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Rohingya, Rakhines need to rebuilt trust, says Indonesia foreign minister

Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa  walking with local residents during a visit to western Myanmar's Rakhine state.

Sujadi Siswo 
Channel News Asia
January 8, 2013

RAKHINE, Myanmar: Indonesia's Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa has visited Myanmar's troubled Rakhine state, and the areas affected by sectarian violence. 

His visit was at the invitation of the Myanmar government.

Dr Natalegawa will make recommendations based on what he saw. 

More than 100,000 people are living in refugee camps, since fleeing inter-communal fighting that erupted last year. 

The overwhelming majority of those displaced are Muslims.

Indonesia has also pledged US$1 million in humanitarian assistance.

Dr Natalegawa shared his impressions soon after he wrapped up his trip.

He said it was crucial that trust be rebuilt between the Rohingya and ethnic Rakhines in the state.

Dr Natalegawa said: "The main impressions I had of my short visit to the area yesterday was that we are involved basically not only in the physical reconstruction and rehabilitation of the damage caused by the recent violence, but we must also nurture a sense of confidence, a sense of reconciliation among the different communities. 

"There is a tremendous sense of distrust between the two sides and we must return that sense of harmony that existed previously. It's no good having them segregated into one community and simply getting along, co-existing. They must be reconciled. They must be brought together. 

"In the end, we believe the efforts that must be introduced must be a sustainable one. It means it must be driven by communities themselves in the Rakhine state. And therefore, critical that both the Rohingya and Rakhine groups begin to have reconciliation, begin to have harmony reintroduced amongst themselves. It was quite surreal in many instances. These villages are very proximate to one another, and yet they are so distant in terms of trust and confidence."

He also reiterated the need to look beyond the immediate humanitarian response.

Dr Natalegawa said: "Economic opportunities are obviously very important. We must proceed beyond humanitarian emergency response, but we must provide economic opportunities. The prospect of better living conditions. these are the kind of things we in Southeast Asia, neighbours of Myanmar, must think beyond the emergency phase. 

"And I must say the scale of the challenge is pretty obvious, but Indonesia is ready to continue to lend support to Myanmar. This is because this is very much part and parcel of Myanmar's democratisation efforts."

He added that the Myanmar government was receptive of Indonesia's moves to find a solution to the ethnic conflict in Rakhine.

Dr Natalegawa said: "I think the Myanmar authorities have confidence in Indonesia's capacity to understand the situation in an objective manner. Over the years, we have similiarly done a bit more low-key in encouraging progress of democratisation in Myanmar. 

"We were also part of the process where Myanmar eventually got the ASEAN chairmanship in 2014, in return for certain expectations to take place. So I think this is a pathway that we have done in the past and we will continue to nurture a sense of trust and confidence by all concerned in Myanmar on this process."

Meanwhile, the United Nations Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Myanmar said what the refugees need most urgently is proper shelter, especially with the rainy season approaching.

Mr Ashok Nigam also reiterated that security is a perennial concern in Rakhine.

"At this time, many of the IDPs cannot move out of their camps because of concerns of conflict between the two communities. So security is a concern that we always have at this time. We have other issues with regards to shelter. We need land for shelter. These people have been displaced and to find land in the places where they were originally living is difficult in some cases, and that is taking time, so shelter is taking time," he said.

The UN and its partners in Myanmar have put up a Rakhine Response Plan to meet humanitarian needs till June this year.

But the US$68 million plan is still short of some $41 million.

The UN office in Myanmar is also working with the Thein Sein administration to help find a permanent solution for the Rohingya and the Rakhine community.

Mr Ashok Nigam said: "We are in dialogue with the government that we need to address the reconciliation between the two communities or at the very least the co-existence - peaceful co-existence of the two communities in this context. To address this we have to address some of the very root causes of this conflict - which lie in the lack of citizenship for many of the Muslims in the Rakhine State, which prevents them from moving around freely in the country."

Any proposed solution will likely come from the independent commission of inquiry set up by the government following the outbreak of conflict in June last year.

Mr Ashok Nigam added: "It is a commission which incorporates 27 members across society. It is to come up with both the reasons for the violence and also recommendations on what next needs to be done. So the commission's findings will be very important. And we certainly hope that they will provide more ideas and directions in moving forward and that's what the government is looking for from the commission."

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