Per­se­cuted Ro­hingya see a ray of hope in Suu Kyi win

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

SIT­TWE, Myan­mar: Noor Bagum would have liked to have voted for Aung San Suu Kyi’s Na­tional League for Democ­racy (NLD) but, like the ma­jor­ity of Myan­mar’s per­se­cuted Ro­hingya Mus­lim mi­nor­ity, she took no part in the his­toric elec­tion the No­bel lau­re­ate won by a land­slide.

Stripped of their right to cast bal­lots by the cur­rent gov­ern­ment, many Ro­hingya now hope that, with the NLD able to rule largely on its own, a Suu Ky­iled gov­ern­ment will work to re­store their lives and many of the rights they have lost. “I hope that things will get a lit­tle bit bet­ter,” said Noor Bagum, a 28year-old mother-of-five, whose vil­lage was de­stroyed dur­ing violence be­tween Bud­dhists and Mus­lims that swept through Myan­mar’s western Rakhine State in 2012.

Deal­ing with the Ro­hingya will be one of the most con­tro­ver­sial - and un­avoid­able - of a long list of is­sues Suu Kyi will in­herit from the cur­rent gov­ern­ment. Feted by many in the West for her role as cham­pion of Myan­mar’s prodemoc­racy move­ment dur­ing long years of mil­i­tary rule, she has been crit­i­cized over­seas, and by some in Myan­mar, for say­ing lit­tle about the abuses faced by the group.

When an NLD gov­ern­ment takes power in March, she will come un­der mount­ing in­ter­na­tional pres­sure to take a de­fin­i­tive stance in their de­fense. But speak­ing out for the Ro­hingya would carry a po­lit­i­cal cost at home. The group is widely dis­liked in Myan­mar, where they are seen as il­le­gal im­mi­grants from Bangladesh - in­clud­ing by some in Suu Kyi’s party. She risks haem­or­rhag­ing sup­port by tak­ing up the cause of the be­lea­guered mi­nor­ity.

LO­CAL RI­VAL

The NLD also faces a pow­er­ful lo­cal ri­val - the Arakan Na­tional Party (ANP) - that has been ac­cused of stok­ing an­tiMus­lim sen­ti­ment and has called for the de­por­ta­tion of Ro­hingya. The ANP won 22 of 29 na­tional level seats in Rakhine and took 22 of the 35 elected seats in the state’s re­gional as­sem­bly, one of the strong­est show­ings by an eth­nic party in the elec­tion.

“We’ll be damned if we do, and we’ll be damned if we don’t,” said Win Htein, a se­nior NLD leader, adding that stand­ing up for the Ro­hingya would give the ANP “am­ple rea­son to crit­i­cize the NLD”. Al­though many have lived in Myan­mar for gen­er­a­tions, the Ro­hingya are not one of the 135 eth­nic groups rec­og­nized un­der the coun­try’s cit­i­zen­ship law and are thus en­ti­tled to only lim­ited rights. Many Ro­hingya held tem­po­rary cit­i­zen­ship doc­u­ments, known as “white cards”, that al­lowed them to vote be­fore they were nul­li­fied by Pres­i­dent Thein Sein this year. “We won’t be able to solve the prob­lem as long as the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity is sup­port­ing and stand­ing for the Ben­galis,” said ANP vice-chair­man Phone Minn, us­ing the gov­ern­ment’s term for the group, which in­sin­u­ates they are il­le­gal im­mi­grants from Bangladesh. Phone Minn was elected to a Rakhine re­gional par­lia­ment seat on Sun­day. Noor Bagum, and thou­sands of other Ro­hingya are now kept as vir­tual pris­on­ers out­side the state cap­i­tal of Sit­twe in refugee camps like Thae Chaung, a dusty sprawl of listing bam­boo huts cov­ered with patch­works of tarps and re­lief agency rice bags.

“This time, we would have voted for the NLD,” she said, a sen­ti­ment widely re­flected across the camp.

CIT­I­ZEN­SHIP LAW

So far, the NLD has of­fered lit­tle in the way of con­crete pol­icy that would tackle Ro­hingya cit­i­zen­ship sta­tus or their re­set­tle­ment and in­te­gra­tion back into the com­mu­ni­ties they were forced to flee. But the first post-elec­tion com­ments by the party’s se­nior leader Win Htein on the 1982 Cit­i­zen­ship Act that de­nied Ro­hingya full cit­i­zen­ship rights showed that their hope may be jus­ti­fied.

“It must be re­viewed be­cause it’s too ex­treme...re­view that law and make nec­es­sary amend­ments so that we con­sider those peo­ple who are al­ready in our coun­try, maybe sec­ond gen­er­a­tion, so they will be con­sid­ered as cit­i­zens,” Win Htein told Reuters.

Win Htein said that he wanted the NLD ad­min­is­tra­tion to al­low the Ro­hingya to set­tle any­where in the coun­try to “lessen the bur­den on Rakhine State”. It was not clear if Win Htein, one of the most in­flu­en­tial politi­cians in the party, was speak­ing on be­half of the party or giv­ing a per­sonal view.

ANP’s Phone Minn has a dif­fer­ent view. He said that the law was “the so­lu­tion”. “If they fol­lowed that law, the prob­lem will be solved...if th­ese Ben­gali peo­ple de­serve cit­i­zen­ship ac­cord­ing to the law, they can get it,” said Phone Minn. Suu Kyi has never vis­ited the refugee camps that house some 140,000 peo­ple, mainly Ro­hingya. Still, many be­lieve her gov­ern­ment will be more sym­pa­thetic than the out­go­ing Union Sol­i­dar­ity and De­vel­op­ment Party, which was cre­ated by the coun­try’s for­mer junta and led by re­tired mil­i­tary of­fi­cers.

Mo­hammed Solim, 32, who like many camp res­i­dents was an­gry at be­ing de­prived of the right to vote, said: “We hope that since the NLD won, we will get free­dom.” —Reuters

YAN­GON: Novice Bud­dhist nuns line up af­ter walk­ing the streets to col­lect alms in cen­tral Yan­gon.—AP

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