Too often, the government is unwilling to engage with those who hold different views and are not afraid to express them.

ONE THING we learned last month: The National League for Democracy government had a great opportunity after the 2015 election. It may have squandered it.

On January 25, the People’s Alliance for Credible Elections released the results of a nationwide opinion poll, based on interviews with more than 2,800 people in all states and regions in November 2017.

The standout finding was that interpersonal trust had fallen dramatically from when the survey was last conducted, in May 2016 – just two months after the NLD took office. Then, 37 percent of those surveyed said most people could be trusted; the figure is now just 17 percent.

This lower figure was similar to surveys conducted before the election. For a brief period after the NLD took office, people felt differently towards each other. They weren’t so suspicious. They believed that they could work together.

Okay, Myanmar wasn’t pushing Nordic levels of interpersonal trust, but a two-fold increase in the space of a year is significant. We don’t know for sure that it was the election and transition that did this. But powerful events have in the past had a similar effect. Surveys conducted in the United States after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks found that trust in government had doubled almost overnight.

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Unfortunately, though, trust can dissipate quickly. We’re now back where we were before the election. Three quarters of people believe they need to be very careful when dealing with people they don’t know.

So how to build trust? A sense of security, through application of laws and delivery of justice, are important. We also need to create a feeling of unity, of inclusion, of community. We engage with people who are different with us; participation in civic or sporting activities has been shown to build social capital, of which trust is a component. Perhaps State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was on to something when she encouraged everyone to get out and pick up trash together. If it brought together people of different ethnicity, age, social status, political persuasion and religion, it may have helped to build if not trust, then at least some mutual understanding between these groups.

And this matters. The impact of higher levels of trust has been well documented. It results in better health and education outcomes, and less crime and corruption. People tend to be happier and more comfortable with each other. Deals can be sealed with a handshake instead of a team of lawyers. People feel comfortable paying taxes because they believe it will end up in government coffers (and used properly).

In short, trust is important for many of the things Myanmar is trying to achieve.

Even if the NLD has not been responsible for causing the dramatic drop in trust since May 2016, Frontier would argue that it failed to take advantage of the opportunity it was presented in early 2016. It moved too slowly on key reforms, alienated many with its style of governance, failed to clearly define a strategy, persisted with incompetent officials and communicated its activities poorly.

It was timely then that Aung San Suu Kyi on January 31 issued a call for unity and cooperation during an address to mark the second anniversary of the convening of parliament after the 2015 election.

She invited lawmakers from all parties to work with her government in a spirit of cooperation, but also emphasised the need for diversity. “Doing things together with like-minded people is actually not a spirit of democracy. Democracy accepts differences. It is a system that came about from the spirit of achieving unity through diversity.”

Too often, though, the government is unwilling to engage with those who hold different views and are not afraid to express them. Groups such as civil society, the media, students and NGOs are rarely consulted; instead, they are avoided, ignored or disparaged. 

It is only through a clear understanding of each other’s ideas, motivations and beliefs that mutual respect and trust can be built. The first step is to start listening.

This editorial first appeared in the February 8 issue of Frontier. 

ကျော်ရဲလင်း ရေးသားသည်။

မကြာသေးမီက ပြုလုပ်ခဲ့သည့် တပ်မတော်၏ စစ်ရေးလေ့ကျင့်မှုကြီးအပြီးတွင် ပျက်စီးခဲ့သည့် အဆောက်အအုံများအတွက် လျော်ကြေးပေးရန် ကမ်းလှမ်းမှုများကို ကြိုဆိုသော်လည်း ပစ်မှတ်လွဲသွားသည့် ကျည်ဖူးများအားလုံး ပြန်လည် မတွေ့တော့ရှိမည်နှင့် မပေါက်ကွဲအောင် မပြုလုပ်နိုင်မည်ကို ဒေသခံများက စိုးရိမ်လျက်ရှိသည်။

