UN Myanmar Envoy Hears Plight of Rohingya Stranded in Camps Since 2012 Ethnic Unrest

2019-01-23
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Christine Schraner Burgener (C), the U.N.'s special envoy to Myanmar, arrives in Sittwe, capital of western Myanmar's Rakhine state, Jan. 22, 2019.
Christine Schraner Burgener (C), the U.N.'s special envoy to Myanmar, arrives in Sittwe, capital of western Myanmar's Rakhine state, Jan. 22, 2019.
RFA

The United Nations special envoy to Myanmar visited a displacement camp for Rohingya Muslims in Pauktaw township of troubled multiethnic Rakhine state on Wednesday, where she heard of hardships endured by members of the minority group who were uprooted from their homes by communal violence in 2012, a camp resident said.

Christine Schraner Burgener, appointed to her post in April by U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, asked the Rohingya she met at Kyainni Pyin camp about conditions in their internally displaced persons (IDP) camp, said the resident who refused to be named out of fear for his safety.

Those with whom Burgener met have been living in the IDP camp since 2012, when violence between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Muslims left more than 200 people dead and displaced about 140,000 others, mostly Rohingya, who ended up in displacement camps in the state.

“We arrived here in 2012,” the IDP said, relaying what he and others told Burgener. “Roads and communication are not good, and we have no right to travel.”

“The Myanmar government doesn’t recognize us Rohingya,” he said. “We face difficulties with access to health care, education, and social services.”

Because Myanmar views the Rohingya as illegal immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh, the country denies them citizenship and restricts their movements.

Burgener also visited Pauktaw’s Anauk Ye IDP camp, where Rohingya residents also told her about travel restrictions imposed upon them.

“We can’t travel freely,” a camp resident who requested anonymity told RFA’s Myanmar Service about what the IDPs told Burgener. “We can’t even travel to [Rakhine state’s capital] Sittwe from here.”

When the U.N. envoy discussed the issue with government officials who accompanied her on the visit, they told her that the Rohingya must have National Verification Cards (NVC) in order to travel and work outside the confines of the camps, he said.

Despite not being listed as one of Myanmar’s 135 official ethnic groups, the Rohingya can obtain NVCs, documents that are part of the government’s effort to register members of the minority group. The cards, however, do not confer citizenship.

Burgener also visited ethnic Rakhine and Hindu refugee camps in Sittwe. However, she was not allowed to stop in conflict areas in Maungdaw township and IDP camps in Buthidaung township because of government fears for her safety, the Myanmar Times reported, citing Mya Than, deputy speaker of the Rakhine state parliament.

Hostilities between the Myanmar military and the Arakan Army (AA), a Rakhine ethnic militia fighting for greater autonomy in the state, flared up late last year and have increased instability in the state. Local relief organizations report that about 6,000 civilians have been displaced by recent clashes.

In early January, the AA attacked four police outposts in Buthidaung, killing 13 officers and wounding nine others.

Conversation with ANP officials

Following her arrival in Sittwe on Tuesday, Burgener met with representatives from the Rakhine state parliament and members of the Arakan National Party (ANP), the most popular political party in the state, which represents the interests of the ethnic Rakhine people.

“She mainly questioned what the Hluttaw [parliament] has done about the current situation in Rakhine and what it is planning for the future,” Mya Than said.

When the state parliament resumes its regular sessions on Feb. 13, lawmakers will recommend that state government officials provide more assistance to those displaced by armed conflict between the Myanmar military and the AA, he said.

Lawmakers will also discuss ways to immediately end the current hostilities and report their conclusions to the state government, he said.

Aye Nu Sein, vice chairwoman of the ANP, said Burgener discussed a recent press conference held by the Myanmar military’s information team, during which a spokesman said that State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi had instructed government forces to crack down on the AA after it carried out the deadly attacks on police outposts on Jan. 4.

“She asked, ‘Was it really true that instructions were issued to root out [the rebels]?’” Aye Nu Sein said.

Burgener then commented that Aung San Suu Kyi as a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, should not have issued such an order regarding the conflict, given that there are also long-running hostilities between Myanmar forces and ethnic armies in other parts of the country, according to Aye Nu Sein.

