- Rakhine State's new chief minister U Nyi Pu
- By Nyan Lynn Aung | Thursday, 28 April 2016
Rakhine State's new chief minister says both Buddhist and Muslim communities displaced by conflict need more aid before the onset of the monsoon season.
U Nyi Pu of the National League for Democracy told The Myanmar Times yesterday on his return from IDP camps near Mrauk-U damaged by storms last week that he intended personally to visit camps for internally displaced people from both communities.
"The government has to provide displaced people with settlements that are good, safe and comfortable places for both communities," he said by telephone from the capital Sittwe.
The international community is also mobilising aid for civilians displaced by renewed fighting this month between the Tatmadaw and the Arakan Army, an ethnic armed group based in northern Kachin State but with its roots in Rakhine State's Buddhist majority.
Pierre Peron, spokesperson for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said UN aid workers this week had visited six out of eight locations where an estimated total of about 1000 recently displaced civilians are sheltering in the townships of Buthidaung, Kyauktaw and Rathedaung.
Many are staying in currently empty schools. Mr Peron said the government had provided food for the IDPs, but there was a need for sleeping mats, cooking utensils, more water and sanitation.
"We are mobilising our response to reach the most vulnerable to provide non-food items," he said.
The small camps visited by U Ni Pu near the ancient Arakanese capital of Mrauk-U are sheltering a total of about 100 Rakhine Buddhists displaced in late 2015 by clashes between the Arakan Army and the Tatmadaw. Others are staying with relatives.
U Ni Pu said he would also visit IDP camps with the Japan International Cooperation Agency before the end of the month.
While the government is hoping that the recently displaced villagers will soon return to their homes – some in remote hills close to Chin State – aid workers are concerned there will be no let-up in the military offensives against the Arakan Army, meaning shelters will soon be needed once students return to classes in June.
More than 100,000 mostly stateless Muslim Rohingya – officially referred to as Bengalis – make up the large majority of IDPs in Rakhine following communal violence that erupted in 2012. However, U Ni Pu's remarks and his decision to first visit displaced Buddhists reflect the political pressure he is under from the Arakan National Party (ANP).
The ANP, which defends the interests of the Buddhist majority, emerged as the single biggest party in the state in last November's elections but was denied the position of chief minister by NLD leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.
ANP secretary U Tun Aung Kyaw said the chief minister should personally visit civilians displaced by armed conflict as much as possible to show his sympathy.
"We have been waiting for and watching the new government, and its actions disappointed us because we could not see enthusiasm on the part of the Rakhine chief minister," he said.
Responding to criticism, U Nyi Pu said, "We will take action step by step for all aspects of development in Rakhine State but improvements take time in some cases. However we will not be neglecting any cases."
The state's information department said some state ministers and members of the ANP had gone together to see Rakhine civilians displaced by the recent fighting between the Arakan Army and the Tatmadaw. They said rice, oil, medicine and instant noodles were delivered.
U Min Aung, a minister for urban development, said it had been the first time that the new government had visited camps for displaced Rakhine. "It is our responsibility to help people. We don't want to be blamed by the people that we are not different from the previous government. We must show we are really a government of the people," he said.