ယခုလအစောပိုင်းက ကြည်း၊ ရေ၊ လေ ပူးပေါင်း စစ်ရေးလေ့ကျင့်မှုကြီးကို ဧရာဝတီတိုင်းဒေသကြီး အနောက်ဘက် ကမ်းရိုးတန်းအနီး ပြုလုပ်ခဲ့ပြီးနောက် ပစ်မှတ်လွဲသွားပြီး မပေါက်ကွဲသေးသည့် အမြောက်ဆန်များ၊ ဗုံးများကြောင့် ထိုကမ်းရိုးတန်းပေါ်ရှိ ရွာများတွင် နေထိုင်သူများက စိုးရိမ်လျက်ရှိကြသည်။

ဖေဖော်ဝါရီ ၂ ရက်မှ ၄ ရက်နေ့အတွင်းက ငွေသောင်ယံကမ်းခြေ၏ မြောက်ဖက် ကီလိုမီတာအနည်းငယ်ခန့်အကွာတွင် ပြုလုပ်ခဲ့သည် စစ်ရေးလေ့ကျင့်မှုသည် နှစ်ပေါင်း ၂၀ ကျော်ကာလအတွင်း တပ်မတော်က ပြုလုပ်သည့် အကြီးမားဆုံး ပူးပေါင်း စစ်ရေးလေ့ကျင့်မှုဖြစ်သည်။ ၁၇၆၃ မှ ၁၇၇၆ ခုနှစ်များအတွင်း တရုတ်၊ ထိုင်းတို့နှင့် တိုက်ခိုက်ခဲ့သည့် စစ်ပွဲများကို အနိုင်ရရှိခဲ့သည့် ကုန်းဘောင်မင်းဆက် တစ်ဦးဖြစ်သူ ဆင်ဖြူရှင်ကို အစွဲပြုပြီး စစ်ရေးလေ့ကျင့်မှုကို “ဆင်ဖြူရှင်” ဟု တပ်မတော်က အမည်ပေးခဲ့သည်။

တပ်မတော် ကာကွယ်ရေးဦးစီးချုပ်ရုံးက ထုတ်ပြန်ခဲ့သည့် စစ်ရေးလေ့ကျင့်မှု မှတ်တမ်းဓာတ်ပုံ။

တပ်မတော် ကာကွယ်ရေးဦးစီးချုပ်ရုံးက ထုတ်ပြန်ခဲ့သည့် စစ်ရေးလေ့ကျင့်မှု မှတ်တမ်းဓာတ်ပုံ။

စစ်ရေးလေ့ကျင့်မှုတွင် တပ်ဖွဲ့ဝင် ၈,၀၀၀ ပါဝင်သည်ဟု သိရပြီး စစ်သင်္ဘောများမှ ဒုံးကျည်များဖြင့် ပစ်မှတ်များသို့ ပစ်ခတ်သည့် လေ့ကျင့်ခန်းများ၊ ထို့နောက် ယင်းပစ်မှတ်များကိုပင် ဂျက်တိုက်လေယာဉ်များ၊ ရဟတ်ယာဉ်များက တိုက်ခိုက်ပြီးနောက် ကမ်းခြေသို့ တက်ရောက်ကာ ခြေလျင်တပ်များက သိမ်းပိုက်သည့် လေ့ကျင့်ခန်းများ ပါဝင်ခဲ့သည်။ လေ့ကျင့်သည့် တပ်ဖွဲ့ဝင်များကို တပ်မတော် ကာကွယ်ရေးဦးစီးချုပ် ဗိုလ်ချုပ်မှူးကြီး မင်းအောင်လှိုင်က ချီးကျူးခဲ့ပြီး အောင်မြင်မှုရှိသည့် လေ့ကျင့်မှုအဖြစ် ပြောကြားခဲ့သည်။

သို့သော်လည်း လေ့ကျင့်မှုအတွင်း ပစ်မှတ်လွဲချော်မှုများနှင့် ပတ်သက်၍ စိုးရိမ်ကြောင်းလည်း ၎င်းက ပြောကြားခဲ့သည်ဟု မြန်မာတိုင်းမ်က ရေးသားဖော်ပြထားသည်။ နည်းပညာအမှား၊ သို့မဟုတ် လူအမှားကြောင့် ပစ်မှတ်များ လွဲချော်သည်ကို တပ်မတော်က သိရှိရန်လိုအပ်သည်ဟု ဗိုလ်ချုပ်မှူးကြီး၏ ပြောကြားချက်ကို ကိုးကားဖော်ပြခဲ့သည်။

