to give if it is within our ability to do so,” she said.
But this is no longer enough. It is high time that Suu Kyi, as well as all other political and ethnic leaders, put more collaborative effort into ending the violence. It is not merely a matter of inter-communal strife within Arakan State anymore.

Unless it can be stopped before too long, the problem is likely to threaten other parts of Burma. Then the country’s fledgling overall reform process will face even more barriers in the way.