Rt a democratic and r, outgoing envoy says
Last month, Myanmar poet Saw Wai penned an open letter to Dublinbored Bono, an Irish vocalist. The letter confuses Ireland with the UK, saying “Let me remind you that your country, the UK, chose to separate from the European Union because you could not bear the extremist immigrants invading and living in your country” and “We [Myanmar] are looking for a peaceful solution to the problem that your forefathers began in 1824.” (The Myanmar Times has since removed the texts in quotations on its website.) No doubt, Ireland did not vote for Brexit or colonise then-burma. For a long time, the Irish question did dominate the UK’S politics, and there was a long and tumultuous history embroiling Northern Ireland in violence.
The envoy said it was a long and difficult process for people on both sides to abandon the hostility and end the violence, culminating in the Good Friday Agreement signed in 1998.
“There were brave people in both sides of the divide in Northern Ireland who wanted to work with the other community to avoid violence. Over time, what happened in the UK is that both sides realised that they couldn’t win militarily. There was no military solution in Northern Ireland. Eventually people came out to the idea that they had to be peace for a way forward; they had to be in negotiation; they had to be in agreement; they could find an agreement and the people could try and live together peacefully.
“One of the things that was most difficult was the reform of the security sector. The police were restructured in Northern Ireland as part of this deal. That was a very difficult decision but it was the only way which the minority community could be made to feel safe - by having a more balanced police force. I’m not here giving any particular lessons from Myanmar, I’m just saying that’s the situation,” he elaborated. In the past, Britain has taken political leaders, including Aung San Suu Kyi, to Northern Ireland to look at the history.
Bumpy road ahead With the ongoing humanitarian crisis in northern Rakhine as well as escalating conflicts in Kachin and other areas. There is clearly a reputational risk for foreign investors to come here. The ambassador’s advice for Nay Pyi Taw is the need to reconcile the two competing views of the crisis.
“Clearly anyone who lives here knows that there is one view of the Rakhine crisis here. Outside the country, there is a completely different view of the Rakhine crisis than inside the country. Until we can reconcile those two views, we’re going to have these issues of reputation risks,” the diplomat stated.
Apart from addressing the issue of refugee repatriation, it’s necessary to find a way to address the questions about what happened. The two different views can only really be reconciled if there is “a credible independent enquiry looking to what happened” and “hopefully resolve the situation”.
“In the West, people pay a lot of attention to the terrible stories coming from, terrible accounts that are coming from the camps, and that has a big, big impact, and I think that will always be [the case]. Unless you can find some way to have an independent assessment of what happened, you’ll always be on the defensive,” he observed.
It is not a problem of communications - it is about the substance.
“Most of the outside world has called what happened ‘ethnic cleansing’ and have very serious concerns that significant crimes took place in Rakhine. Most Myanmar people who I speak to think this is a terrorist attack on Myanmar and that the army did its duty and that the allegations are exaggerated. That’s not a problem with communication, that’s a problem with substance. Those are two totally different accounts of what happened,” the envoy continued.
Reform momentum crucial Ambassador Patrick stressed that the government is dealing with challenges on many fronts. Over the last year, the authorities have stabilised the economy, bringing down the inflation, tackling the national debt, the exchange rate and so on.
“People are disappointed by the rate of economic growth. I think it’s important to remember the history this is a government newly in power, it’s coming into power after more than sixty years of military rule.
“Unfortunately for the economy, a lot of people look at the political situation of Rakhine. The headlines about Rakhine do affect the way businesses in Europe and the US see this country. It does make people more cautious about investing,” the diplomat continued.