The members of a new government committee created to put western Myanmar’s impoverished and strife-torn Rakhine state on a path to peace and development arrived in the state capital Sittwe on Wednesday to begin an inspection tour.
President Htin Kyaw signed an order on Monday creating the Central Committee for Implementation of Peace and Development in Rakhine State, whose 27 members include all government ministers and Rakhine state officials.
Lieutenant General Ye Aung, minister of border affairs and a member of the committee, told residents that the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) government plans to spend more than 70 billion kyats (U.S. $51.2 million) to develop the impoverished state by financing goods and services that promote human resources.
“If necessary, we will add more financial resources in the future,” he said.
Thein Swe, minister of labor, immigration and population, told residents that migrant resource centers would soon be opening in Rakhine to help workers.
Ye Aung also called on residents to have faith in and cooperate with the government’s efforts, and asked them to respect members of different ethnic and religious communities and not foment tension.
He also said that the citizenship verification process will be carried out transparently in accordance with the country’s 1982 Citizenship Law.
Last Friday, State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi, who chairs the new committee, met with Rakhine Chief Minister Nyi Pu and various national government ministers to discuss the controversial process for internally displaced persons that reportedly resumed this month, The Irrawaddy reported.
The policy will affect the 120,000 stateless Rohingya Muslims that currently live in camps for in internally displaced people in Rakhine since 2012 when communal violence erupted between them and local Buddhists.
The government refers to the Rohingya as “Bengalis” and considers them illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, although many have lived in Rakhine for generations.
Hostility towards the Rohingya is also palpable in other parts of majority-Buddhist Myanmar.
In May, the government advised the U.S. and other embassies to avoid using the term “Rohingya.” The U.S. embassy’s use of the word in a public letter of condolence to the families of 21 Rohingya who died in a boating accident provoked Buddhist monks and nationalists to stage protests in Yangon and Mandalay.
Four working groups
Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s de facto leader, chairs the new committee which is supported by four working groups—the Security, Peace and Stability and the Rule of Law Working Committee, Immigration and Citizenship Scrutinizing Working Committee, Settlement and Socioeconomic Development Working Committee, and Working Committee on Cooperation with U.N. Agencies and International Organizations, according to the state-run Global New Light of Myanmar.
During a meeting last week with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Aung San Suu Kyi said the government was working on a solution that would allow the Rohingya to live peacefully and securely outside the camps.
Besides the Rohingya issue, Rakhine state has also been plagued by recent clashes between the Myanmar military and the Arakan Army, an armed ethnic group, which has forced thousands of residents to flee their homes.
Some members of the Arakan National Party—the state’s most powerful political party which represents the interests of the predominantly Buddhist, ethnic Rakhine majority—were invited to attend a meeting on Wednesday with two government officials, both of whom are also on the new Rakhine committee, the Myanmar Times reported.
The previous government in late March revoked a state of emergency imposed on Rakhine after the 2012 violence just before the NLD administration took control, although measures restricting the movements of the Rohingya were left in place.
Reported by is Min Thein Aung for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Kyaw Min Htun. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.