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Myanmar elections to affect India positively

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Since the Nominal Civilian Government of Myanmar started working from 2011, the first ever free and fair elections took place in the country on Sunday. The Constitution has a provision of a reservation of 25% of the 666 seats for military officers. The military officers are chosen by the commander-in-chief. However, the army retains a veto over any modifications in the Constitution. Yet, it is being termed as one of the most democratic elections in the country.

The country, which has been under military rule for more than half a century, gave the Burmese population the right to vote without distress this year. This time, more than 30 million people were entitled to vote in the Myanmar elections. The free elections gained a major support in the form of Aung San Suu Kyi, the epitome of democratic efforts, who has been confronting the junta for years.

Wearing her symbolic flower thazin in her hair, Suu Kyi had, earlier, urged the international community to maintain a close eye on the Myanmar elections to keep it fair and just. She believed that the elections would be impartial and so, one of the most iconic events in the history of the country.

Voting took place peacefully with no serious instances of violence reported from anywhere as people were seen coming out smiling from polling stations.

Since 2011, the military-backed Union Solidarity Development Party (USDP) had led the authority. Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) is expected to bring fair democracy and thus have high chances of winning most of the parliamentary seats though she cannot become the President (as she has two British sons and the Constitution bans those with foreign children from the office).

Why are these elections important?

There are several reasons that make the Myanmar elections important, not only for Myanmar but to its neighbors as well. One of the main reasons is that these elections are expected to be completely fair and involve no manipulation by any forces in power. These elections have included most of the ethnic as well as religious groups in the electoral process, and most importantly, it is expected to bring in constitutional changes once the government is formed.

Even as these so called democratic elections took place in Myanmar yesterday, facts remain which scrutinize their integrity. One of the prime issues in the country and the reason for their severe criticism is the racial discrimination or ignorance towards human rights.

NDL lead by Suu Kyi is the ray of hope for the people living under harsh military rule and repression of monks. The Buddhist majority of the state has a clear and vocal delinquent against the minority Muslims (especially the Rohingya Muslims). Rohingyas are, constitutionally, not a part of the State even though generations of families have resided there. Minority Rohingya Muslims remained deprived of voting rights even in this election which leaves a question mark on the fairness of the Myanmar elections.

This has given rise to both resentment and sore feelings in the affected communities, particularly in view of the anti-Muslim riots two years ago, and the progression of a radical Buddhist nationalist movements.

Amid such discrimination, Suu Kyi, who promises to bring equality and eradicate discrimination from the society, seems to stand as an opportunity for people to come out of this disparity.

What is the significance of this election to India?

India and Myanmar share a 1,624-kilometer-long border, which has been the high point of cross-border insurgency between the countries.

Several critical issues are to be elucidated for an improvement in the relations between these neighboring countries. Myanmar’s betterment of relations with China on grounds of economic gains is of major concern to India, as it could lead to negligence from Burma’s foreign policies. There is a need to identify negotiations with various ethnic parties over a ceasefire agreement for a peaceful cross-border relation. These negotiations are expected to have long-term influence within Myanmar, as well as alongside the border with Nagaland and Manipur.

India would benefit by indicating a willingness to work with acknowledged indigenous groups to settle border differences. On the other hand, India also needs to develop a framework of strategic policies including Myanmar, Thailand, Bangladesh, Indonesia, and Malaysia to build a marine and land route on the outlines of China’s suggestions on the one belt highway.

At the same time, India also needs to focus on completing several planned and unfinished ventures that it has with Myanmar. Various governments have neglected and ignored several infrastructure development projects, cross-border trade, river networking proposals and energy investments schemes. These projects need to be finalized to achieve a solution to the last mile problems.

Since August 18, 2011, over three years of dialogues have taken place, consisting of more than nine official negotiations between the Government’s Union Peace Working Committee (UPWC) and the ethnic armed organizations’ Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT). Although, it produced some significant accomplishments in the initial stages, eventually only eight of the more than 20 ethnic armed groups signed the so-called Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) on October 15, 2015, well short of the nationwide agreement that was sought.

These arrangements were expected to provide relief to the cross-border insurgency issues between India and Myanmar and develop a peaceful coexistence.

If Suu Kyi wins the elections, India would see a ray of hope as she believes “India is her second home’’ and she looks up to India for their democratic governance. India can expect an in-depth bilateral conversation about the issues mentioned above and create improved relations. This can also lead to help resolve certain Northeast India issues.

Last week, Myanmar President Thein Sein asserted in an interview with a news agency, that the government and the military would provide full support to the democratic elections to make sure they “follow and respect the results of a free and fair election”.

The president described the elections as “the most meaningful and important one in Myanmar history”.

