Prospects for Rakhine reconciliation dim

06 May 2013
In the media

Public dialogue on the Rohingya issue has become so polarized that “it is hard to say anything and stay neutral,” said Tom Kramer, who runs the Myanmar office of the Transnational Institute [...]

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Views are reflexively interpreted as "pro-Rohingya or pro-Rakhine, with nothing in between,” he added.

Meanwhile, rights groups have criticized authorities’ lack of progress in helping Rohingyas return to their homes and livelihoods, and in some cases they have accused the government of complicity in the Rohingyas’ displacement.

“Instead of addressing the problem, Burma’s leaders seem intent on keeping the Rohingya segregated in camps rather than planning for them to return to their homes,” said Human Rights Watch, which has repeatedly called on the government to put forward a plan to bring the displaced home.

Sustainable peace

Any peace-building effort in Rakhine State will also require looking at the long-standing grievances of the Rakhine Buddhist majority itself, TI’s Kramer said. These include economic concerns that are separate from the sectarian tensions, but which create an environment ill-disposed to reconciliation.

Despite an abundance of natural resources, Rakhine is the second-poorest state in Myanmar, after Chin State, with widespread unemployment and poverty. It receives little development assistance from the government and, according to a the medical charity Médecins sans Frontières, has historically received less investment in health care than other areas of the country.

“The Rohingyas' problems have been so great that there hasn’t been time to look at the Rakhine Buddhists' grievances,” Kramer said.

Chief among these is the historic exploitation of Rakhine State’s resources by the central government, he said. Like many of Myanmar’s border regions, Rakhine’s natural resources were pillaged for decades by the country’s ruling military. The waters off Rakhine State are rich in natural gas, much of it destined for China through a pipeline scheduled to be completed this year.

Sustainable solutions will require a commitment by the central government to share the benefits of resource-extraction projects in the state, Kramer noted.


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