GOVT GETS HEAT FROM BOTH SIDES IN RAKHINE PROBE CONTROVERSY
THE government’s plan to form an independent commission to investigate abuses was immediately met with howls of cynicisms and protests from both those who support the cause of the Muslim refugees from northern Rakhine State and from those who want them out of the country.
The New York-based Human Rights Watch blasted the proposed three-member commission, which will include an “international personality,” describing it as “not merely inadequate, but an attempt to delay and deflect real justice.”
On the other side of the spectrum, the military and opposition lawmakers warned the government against including a foreigner on the panel, which they said would be an infringement on the country’s sovereignty.
Analysts said that whichever direction the government moves, it will be viewed with suspicion by advocates on the opposing sides of the issue.
They warned that the move to create the commission would create political tension. The country’s transition to democracy began in 2010 under former president U Thein Sein and reached a turning point in 2016 when the civilian-elected government led by Aung San Suu Kyi was allowed to share power with the powerful military that ruled the country for over half a century.
U Ye Myo Hein, a founder of the Tagaung Institute of Political Studies (TIPS), said if the government does not cooperate with the Tatmadaw (military) on the Rakhine probe, the tension between the military and government will increase and could spell trouble for the country’s democracy.
“We learned that the case could seriously create tension because the military views this as an attack on sovereignty and a challenge to their power” he said.
He added that State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi apparently found the creation of an independent commission as a compromise to not accepting the UN Security Council’s fact-finding mission to investigate alleged abuses in the strife-torn state.
But this does not sit well with the military.
Tatmadaw members of parliament and the military-backed opposition Union Solidarity and Development Party minced no words in criticising the planned commission.
“Is our country ruled by the government or international (organisations)?” Colonel Myint Cho demanded angrily when the hluttaw discussed the issue last week.
He said the participation of foreigners on the commission would interfere with the country’s sovereignty, disrespect Myanmar people, look down on Myanmar culture, and be untrustworthy.
U Thaung Aye, a USDP member of parliament said by proceeding with the investigation, Myanmar will be bowing to international pressure and allegations, and expressed doubts that international bodies would accept the results of the investigation.
“It is questionable whether the international community will accept the findings of the investigation carried out by this group,” he said.
But the government is not giving up on its plan, although it tiptoes around the Tatmadaw.
Last week, Daw Aung Sa Suu Kyi called an urgent meeting with the military top brass to discuss the Rakhine issue, national security and international relations.
According to the President’s Office the meeting was attended by President U Win Myint, the State Counsellor, the vice presidents, the hluttaw speakers, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, his deputy, the Home Affairs minister, the minister of Defence, the minister of Border Affairs, the attorney-general and the deputy minister of the President’s Office.
According to a source associated with the military, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing kept mum during the meeting and did not make any comment after the State Counsellor explained what she aimed for with the creation of the commission.
The source said the Tatmadaw does not support the establishment of commission as it believed the Rakhine problem should not be internationalised and must be solved internally.
U Than Soe Naing, a political analyst, warned that if the Tatmadaw and the civilian authorities could not find common ground on the issue, the country’s political divide could widen.
He said the government and military must be transparent in their dealings in order to come up with a united response to the international fallout on the Rakhine crisis.
“It’s true that military may have concerns with the commission. However, if they discuss or cooperate transparently with each other I think they will overcome this. The problem is they are not transparent with each other,” he said.
U Khin Maung Tin, deputy minister of the State Counsellor’s Office, said the establishment of the commission is aimed at showing the world that Myanmar is a dutiful member of the international community which takes action according to the law against human right violations.
U Pe Than, a parliament member of the Arakan National Party, said the international approach only considers the human rights issue without factoring in security, which is very important in the Rakhine crisis.
“We have to wait and see who will lead the commission,” he said.
The house of a Muslim villager burns in Maungdaw township, Rakhine State, in August 2017.
A Muslim from northern Rakhine carries relief goods at a camp refugee in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, in February.