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The Arakan State government has unanimously passed the appointment of Maj-Gen Maung Maung Ohn as chief minister of the volatile region.
“The regional parliament speaker today announced a unanimous decision by its representatives to appoint me as the chief minister of Arakan State,” Maung Maung Ohn told reporters outside the assembly in Sittwe on Monday.
“I am very gratified to be appointed and pledge to work relentlessly for the region,” he said.
Maung Maung Ohn was nominated by the President’s Office, which has the power to appoint the chief minister of any state or division. But the nomination was controversial with many Arakanese questioning the need for a senior military figure in a civilian role, while others voiced objection that he was ethnic Burman, not Arakanese.
Oo Hla Saw, secretary of the Arakan National Party, said his party’s MPs in the regional parliament did not attempt to block the nomination due to the fact that it would have been “fruitless” under the provision of the Constitution. Article 261(d) states that a regional parliament cannot refuse the president’s choice of chief minister unless it can be clearly proved that the person concerned does not meet the relevant qualifications.
“Honestly, we don’t like the fact the Maung Maung Ohn is our new chief minister. It leads us to doubt whether this is an attempt to tighten the military’s grip on the region,” he said. “However, on the other hand, having a military general – a strong figure – could also be a positive thing given the Bengali [Rohingya] Muslim issue.”
On Thursday, at an Arakan conference in Rangoon, Maung Maung Ohn promised to improve the living standards of the local population and restore stability to the region.
The 26- 28 June conference was hosted in Rangoon by Myanmar Peace Centre, which brought together politicians, civil society groups and other Arakanese Buddhist figures – though notably absent was any Rohingya Muslim representative despite the fact that the community makes up perhaps 30- 50 percent of the state’s population.
Discussions at the forum focused on measures to bring about stability and development in the restive region where at least 200 people have been killed and 140,000 displaced from their homes since inter-religious violence erupted between Buddhist Arakanese and Muslim Rohingyas two years ago.
Delegates also discussed conditions for allowing international humanitarian organisations to return to Arakan to continue relief work.
Saw Mra Raza Linn, a senior member of the Arakan Women’s Association, said Arakanese representatives on Friday stressed that INGOs, including the UN, must ensure relief programmes are transparent and not biased toward the Rohingya community – a common sentiment among the Buddhist Arakanese population.
“Arakanese representatives said they would welcome assistance from the international community, but only if the INGOs ensure their operations are transparent and impartial,” she said.
Saw Mra Raza Linn told DVB that the conference also included discussion on bringing development to Arakan State, and the acknowledgement that such infrastructure would not be possible without international help.
The two-day meeting was attended by government officials, including Maj-Gen Maung Maung Ohn, and international diplomats such as the UN secretary general’s special advisor on Burma, Vijay Nambiar.