Outgoing President Thein Sein lifted the nearly four-year state of emergency in western Myanmar’s conflict-ridden Rakhine state on Tuesday, although a policy restricting the movement of ethnic Muslim Rohingya interned in displacement camps remains in place, a local government official said.
The government imposed the state of emergency after communal violence between the Rohingya and ethnic Buddhists in Rakhine in 2012 left more than 200 dead and tens of thousands homeless, with the Rohingya bearing the brunt of the violence.
“I don’t think there will be problem with the lifting of the state of emergency because we don't plan to have further conflicts,” said Hla Thein, a member of the Rakhine state government. “We have been deploying police security forces, and we don’t have any plans to reduce the number of security personnel.”
The national military will step back from providing security in the region because there currently is no threat of danger to people’s lives, according to a statement released by state media.
Restrictions on travel for refugees in the camps, however, remain in place because the two communities are still not getting along, Hla Thein told RFA’s Myanmar Service.
“The Bengali Muslims are not allowed to go to Rakhine refugee camps, and the Rakhine refugees are not allowed to go to Muslim camps," he said, referring to the term that the Myanmar government calls the state’s 1.1 million ethnic Rohingya whom it views as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, although many have live there for generations.
“Bengalis can travel within their area, and the [ethnic] Rakhine people can travel in their area,” he said.
Some 140,000 Rohingya were displaced during the 2012 unrest and placed in squalid camps in Rakhine state. About 120,000 of them remain in the camps, while thousands of others have fled persecution in the Buddhist-dominated country on rickety boats to other Southeast Asian countries in recent years.
The government restricts the Rohingya's basic rights, denying them citizenship, restricting their movements, and disenfranchising them during national elections last November.
Thein Sein’s order removing the state of emergency comes just days before the National League for Democracy (NLD) party, which swept the elections, assumes government leadership on Friday.
In the run-up to the transfer of power, president-elect Htin Kyaw of the NLD has appointed the chief ministers of Myanmar’s 14 states and regions, including Rakhine state where the Arakan National Party (ANP) won 23 of 47 state parliament seats in the elections, but failed to gain a majority in the Rakhine state legislature because a quarter of seats automatically went to military representatives.
Nyi Pu, an NLD lawmaker who represents Rakhine’s Gwa township, was appointed as the state’s chief minister on Monday, prompting ANP deputies in the state legislature to protest the move by wearing black stickers on their jackets.
In response to Nyi Pu's appointment, the ANP, the state’s strongest political party which represents ethnic Rakhine Buddhists, said Tuesday that it will purge and fine its lawmakers 50 million kyats (U.S. $41,340) if they accept cabinet minister posts in the incoming NLD-led government.
“All party members have to follow the party’s rules which are set by its Central Executive Committee,” said ANP general secretary Tun Aung Kyaw. “If not, then we will take action against them according to party policy.”
NLD spokesman Zaw Myint Maung noted that the president-elect has the constitutional right to appoint chief ministers, and that those who object to Nyi Pu’s selection must prove he is unqualified to serve.
“ANP members didn’t do this and walked out of parliament,” he said. “We all have to work according to current laws or the constitution.”
But Kyaw Zaw Oo, an ANP lawmaker in the Rakhine state legislature, indicated that the move has raised questions in the party's mind about the NLD's intention to develop democracy in Myanmar.
“We doubt whether we are moving forward towards a democratic country because the NLD says it nominated MP Nyi Pu according to the constitution, although it knows this constitution is not a good one,” he said, referring to the 2008 charter drafted in 2008 when a military junta ruled the country.
Reported by Min Thein Aung, Thinn Thiri and Khin Khin Ei for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.