As a reply to Suu Kyi’s request to the international community to monitor the elections for an unbiased counting of votes, around 10,000 election monitors registered with the country’s election commission including delegations from the United States, the European Union, and Japan. Electorates themselves were also vigilant with the help of social media.

The election commission said it would be announcing the results from Monday at 9 AM and would continue throughout the day and the entire week.

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Over 7,000 people granted National Verification Cards (NVC) in Rakhine State of Myanmar

Aung San Suu Kyi has prioritized three main tasks for Rakhine - repatriation of refugees who have crossed over to Bangladesh and providing humanitarian assistance effectively; resettlement and rehabilitation; and bringing development and lasting peace to the region

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Displaced Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine. Wikimedia.

Myanmar, October 29, 2017 : More than 7,000 people have been granted national verification cards (NVC) in Myanmar’s Rakhine since an authentication process started on October 1, authorities said on Sunday.

The process is one of the recommendations proposed by an advisory commission on the state, led by former UN chief Kofi Annan, reports Xinhua news agency.

Using biometric methods for the national identity system, the process is being carried out in areas where stability returned to normalcy, U Aung Min, director of the Rakhine State Immigration and Population Department, said.

National verification process is the first step toward scrutinizing citizenship in accordance with the 1982 Citizenship Law, the officer said, urging local people to hold national verification cards as long as they live in Myanmar under the 1949 and 1951 Union Citizenship Acts.

Meanwhile, Myanmar has formed nine private sector task forces to join the mechanism of Union Enterprises for Humanitarian Assistance, Resettlement and Development (UEHRD) in Rakhine, chaired by State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi.

ALSO READ UN Report on Rohingya Hunger Crisis Suspended on Order of Myanmar Government

The newly established mechanism aims to allow the government and all local and international organizations to work in all sectors and all strata of society for the development of the state.

Suu Kyi prioritised three main tasks for Rakhine – repatriation of refugees who have crossed over to Bangladesh and providing humanitarian assistance effectively; resettlement and rehabilitation; and bringing development and lasting peace to the region.

The government is also ready to implement a national verification and repatriation process in accordance with agreed criteria set out in a joint statement between foreign ministries of Myanmar and Bangladesh in 1992. (IANS)

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Myanmar’s Rohingya Insurgency issues detailed list of demands this week that struck a far more pragmatic note

A detailed list of demands was issued this week that struck a far more pragmatic note while describing the use of violence in the past as self-defense

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Rohingya refugees collect aid supplies including food and medicine, sent from Malaysia, at Kutupalang Unregistered Refugee Camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, Feb. 15, 2017, VOA

Yangon, March 30, 2017: The Rohingya Muslim insurgency, whose sneak attacks in October killed nine border guard officers in Myanmar’s northern Rakhine State, issued a detailed list of demands this week that struck a far more pragmatic note while describing the use of violence in the past as self-defense.

Ata Ullah, the commander of the Faith Movement, now rebranded as the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), signed the March 29 list, which has been verified and seems to have been timed to the anniversary of Aung San Suu Kyi’s first year in power. Arakan is another name for Rakhine.

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A new presentation

In a preamble to the 20 demands, the ARSA said it does not associate with any terrorist organizations, eschews attacks against civilians and religious minorities, and wants to state “loud and clear” that its “defensive attacks” are only aimed at the “oppressive Burmese regime.” They said they would support international peacekeeping troops in the state.

Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy, won elections in late 2015 and swore in its president, Htin Kyaw, one year ago today. Suu Kyi, barred from the presidency by the 2008 military-drafted constitution, assumed the roles of foreign minister and state counselor. But the military still controls 25 percent of parliament and three key ministries.

By far the most polished and level-headed presentation of the group’s goals, the list stands in stark contrast to grainy YouTube videos posted in the days after the attack, which showed men holding guns and reading off declarations in a forest hideout.

Among other things, the demands include calls for political representation, citizenship rights, access to relief aid, education opportunities, freedom of movement and religion, the return of property, the ability to participate in trade and commercial activities, and the return of Rohingya refugees.

“It’s significant they deny connections to terrorist organizations, deny targeting civilians, and speak mostly of rights-based objectives,” said Matthew Smith, executive director of the NGO Fortify Rights, in an email. “We have no evidence that the group is well-trained, well-financed, or well-organized, but it’s clear they aren’t going anywhere.”

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Muslim insurgencies began in 1940s

Since Myanmar became independent in 1948, Muslim insurgencies in Rakhine have emerged under different political contexts over the decades, a reflection of self-determination sought by members of other faiths and ethnic groups across the country. Myanmar does not recognize the Rohingya as one of its many ethnic groups, denies them citizenship and has pushed them out of the political sphere.