ထို့ကြောင့် ပိုမိုလေ့ကျင့်ရန် လိုအပ်နေသည်ဟု ၎င်းက ပြောကြားခဲ့သလို တိုက်ခိုက်ရေးစွမ်းရည်ကို ပိုပြီးမြင့်မားရန် လေ့ကျင့်မှုအား ပြန်လည်သုံးသပ်ရန် လိုအပ်သည့်ဟုလည်း ၎င်းကပြောကြားခဲ့သည်။

လေ့ကျင့်မှုအတွင်း ပစ်မှတ်လွဲချော်မှု များစွာရှိခဲ့သည်မှာ သိသာထင်ရှားကြောင်း လေ့ကျင့်မှုကို သတင်းရယူခဲ့သည့် သတင်းသမားတစ်ဦးက ဖေဖော်ဝါရီ ၈ ရက်နေ့တွင် Frontier သို့ တယ်လီဖုန်းဖြင့် ပြောကြားခဲ့သည်။ “လွဲချော်မှုတွေကို ကျွန်တော်တို့အားလုံး သတိပြုမိပေမယ့် စစ်ဘက်အရာရှိတစ်ဦးက အစပိုင်းမှာတော့ ငြင်းပါတယ်” ဟုအမည်မဖော်လိုသည့် ၎င်းသတင်းထောက်က ပြောသည်။

အစိုးရပိုင် သစ်တောကြိုးဝိုင်း၏ စုစုပေါင်းဧက ၅၀၀,၀၀၀ ကို စစ်ရေးလေ့ကျင့်မှုအတွက် သတ်မှတ်ခဲ့သည်ဟု သတင်းများတွင် ရေးသားထားသည်။ သို့သော် ရွှေသောင်ယံကမ်းခြေမြောက်ဘက် ကျွန်းဆွယ်တစ်ခုပေါ်ရှိ ကရင်တိုင်းရင်းသားအများစု နေထိုင်သော ဝက်သေးရွာတွင် တင့်ကားအစီး ၂၀ ကို လေ့ကျင့်မှုအတွင်း ထားရှိခဲ့သည်။ ၎င်းရွာသည် သစ်တောကြိုးဝိုင်းအတွင်း ပါဝင်ခြင်းမရှိဟု ရွာသားများက ပြောကြားကြသည်။ သားစဉ်မြေးဆက် ဒေသခံများကသာ ပိုင်ဆိုင်သည်ဟုလည်း ၎င်းတို့ကဆိုသည်။

လေ့ကျင့်မှုအတွင်း ပစ်မှတ်လေ့ကျင့်ရန် ကျေးရွာသားအချို့ပိုင်ဆိုင်သည့် မြေကို အသုံးပြုခဲ့ပြီး အနီးရှိ တောင်ကုန်းတစ်ခုပေါ်တွင် ပစ်မှတ်လွဲချော်ခဲ့သော ဗုံးတစ်လုံးကြောင့် ရွာမှ အိမ်တစ်လုံး ပျက်စီးသွားခဲ့သည်ဟု ဝက်သေး ပါဝင်သည့် သဲကုန်းကျေးရွာအုပ်စု၏ အုပ်ချုပ်ရေးမှူး စောဟယ်ထူးက ပြောကြားသည်။

တပ်မတော် ကာကွယ်ရေးဦးစီးချုပ်ရုံးက ထုတ်ပြန်ခဲ့သည့် စစ်ရေးလေ့ကျင့်မှု မှတ်တမ်းဓာတ်ပုံ။

တပ်မတော် ကာကွယ်ရေးဦးစီးချုပ်ရုံးက ထုတ်ပြန်ခဲ့သည့် စစ်ရေးလေ့ကျင့်မှု မှတ်တမ်းဓာတ်ပုံ။

