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New leadership could benefit Rakhine: US

(Photo: Nyo Ohn Myint)

By Sann Oo
June 30, 2014

The appointment of a new chief minister in Rakhine State could result in the easing of some restrictions on international organisations operating in the state, a senior United States official said last week.

Speaking at the end of his seven-day visit, assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labour Tom Malinowski also said the US believes humanitarian issues in the state are more pressing than questions of reconciliation or citizenship.

“We hope to see in the coming days, with the new leadership in Rakhine State, a resolution for some of the problems that prevented organisations like [Médecins Sans Frontières] delivering assistance to people who need it to live,” he said on June 28.

Major General Maung Maung Ohn – until recently deputy minister for border affairs – was nominated by the President’s Office to take over as chief minister from U Hla Maung Tin, who was given permission to resign on June 19. A senior government official said he left because of his deteriorating health and concerns that this may hinder his ability to manage the state’s problems.

However, rumours of his resignation have been swirling since late March, when the offices of INGOs were attacked by ethnic Rakhine mobs because of perceived bias to the state’s Muslim population. Aid groups were forced to pull out staff and halt operations, leaving thousands of people who rely on aid short of food, drinking water and medical supplies. Through April and May INGOs got permission to return but according to the United Nations they face “logistical” difficulties, one of which is finding locals willing to rent them offices and homes.

Mr Malinowski, who was working for Human Rights Watch when the group accused the government and ethnic Rakhine groups of “ethnic cleansing” against Muslims in the state, said the most urgent task in Rakhine is to address the humanitarian situation.

“People need medicine, people need foods, and people need safe and security. The government has released a draft action plan and that action plan is step in the right direction [but] what’s important is action,” he said.

While Mr Malinowski did not visit Rakhine State, he said he discussed it with key political and community leaders in meetings in Yangon and Nay Pyi Taw.

The US embassy in Yangon denied reports that the government refused to give Mr Malinowski permission to visit Rakhine but did not explain the reasons for visiting Kayin and Kayah state instead.

Mr Malinowski said Rakhine State’s problems could only be resolved through a process of dialogue that involves all groups.

“In the longer term we hope that the process of dialogue between the two communities and the government [can] resolve the more complicated questions of citizenship and reintegration between the two communities,” he said.

“There is no solution other than they find a way to live together. And we hope to see that happen.”

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