The International Crisis Group said in a report last year that the Faith Movement was formed around 2012 after inter-communal violence in Rakhine killed hundreds and sent more than 120,000 Rohingya into IDP camps in the state capital Sittwe, where they remain today. Its leaders are centered in the Rohingya diaspora in Saudi Arabia, the report said.

Accusations of atrocities

As part of the hunt for militants in the wake of the October attacks, Myanmar’s armed forces have been accused of numerous atrocities, including rape and arson. An estimated 1,000 people have been killed.

The government has vehemently denied the more serious of the accusations, but mounting testimonies pushed the United Nations Human Rights Council to green light a fact-finding mission last week. It is not clear whether the U.N. will gain access.

Meanwhile, tens of thousands of Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh, and the area of the state where the attacks occurred remains under lockdown except for rare visits and supervised tours.

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A hard line by the Myanmar military

Zaw Htay, a spokesman for the president’s office, did not immediately return requests for comment on the Rohingya demands. But Myanmar’s Commander-in-Chief, Min Aung Hlaing this week gave an indication of how the government will view the demands of the ARSA and the prospect of a U.N. probe.

At the annual Armed Forces Day in the capital Naypyitaw, the general called the Rohingya illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

“We have already let the world know that we don’t have Rohingya in our country,” he said, according to reports of his speech.

Two senior U.N. officials working among the Rohingya refugees said more than 1,000 Rohingya might have been killed during the four-month security operation. However, Myanmar presidential spokesman Zaw Htay has previously said fewer than 100 people had been killed during the operation. (VOA)

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Rakhine Crisis: Myanmar state counselor calls on ASEAN for support

Rakhine is home to roughly 1.1 million stateless Muslim Rohingya who live in squalid refugee camps after being displaced by communal violence with Rakhine Buddhists in 2012

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Rakhine Crisis
Aung San Suu Kyi. Wikimedia
  • Myanmar State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi on Friday asked member states of a regional economic and security organization for “constructive support” in resolving the Rakhine Crisis
  • Rakhine is home to roughly 1.1 million stateless Muslim Rohingya who live in squalid refugee camps after being displaced by communal violence with Rakhine Buddhists in 2012 that left more than 200 people dead
  • “We are working to build understanding, harmony and trust between communities while standing firm against prejudice, intolerance, and extremism,” Aung San Suu Kyi told the member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)

Oct 04, 2016: Myanmar State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi on Friday asked member states of a regional economic and security organization for “constructive support” in resolving the Rakhine crisis in the country’s troubled western Rakhine state.

Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s de facto national leader, is trying to drum up regional support for an advisory commission on Rakhine which she created in late August to review conflict resolution between majority Buddhists and minority Muslim Rohingya in the restive state. It will also look at humanitarian assistance, development issues, and strengthening local institutions.

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Buddhist nationalists and political parties in Rakhine oppose the appointment of three foreigners to the commission, including former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who chairs the body and have called for its disbandment.

“We are working to build understanding, harmony, and trust between communities while standing firm against prejudice, intolerance, and extremism,” Aung San Suu Kyi told the member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) at the body’s Inter-Parliamentary Assembly which is meeting on Sept. 30-Oct. 3 in Myanmar’s capital Naypyidaw. “In doing so, we ask for the constructive support of our regional neighbors.”

“Progress in every field will not be possible overnight, but we are determined to persevere to bring about positive change in Rakhine state as in other areas of our country affected by conflict,” she said.

Rakhine is home to roughly 1.1 million stateless Muslim Rohingya, considered illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, who face persecution and are denied basic rights, including those of citizenship and freedom of movement. Their plight has drawn condemnation from the international community.

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About 120,000 Rohingya live in squalid refugee camps after being displaced by communal violence with Rakhine Buddhists in 2012 that left more than 200 people dead.

Rakhine Crisis
Emergency food, drinking water and shelter to help people displaced in Rakhine State. Representational image. Wikimedia

The Buddhists and the state’s dominant Arakan National Party (ANP) believe that the three foreign members of the advisory commission will side with the Rohingya and turn the issue into an international one. The commission’s six other members are Myanmar citizens.

Annan, who was heckled by protesters during the commission’s first visit to Rakhine in early September, later told reporters at a press conference in the commercial capital Yangon that the body’s mandate is to provide recommendations to the government on measures for finding solutions to the state’s complex problems in accordance with international standards, and that it will remain “rigorously impartial.”

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The commission must submit a report on its findings to the Myanmar government in 12 months.

A previous investigative committee was formed just after the outbreak of communal violence in 2012, but the suggestions it provided in a subsequent report were not implemented.

(BBG Direct)