International Pressure Over Rohingya Crisis Tests NLD, Army Relations

By Lawi Weng 25 June 2018

MON STATE — Relations between the National League for Democracy (NLD) government and Myanmar Army appear to be hanging by a thread with State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and Commander-in-Chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing at loggerheads over international involvement in the Rohingya crisis.

The state counselor and her party have stopped talking of national reconciliation with the army since U Win Myint became Union president in March, focusing instead on development and improving the rule of law.

Myanmar has come under heavy international pressure over the army’s response to militant Muslim attacks on police posts in Rakhine State in August; the military crackdown that followed has driven some 700,000 mostly Muslim Rohingya to Bangladesh and drawn accusations of ethnic cleansing, even genocide. The International Criminal Court has asked Myanmar to respond by July 27 to a request from the prosecution to try the country for the Rohingyas’ alleged forced deportation.

NLD spokesman U Aung Shin recently said the party would no longer protect human rights abusers, echoing earlier comments by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. In a public address last year on Rakhine State, she said: “Action would be taken against anyone, regardless of race, religion or political standpoint, who violated human rights in Myanmar.”

“As our leader said, we will not protect anyone. We will take action against people who violate human rights if anyone is found to have truly done so,” U Aung Shin reiterated.

Asked about the possible fallout from such a policy, the spokesman said the party was not worried.

By allowing the UN’s new special envoy on Myanmar to establish an office in Naypyitaw, he added, the NLD was signaling its willingness to work with the international community in solving the Rohingya crisis.

It is an open secret that Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing did not agree with the state counselor’s decision late last month to form an independent three-person commission of inquiry to investigate rights abuses in Rakhine State since the militant attacks in August. On June 11, military representatives in the Union Parliament objected to plans to include a foreign expert among the three, claiming it would make the country vulnerable to foreign interference and put its sovereignty at risk. As military appointees, their remarks can be interpreted as coming from the commander-in-chief.

Some observers say the army chief knows his days in the post are numbered, noting his many recent public appearances — including a visit to flood-hit Mon State — in possible preparation for an election run.

In the meantime, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi will use the international pressure on the military over its alleged human rights abuses in Rakhine State to nudge Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing out. The state counselor also enjoys better relations with foreign allies China and the US, further strengthening her hand.

According to the 2008 Constitution it drafted, the military could still take back power from the civilian government. But Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and her party won the 2015 elections in a landslide on a wave of popular support. Only time will tell who prevails.