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Rakhine State minister warns NGOs not to interfere in ‘white card’ issue

Rakhine State Chief Minister U Maung Maung Ohn. Photo: Mizzima

By Kay Zue
February 14, 2015

Rakhine State Chief Minister U Maung Maung Ohn has warned international NGOs in Rakhine State not to interfere in affairs related to the “anti-white card campaign” and the process of revoking the temporary identification cards. 

The chief minister summoned representatives from foreign NGOs to his office on February 12 to warn them not to interfere in the sensitive issue, after issuing a public statement saying ‘white card’ holders must hand over their cards to the authorities. 

The Nay Pyi Taw government has called on all white card holders in the country, who are said to number around 1.5 million people, to hand in their temporary ID cards by March 31. 

“I warned NGOs not to interfere affairs related to the white card. I told them just to focus on their aid operations,” U Maung Maung Ohn told media on February 13. 

There are more than 20 foreign NGOs carrying out aid operations in refugee camps in the Rakhine State under agreements with the Union government, according to U Maung Maung Ohn.

“This is a period when residents and NGOs are trying to build understanding, therefore, as Chief Minister, I warned them in advance to be careful. That is not to say I am making allegations against those NGOs,” he said.

Meanwhile, some people believe that white card holders in Rakhine State who hand over their cards to the authorities and meet the requirements will get national ID cards.

According to U Aung Win, a temporary ID holder, some white card holders identify themselves as Rohingya and are not willing to accept being labeled Bengali, so the process is likely to be complex.

The Myanmar government does not accept the label Rohingya, instead calling the people Bengali, in effect implying they are illegal Muslim immigrants from Bangladesh.

Foreign NGOs have run into difficulties in Rakhine State. Medicins Sans Frontieres, also known as Doctors Without Borders, was forced to leave in March 2014, after years of running programmes. In the same month, residents in Sittwe accused a foreign NGO worker of handling a Buddhist flag in an impolite manner, leading to demonstrations and angry mobs attacking the buildings of foreign NGOs.MSF were allowed to return to the state in December.

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