“It’s a controversy between the two parties,” Burgener reportedly said. “Is the Tatmadaw [Myanmar military] exploiting the situation as a political ploy?”

Burgener and ANP officials also discussed the discord between ethnic Rakhine people and Muslims in the ethnically and religiously divided state and the region’s lack of development, pointing out that not a single factory has been built since the country’s independence from colonial ruler Britain in 1948, and that residents are forced to leave in desperation and go elsewhere to eke out a living, Aye Nu Sein said.

Myanmar protesters demand compensation for land confiscated by the Chinese and Myanmar operators of a pipeline project in Ann township, western Myanmar's Rakhine state, March 22, 2018.
Myanmar protesters demand compensation for land confiscated by the Chinese and Myanmar operators of a pipeline project in Ann township, western Myanmar's Rakhine state, March 22, 2018. Credit: Photo courtesy of Myo Lwin
What about China?

Another topic of conversation was Myanmar’s larger neighbor and biggest trading partner China, which operates dual oil and natural gas pipelines that originate in the Kyaukphyu district of Rakhine’s Ann township and span central Myanmar to southwestern China’s Yunnan province.

China is also involved in a special economic zone (SEZ) and deep sea port project in Kyaukphyu.

In the past, area residents have demanded that the Chinese and Myanmar state-owned oil companies involved in the venture compensate them for land they had to give up for the pipeline project, and fishermen have opposed bans on fishing imposed by Myanmar’s Fisheries Department so oil tankers can operate there.

“Rakhine state has been a key economic interest of China, and ethnic Rakhines have protested against gas pipeline projects before,” Aye Nu Sein said.

“But the previous government under [former president] Thein Sein and the current civilian-led government avoided their objections with regard to SEZs,” she said.

Burgener questioned whether the current National League for Democracy (NLD) government had intervened in the issue, but ANP officials told her that it had merely blamed the previous government for any problems, she said.

The U.N. envoy also asked what the political party would like her to tell government leaders in the capital Naypyidaw.

“We want her to take the message that if the army has to fight because the State Counselor said so, we’d like her to issue an order to stop the fighting,” Aye Nu Sein said. “We then want the Tamadaw to stop their offensives once she says to do so, and hold political dialogues to find a solution and establish peace.”

Villager shot

During Burgener’s visit to Rakhine state, an unknown gunman shot and killed 56-year old Maung Aye Thein in Ywar Haung village of Pan Myaung village tract in Min Pyar township, a local official told RFA Wednesday.

Village tract administrator Tin Aung Kyaw said the man was shot five times around 9 p.m. Tuesday after the assailant called him to come out of his home.

The victim died at the scene from gunshots to his chest and thighs, while the shooter fled, he said.

The attacker called to the victim in the Rakhine dialect, but Maung Aye Thein’s wife said that she could not recognize him because it was dark, he said.

“It took place in his compound,” Tin Aung Kyaw said. “It is said that he was called to come outside, and he was shot when he got close to the gunman.”

“The case is now under investigation, and [the body] has been sent to a local hospital,” he said.

Police found five bullet casings at the scene, said Pan Myaung police chief Tun Aye.

“We’re taking action and have opened a case on this,” he said. “We will take action according to the law.”

Locals said that Maung Aye Thein was a member of the opposition Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) and had served the community as a voluntary firefighter.

Some locals believe the attack may be related to an armed organization and could have been an attempt to silence the man to prevent him from leaking information.

Khin Than Maung, a founder and member of the central executive committee of the Arakan League for Democracy (ALD), was also shot dead at his home in Kyar Inn Taung village in Rakhine’s Myebon township on Dec. 24.

Speculation on social media suggested that the AA was behind the killing because several weeks before it took place, a number of AA supporters accused Khin Than Maung of leaking information to the Myanmar Army, according to a December report by the online journal The Irrawaddy.

At the same time, some AA supporters accused the Myanmar military’s intelligence officials of the murder by linking them to the act, the report said.

Reported by Thiri Min Zin and Min Thein Aung for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Nandar Chann. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

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