With Rakhine Under Siege, Will Govt Call a Security Council Meeting?

By The Irrawaddy 26 August 2017

Friday’s midnight attacks on police and military targets by militants could be a game-changing event for Myanmar.

If the National League for Democracy (NLD) government cannot act swiftly to quell the unrest, the military is likely to step in to ensure that its presence is at the forefront, and will take control of the situation.

The coordinated attacks, which left a dozen members of security forces and 59 suspected militants dead, coincided with the release of the final report on Thursday published by the Rakhine State Advisory Commission, led by former UN chief Kofi Annan. The commission detailed recommendations for addressing longstanding tension and injustices in the region.

“As Chair of the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State, I am gravely concerned by, and strongly condemn, the recent attacks in Rakhine State. I am saddened to hear of the loss of life of members of the security forces,” Kofi Annan said in a statement.

In a statement from the State Counselor’s Office on Friday, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said she also “strongly condemn[ed]” what she described as “brutal attacks by terrorists on security forces in Rakhine State.”

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi held an urgent meeting on Friday with Union ministers of defense, home affairs and border affairs, as well as her national security adviser. The State Counselor’s Office also said that the government had been aware of a risk of attacks coinciding with the release of the commission’s final report, and that the current administration remains committed to “finding meaningful and lasting solutions for conflict-torn Rakhine.”

These latest attacks will undoubtedly have far-reaching consequences for residents of the region, as well as for Myanmar and beyond, testing the government’s ability to control the troubled state.

Questions have inevitably been raised. Will the NLD administration be able to bring law and order, ensure the safety of fleeing locals, and protect the nation’s sovereignty? Perhaps more importantly, how will counter-terrorism measures be implemented? Are Myanmar’s security forces sufficiently prepared to secure the area?

Arakanese politicians who feel that the country’s western border has been compromised in northern Rakhine State are among those urging for the convening of the National Defense and Security Council (NDSC). Many seasoned political observers feel the same.

According to the 2008 Constitution, the rapidly changing situation in Rakhine State demands that the President exercise executive power to call an NDSC meeting; will U Htin Kyaw do just this?

Meetings of the NDSC have been put on hold since the NLD government took office in 2016. Instead, State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has relied on ad hoc security briefings, and her working relations with army leaders are at odds. President U Htin Kyaw, a close confident of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, will likely to wait for a cue from the State Counselor regarding any action with the NDSC.

Mandated by the 2008 Constitution, the 11-member security council was formed under former President U Thein Sein’s administration, during which it held regular meetings to discuss security issues in the country, including the right to petition the President to declare a nationwide state of emergency. The military commands a 6-5 majority in the council, but it is understood that there is no voting exercise. Some political observers feel it is the best platform to discuss the developing situation in the country, as the council is comprised of civilian and military leaders.

The council members include the President, two vice presidents, two parliamentary speakers, the foreign minister, and the military-appointed ministers for home affairs, border affairs, and defense, as well as the military’s commander-in-chief. As foreign minister, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi would be present at NDSC meetings.

The developing situation in Rakhine State was also discussed in Parliament, when military MPs and Arakanese politicians proposed that administrative and security measures be intensified in northern Rakhine State.

Maj Aung Kyaw Hnin, an army representative, was among those who debated alongside members of the Arakan National Party in favor of the proposal.

“In dealing with the affairs of Rakhine State, security matters should be prioritized for protecting national sovereignty and the depredation towards local Rakhine nationals from the danger of terrorists, instead of feeling fear of international pressure,” he said in the legislature.

The NLD-dominated Lower House voted down the proposal on Thursday.

However, demands to convene the NDSC are growing as the security situation in northern Rakhine State requires more attention from the top command. Calling such a meeting should be of no harm to the country or its people.