Myanmar’s former ruling party and 12 other political parties have called for a meeting of the country’s National Defense and Security Council over the government’s handling of the crisis in the northern part of Rakhine state, where security forces who have locked down the area are accused of committing rights abuses against the Rohingya Muslims who live there.
The joint declaration signed by the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) and other smaller political parties on Monday noted that the security council (NDSC) should hold a meeting on the situation in conflict-wracked Rakhine State because the country’s territorial sovereignty is at stake.
The lockdown in northern Rakhine began in October after deadly attacks on border guard posts that some officials have blamed on Rohingya militants. The government has denied accusations that soldiers committed extrajudicial killings, rape, and arson in Rohingya communities.
The declaration also said that renewed fighting between ethnic armed groups and the Myanmar army in northern Shan state, the recent explosions of three handmade bombs in a Yangon supermarket, rising crime throughout the country, and the stalled national peace process had created a general crisis which forced the military to take action.
The political parties, which criticized the current civilian-led government for its handling of the conflicts, want the NDSC to convene to address the issues.
“The military has to use more troops in Rakhine and Shan,” said Thein Nyunt, chairman of the New National Democracy Party, one of the small parties that signed the declaration. “All political, economic, and military issues are in crisis.
The 11-member NDSC, which formulates policy on military and security issues, is dominated by six military officers. The council’s five civilian members include Present Htin Kyaw, Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi in her capacity as foreign affairs minister, the civilian vice president, and the speakers of the two houses of parliament.
The constitution, drafted in 2008 when a military junta ruled the country, says the president can summon the NDSC and declare a state of emergency if the country is threatened by loss of sovereignty through violence.
“To solve these problems, the National Defense and Security Council needs to be formed according to the constitution or led by the president,” Thein Nyunt said. “Then it has to decide how to solve these problems.”
NLD spokesman Win Htein told the Democratic Voice of Burma on Tuesday that the political organizations are trying to take advantage of the current issues facing Myanmar, and that many of them have seen their popularity decrease since the NLD came to power in April.
The other political parties that signed the declaration are the National Unity Party, National Development Party, National Democratic Forces, National Political Alliances League, Modern People’s Party, Karen State Democracy and Development Party, Myanmar National Congress Party, Wunthanu Democratic Party, People’s Democracy Party, and Inn National Development Party.
All the parties lost out to the ruling National League of Democracy (NLD) party, which swept general elections a year ago.
Not everyone agrees
But not all politicians and lawmakers agreed that the political parties should request that the NDSC step in.
“They asked for the security council to hold the meeting because the situation is not good,” said Win Htein, a Central Executive Committee member of the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) party.
“It’s not the security council’s business to hold a meeting; it’s the government’s business,” he said. “The government will do it if it believes it should be done, [but] I think it is a political attack on the current government.”
Pu Gin Kam Lian, a lawmaker from the Zomi Congress for Democracy party, said political parties should be the ones to call for the NDSC to meet.
“The government and military chief will do it if they think it needs to be done,” he said.
Oo Hla Saw, a lawmaker from the Arakan National Party, which represents the interests of the Rakhine people in Rahine state, advised against involving the NDSC in the current crisis in his state.
“If we go to the National Defense and Security Council with this issue, it is like we’re giving the military full power,” he said. “We are worried that the military will have absolute power if there is a security council meeting.
Rights lawyer Ko Ni said there are no legal procedures for the NDSC to hold such a meeting on the Rakhine crisis and other issues.
“Because we don’t have any detailed procedures or laws, the president and military chief will hold it if and when they think it’s the right time to do so, although the political parties have called for it,” he said.
He noted that President Htin Kyaw has the right to hold such a meeting at any time.
“But we have to think of what the purpose of this statement by political parties is,” he said. “I see it as enlarging the problems.”
More suspects arrested
In the meantime, 15 more suspects in the Oct. 9 border guard station attacks have been arrested in Rakhine sate, the State Counselor’s office announced on Monday.
Security forces arrested four people in Maungdaw on Nov. 26 and 11 others in local villages a day later, and sent them all to the country’s Border Guard Forces which are subdivisions of the national army.
They also arrested 10 people trying to enter neighboring Bangladesh on Monday night, state media reported.
Security forces have arrested more than 400 people and killed nearly 70 others since the lockdown began, state media reported.
The violence has displaced more than 30,000 others, according to the United Nations.
Reported by Kyaw Thu, Win Naung Toe and Win Ko Ko Latt for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.