“အိမ်ကိုပြန်ဆောက်ပေးမယ်လို့ တပ်မတော်က ကတိပြုခဲ့ပါတယ်။ လျော်ကြေးပေးမယ်ဆိုတာနဲ့ ပတ်သက်ပြီး နောက်ထပ် ဘာမှမကြားရသေးပေမယ့် ကျွန်တော်တို့ကတော့ ဒီအိမ်ကို ပြင်နေပါတယ်” ဟု ဟယ်ထူးက ပြောသည်။ အိမ်မှာ ပုသိမ်တွင် နေထိုင်သည့် အမျိုးသားတစ်ဦး ပိုင်ဆိုင်သည်ဟုလည်း ၎င်းကဆက်လက် ပြောကြားသည်။

ပစ်မှတ်လေ့ကျင့်ရန်အတွက် အသုံးပြုသည့် တောင်ကုန်းသည် ၁ ဒသမ ၂ ဧကခန့် ကျယ်ဝန်းပြီး ၎င်းကို နော်အယ်လ်ဇေးတဆိုသူ အမျိုးသမီးတစ်ဦးက ပိုင်ဆိုင်သည်ဟု ဟယ်ထူးက ပြောကြားသည်။ ပစ်မှတ်ဧရိယာ နောက်တစ်ခုကို ကလဲကိုးဆိုသူ အမျိုးသားတစ်ဦးက ပိုင်ဆိုင်သည်။ အဆိုပါ နေရာနှစ်ခုလုံးမှာ ကြိုဝိုင်းသစ်တောတွင် ပါဝင်နေခြင်း မရှိပေ။ လေ့ကျင့်မှုအတွင်း ထိခိုက်ပျက်စီးခဲ့သည့် အိမ်ယာအဆောက်အဦများကို ၎င်းကစာရင်း ပြုစုထားသည်။

“ပျက်စီးမှုအားလုံး မှတ်တမ်းတင်ထားဖို့ ကျွန်တော်ကို ခိုင်းခဲ့တယ်။ ဒါ့ကြောင့် ကျွန်တော် ကောင်းကောင်းသိတယ်။ သာဓကအနေနဲ့ နော်အယ်ဇေးတားရဲ့ မြေပေါ်က အုန်းပင်တစ်ပင်နဲ့ ရာဘာပင်၂၀၀ လောက် ပျက်စီးသွားတယ်လို့ စာရင်းမှတ်ထားခိုင်းတာပါ” ဟု ဟယ်ထူးက ဆိုသည်။ စာရင်းကို ရွှေသောင်ယံမြို့နယ်ခွဲ အုပ်ချုပ်ရေးရုံးနှင့် ကျွန်းဆွယ်တွင် အခြေစိုက်သော အမှတ် ၃၆ ခြေမြန်တပ်ရင်းသို့ ပေးပို့ခဲ့သည်။.

စာရင်းကို အခြေခံ၍ ရွာသားများကို တပ်မတော်က လျော်ကြေးပေးမည်ဟု အထွေထွေအုပ်ချုပ်ရေး ဦးစီးဌာနနှင့် အမှတ် ၃၆ တပ်ရင်းမှ အရာရှိများက ပြောကြားခဲ့ကြသော်လည်း သတင်းမကြားရသေးကြောင်း ဟယ်ထူးက ပြောကြားသည်။ “ပျက်စီးတာတွေ ကာမိစေဖို့ ရွာသားတွေ လျော်ကြေးရလိမ့်မယ်လို့ ကျွန်တော်တို့ မျှော်လင့်နေပါတယ်” ဟု ၎င်းက ပြောသည်။

ယခုနေရာတွင် ထိုကဲ့သို့ စစ်ရေးလေ့ကျင့်မှုမျိုးကို လွန်ခဲ့သည့်နှစ်ပေါင်း ၂၀ ကျော်က နောက်ဆုံးပြုလုပ်ခဲ့ဖူးကြောင်း ရွာသားအချို့က ပြန်ပြောင်း ပြောပြသည်။ ထိုစဉ်က ၎င်းတို့ကို အန္တရာယ်ကင်းစေရေး ကြိုတင်သတိပေးမှုအဖြစ် အခြားရွာများသို့ ရွှေ့ပြောင်းနေကြရန် ဖိအားပေးခံခဲ့ရသည်ဟု ၎င်းတို့က ပြောကြားသည်။ ထိုစဉ်က အာဏာရ စစ်အစိုးရသည် စစ်ရေးလေ့ကျင့်မှုကြောင့် ဒေသခံများအတွက် ထိခိုက်နစ်နာမှုများအပေါ် စိုးရိမ်မှုအနည်းငယ်ပင် မပြသခဲ့ဟု ဒေသခံများက ပြောသည်။

