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State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi on Thursday announced the formation of yet another body with the challenging portfolio of improving the situation in crisis-stricken Arakan State, saying it would include a broad spectrum of actors, both domestic and foreign.
“For the development of Rakhine [Arakan] State, to implement projects in all sectors, we need a mechanism which allows the Union government, the people, the private sector, local NGOs and CSOs, friendly countries, UN agencies, INGOs to work together in cooperation,” she said, branding her new creation the Union Enterprise for Humanitarian Assistance, Resettlement and Development in Rakhine.
In a televised speech stressing a need for national unity, the state counsellor also addressed the growing international attention the crisis has attracted as more than half a million Rohingya Muslims have poured across the border into Bangladesh, with many recounting tales of grave human rights abuses allegedly perpetrated by Burmese security forces.
“There has been a lot of criticisms against our country. We need to understand international opinion. However, just as no one can fully understand the situation of our country the way we do, no one can desire peace and development for our country more than us,” she said.
The mass exodus was prompted by a heavy-handed security response to attacks by Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) militants on several police outposts on 25 August. The ensuing crackdown has been described by the UN’s top human rights official as a “textbook case of ethnic cleansing.”
Suu Kyi’s speech made no mention of the allegations leveled against security forces, which she has no formal control over under the military-drafted constitution. State media in recent weeks, however, has offered repeated denials of the human rights allegations, often ascribing frequently unspecified nefarious motives to the international community and foreign coverage of the situation in Arakan State.
“Rather than rebutting criticisms and allegations with words, we will show the world by our actions and our deeds. In the Rakhine State, there are so many things to be done,” Suu Kyi said on Thursday.
The state counsellor listed repatriation of those who have fled to Bangladesh as a top priority, a task that is certain to face practical and political hurdles. She also stressed the need for development in the region, one of Burma’s poorest.
The Union Enterprise for Humanitarian Assistance, Resettlement and Development in Rakhine will be chaired by Suu Kyi. Its vice chair, Minister for Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement Win Myat Aye, also heads a separate body charged with implementing the recommendations of the Rakhine Advisory Commission, which was led by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
The commission headed by Annan issued its final report, detailing 88 recommendations for improving lives and inter-religious dynamics in Arakan State, on 24 August, hours before ARSA militants staged the coordinated attacks that have led to the latest turmoil to afflict western Burma.
Suu Kyi said information on “how you can help and how to communicate with us,” presumably referring to the new “Union Enterprise,” would be made available on 15 October.
“We will use the power of truth and purity, so that this Enterprise will be worthy of being called a ‘milestone’ in our history,” she said.