No relaxation of citizenship law for Kokang: minister
COULD the issue of citizenship documents to Kokang residents in Shan State open the back door to infiltration from China? That appeared to be the implication floated by Myanmar’s immigration minister yesterday when he spoke to MPs of the progress of regularising citizenship in the self-administered zone.
Union Minister for Labour, Immigration and Population U Thein Swe told the Amyotha Hluttaw that he refused to relax the provisions of the controversial 1982 Citizenship Law when it came to identifying Kokang residents. The minister said the risk of “false representation or concealment” by those applying for citizenship was too great.
He was responding to a question from U Kyaw Ni Naing (USDP; Shan 11), who had asked about the possibility of relaxing the rules when issuing new identity cards for ethnic Kokang residents.
Kokang was ruled by the Communist Party of Burma for more than 30 years and its ethnic leaders signed a ceasefire agreement with the government in 1989, said U Kyaw Ni Naing. He said that as a Myanmar ethnic group, the people of Kokang should enjoy the same rights as those of other ethnic minorities under the constitution.
U Thein Swe said, “The language, appearance and traditions of the people of Kokang are very similar to those of the citizens of a neighbouring country who can easily immigrate to Myanmar. There is a concern over the possibility of making false representation or concealment to acquire our citizenship. Therefore, we cannot relax any provision of the law because citizenship is part of our sovereignty. We are very carefully working with the law to ensure that any mistakes in issuing cards are eliminated. We are taking our time and carrying this out on a step-bystep basis.”
The ministry may owe its caution in Kokang to the situation in Rakhine State, where the Arakan National Party has called on the government to carefully scrutinise the eligibility of so-called “certificate” holders, and to punish any unsubstantiated citizenship claims.
“We cannot just say people holding certificates are citizens already, because they may have become citizens through false representation or by corruption. Therefore, we are complaining to the government and appealing that the  law be implemented exactly,” said Daw Aye Nu Sein, a high court lawyer and the vice chair of the ANP. Penalties under the law include imprisonment for up to 10 years and a fine of K50,000.
According to the latest census data, a total of 283,431 ethnic Kokang aged 10 or older are eligible to apply for registration cards. Of those, 91,733 hold Citizen Scrutinising Cards, 104 hold Certificates of Associate Citizenship, 135 hold Certificates of Naturalised Citizenship, 75,465 hold National Registration Cards and 5245 hold certificates that have yet to be scrutinised, the minister said.
Ethnic Kokang civilians gather after being displaced by fighting in the Kokang region in February 2015.