“အဲဒီတုံးက ခွေးတွေ၊ နွားတွေအပါအဝင် ပိုင်ဆိုင်တာတွေအားလုံးယူပြီး ကျွန်တော်တို့ အုန္နဲချောင်းရွာကို ရွှေ့ခဲ့ရတယ်။ အဲဒီမှာ ၁၀ ရက်လောက်အထိ နေခဲ့ရတာ”ဟု ကျူတောရွာရှိ အသက် ၅၂ နှစ်အရွယ် အမည်မဖော်လိုသူတစ်ဦးက ပြောသည်။ ၎င်းရွာသည် ဝက်သေး၏ တောင်ဘက် နှစ်မိုင်ခန့်အကွာတွင် တည်ရှိသည်။ “ဝက်သေးရွာသားတွေလည်း အုန္နဲချောင်းကို ရွှေ့ရတာပဲ” ဟု ၎င်းက Frontier ကို ဖေဖော်ဝါရီ ၈ ရက်နေ့က တယ်လီဖုန်းမှတစ်ဆင့် ပြောကြားသည်။ “အဲဒီလေ့ကျင့်မှုတုန်းက ကျွန်တော်တို့အိမ်က တချို့ပစ္စည်းတွေ အခိုးခံခဲ့ရတယ်” ဟု ၎င်းကဆိုသည်။

ဓာတ်ပုံ-ရိုက်တာ

ဓာတ်ပုံ-ရိုက်တာ

ယခုအကြိမ်တွင်မူ တပ်မတော်၏ စစ်ရေးလေ့ကျင့်မှုနှင့် ပတ်သက်ပြီး ဝေဖန်ပြောကြားမှုများ တစ်စုံတစ်ရာ မရှိခဲ့ပေ။ ဆင်ဖြူရှင်လေ့ကျင့်မှုအတွင်း ကျူတောရွာအနေဖြင့် တခြားနေရာသို့ ပြောင်းရွှေ့ရန် မလိုအပ်ခဲ့ပေ။ သို့သော် ဝက်သေးရွာသူ ရွာသားများမှာမူ ဒီဇင်ဘာလကတည်းက နေ့လည်ခင်းအချိန်များတွင် လေ့ကျင့်ရာဒေသ၏ အပြင်ဘက်သို့ ၁၄ ကြိမ် ရွှေ့ပေးရသည်။

“ကျွန်တော်တို့ မနက်စောစော ရွာကထွက်ပေးရတယ်။ ညနေစောင်းမှ ပြန်လာရတယ်” ဟု ဝက်သေးရွာမှ နှစ်ချင်းခရစ်ယာန် ဘုန်းတော်ကြီး စောကေရေရှိုးက ပြောသည်။ “အဲဒီရက်တွေက ကျွန်တော်တို့ ပြောင်းဖို့ ရွှေ့ဖို့ စစ်ကားတွေ စီစဉ်ပေးတယ်။ ရိက္ခာခြောက်တွေလည်း ပေးပါတယ်”ဟု ၎င်းကပြောသည်။ ၎င်းတို့မရှိချိန်များတွင် ၎င်းတို့ ကျေးရွာနှင့် နေအိမ်များအား စစ်ရဲများက စောင့်ရှောက်ပေးသည်ဟုလည်း ၎င်းကဆိုသည်။

“တပ်မတော်က ပြည်သူတွေအပေါ် သဘောထား ပြောင်းလာတယ် ထင်တယ်။ ကျွန်တော်တို့ကို ကောင်းကောင်း ဆက်ဆံတယ်”ဟုလည်း ၎င်းကပြောသည်။ သို့သော်လည်း မပေါက်ကွဲသေးသည့် လက်နက်များနှင့် ပတ်သက်၍ ရွာသားများက စိုးရိမ်နေကြဆဲဖြစ်သည်။ အနီးရှိသစ်တောထဲမှ မပေါက်ကွဲသေးသည့် ဗုံးနှင့် အမြောက်ဆန် ၁၁ ခုခန့် တွေ့ရှိပြီးနောက် ရွာသားများက တပ်မတော်ထံ သတင်းပို့ခဲ့ကြရာ ယင်းလက်နက်များကို အန္တရာယ်မဖြစ်အောင် ပြုလုပ်ခဲ့ရသည်ဟု အမည်မဖော်လိုသည့် ဝက်သေးရွားသားတစ်ဦးက ပြောသည်။

