Maj-Gen Maung Maung Ohn, nominated by the President’s Office as the next chief minister of Arakan State, has pledged to improve the living standards of the local population and restore stability to the region.
Responding to a question by a DVB reporter at a meeting to discuss Arakanese issues, hosted by the Myanmar Peace Centre in Rangoon on Thursday, Maung Maung Ohn said, “I would like to prioritise improving the living standards of Rakhine [Arakanese] people while at the same time trying to reduce conflict.
“I can see that many Arakanese people are living in poverty and feel a strong sense of antipathy toward the other community,” he said. “What we have to do, first and foremost, is explore solutions to these issues.”
By “other community”, the senior military man was clearly referring to the Muslim Rohingya community, which makes up a majority in several parts of the region. Inter-communal tensions between Arakanese Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims boiled over in 2012, and the subsequent mob violence resulted in at least 200 deaths and some 140,000 people displaced from their homes.
“I think it will be hard for us to resolve this sensitive issue, so perhaps all we can do for now is improve people’s livelihoods,” said Maung Maung Ohn, who was border affairs deputy minister until recently appointed member of parliament. “This is what I plan to do when I take office – if we can significantly improve people’s standard of living, we can steadily resolve the sectarian issues.”
Maung Maung Ohn was joined at the conference on Thursday by senior government officials and representatives from Arakan-based political parties and civic society groups, as well as United Nations’ Special Advisor to Myanmar Vijay Nambiar.
Also in attendance was the chairman of the Rakhine National Network, Tin Htoo Aung, who told DVB afterwards that the government had presented a plan of action to tackle the crisis in Arakan State.
“The government representatives spoke about an action plan – this was a significant part of the meeting – and so I think our responsibility is to wait and see if they can implement it or not, and how we can cooperate,” he said.
He said that President Thein Sein has allocated a 15 billion kyat (US$15 million) budget for developing Arakan State, which is the poorest region in Burma next to Chin State.
Maung Maung Ohn said he understood that he is not the most popular candidate for the position of chief minister among many Arakanese, but vowed that he would do the best he can, and would regard the locals as his own family members.
“There were objections against me in the meeting today, but I understand the emotions. I don’t blame anyone,” said the major-general.
Meanwhile, the influential Arakan National Party (ANP) – a recent merger of the two previous largest nationalist parties in Arakan State – has released a statement calling for appointment of an ethnic Arakanese as chief minister. Maung Maung Ohn is a Burman.
The regional parliament resumes on 30 June when it is expected that Maung Maung Ohn’s appointment as chief minister will be finalised.