ရွာသားများ တွေ့ရှိခဲ့သည့် မပေါက်ကွဲသေးသော ကျည်ဖူးများ။ ဓာတ်ပုံ- supply

ရွာသားများ တွေ့ရှိခဲ့သည့် မပေါက်ကွဲသေးသော ကျည်ဖူးများ။ ဓာတ်ပုံ- supply

“သတင်းထဲမှာတော့ ကျွန်တော်နာမည်ကို မထည့်ပါနဲ့ဗျာ။ တပ်မတော်အရာရှိတွေက ကျွန်တော်ကို မုန်းမှာစိုးရိမ်လို့ပါ” ဟု ၎င်းက Frontier ကို တယ်လီဖုန်းမှတစ်ဆင့် ပြောသည်။ “ဒါပေမယ့် ခင်ဗျားကိုတော့ ကျွန်တော် ပြောပြမယ်။ ဘာဖြစ်လို့လဲဆိုတော့ ကျွန်တော်တို့ရဲ့ စိုးရိမ်သောကတွေကို သူတို့ နားလည်စေချင်တယ်” ဟု ၎င်းကပြောသည်။ ထို့အပြင် နောက်ထပ်မပေါက်ကွဲသည့် လက်နက်ခဲယမ်းများ တွေ့ရှိမည်ကို ရွာသားများက စိုးရိမ်လျက်ရှိသည်ဟု ဆိုသည်။

တောနက်ထဲတွင် မပေါက်ကွဲသေးသည့် ဗုံးဆံများအား မြင်တွေ့ရရန်မှာ အလွန်ခဲယဉ်းသည်ဟုလည်း ၎င်းကဆိုသည်။ “တပ်မတော်က ဒါတွေကို ရှင်းပေးရင် သိပ်ကောင်းမှာပဲ” ဟုလည်း ၎င်းက ဆက်လက်ပြောကြားသည်။

တပ်မတော် သတင်းမှန်ပြန်ကြားရေးအဖွဲ့မှ ညွှန်ကြားရေးမှူးချုပ် ဗိုလ်ချုပ်ညီညီထွန်းကမူ မပေါက်ကွဲသေးသည့် လက်နက်ခဲယမ်းများနှင့် ပတ်သက်၍ ဒေသခံများအနေဖြင့် စိုးရိမ်စရာမလိုဟု ပြောကြားသည်။

“လေ့ကျင့်ရာမှာ ကျည်တွေဘယ်လောက်သုံးပြီး မပေါက်ကွဲတာ ဘယ်လောက်ရှိတယ်ဆိုတာ မှတ်တမ်းတင်ထားပါတယ်” ဟု ၎င်းက Frontier ကို ဖေဖော်ဝါရီ ၁၁ ရက်နေ့က တယ်လီဖုန်းဖြင့် ပြောကြားသည်။ သို့သော်လည်း လေ့ကျင့်မှုအတွင်း ပစ်မှတ်လွဲချော်ခဲ့သည့် ကျည်ဖူးအရေအတွက်နှင့် ပတ်သက်၍ ပြောကြားခြင်းမရှိပေ။

“လေ့ကျင့်မှုအပြီး မပေါက်ကွဲသေးတဲ့ လက်နက်ခဲယမ်းတွေအားလုံးကို ရှာဖွေ၊ ဖယ်ရှား၊ ဖျက်ဆီးပစ်မှာပါ” ဟု ၎င်းက ပြောသည်။ “ရွာသားတွေ အကောင်းဆုံး လုပ်နိုင်တာကတော့ လက်နက်၊ ဒါမှမဟုတ် အမြောက်ဆန်၊ ဗုံးတို့နဲ့ တူတဲ့အရာတွေ့ရင် ဒေသခံ စစ်စခန်းကို သတင်းပို့ပေးဖို့ပါ” ဟုလည်း ၎င်းကပြောကြားသည်။

အောင်ကျော်ဦး ဘာသာပြန်သည်။

Two Public Hearing Forums in Sittwe organised by Tat Lan marked the first opportunity for Rakhine State government leaders, civil society groups and villagers to discuss openly issues of community concern.

By JENNIFER MACINTYRE | TAT LAN

WHEN HE opened Sittwe’s first Public Hearing Forum, in November 2016, Rakhine State minister U Kyaw Lwin highlighted the importance of access to government information and having a “positive approach” in order to address community needs.

“I will listen to the voice of the people and will try to respond to people’s needs with the relevant MPs and their departments,” said the minister, who holds the agriculture, livelihoods, forestry, fishery and mining portfolios.

Very soon, he was challenged to deliver in disputed land ownership claims.

Ma Shwe Nwe, from Ohn Taw village tract in Kyaukphyu Township,  said she represented farmers who had been “waiting for years” for land registration certificates after submitting and paying for their land-use certificates, commonly known as “Form 7” applications. Kyaw Lwin promised to follow up on their behalf.

Socially accountable government

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For 14 months, until March 2017, Oxfam and its partners – Scholar Institute, the International Commission of Jurists and Earth Rights International – worked with 68 Kyaukphyu Township communities and government leaders preparing them to communicate with each other more effectively. They equipped villagers, civil society organisations (CSOs), members of parliament and government officials with skills to resolve community development issues in collaborative and constructive ways.

The cornerstone for successful dialogue was the relationship of trust that Scholar Institute established with the participants. First, communities selected the issues they wanted to resolve most urgently. Scholar Institute then presented their questions to government leaders and officials, so they were forewarned, informed and could respond openly to public questioning. It also helped leaders understand the impact of their decisions, as villagers’ sought resolution to a range of issues such as land rights, poorly constructed embankments and access to education funds.

For most residents of Kyaukphyu – rural and urban – this was the first time that had been able to engage with their members of parliament and local government officers.

Municipal transparency

Saw Pu Chay, a leader of the Kyaukphyu-based Rakhine Women’s Union, used the opportunity to question the head of the Township Municipal Affairs Committee  about the transparency of tax collection at the Kyaukphyu municipal market. Speaking in front of 107 Kyaukphyu community leaders, including 20 officials from seven government departments, Pu Chay said she spoke on behalf of marginalised street sellers. 

“I represent vulnerable women from our communities. Street venders are mostly poor women from women-headed households, or their husband’s income is not enough to feed their families. Their voices are neglected,” said Pu Chay, as she asked if the municipal tax was official. 

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Rakhine State minister U Kyaw Lwin used the first Public Hearing Forum to highlight the importance of access to government information and having a “positive approach” in order to address community needs. (Tat Lan)

The head of the Municipal Department said he would investigate the selling of open market spaces for K80,000 and assured all participants that every tax payment must be invoiced. He invited those at the meeting to complain if tax collectors did not provide invoices and committed to following up on the issue.

“Whenever the authorities come to the village, they meet with village elders and school committees, but community members are not included,” Pu Chay said. “Now, I am satisfied that my voice was heard, though they may need time to solve the issue.”

Breaking new ground

Through the Tat Lan programme, 690 officials – from the departments of rural development, agriculture and fisheries – have visited villages to speak with community members and respond to their questions. Government staff have participated in livelihood trainings and are being prepared to take over Farmer Field School agricultural activities, and infrastructure, nutrition and fishery initiatives when the Tat Lan programme ends in December 2018. 

This consultation and knowledge sharing has helped break down barriers and pave the way for effective, cooperative working relationships in Rakhine State’s Kyaukphyu, Myebon, Minbya and Pauktaw townships. Further, Scholar Institute’s trainings in social accountability, leadership, advocacy and gender attracted 7,724 participants, who learned how to mediate, negotiate and facilitate in a conflict-sensitive manner. The trust gained in these sessions enabled the minister for agriculture, Kyaw Lwin, to advocate for community access to government information.

“People should know about the government’s work plan, budget and procedures,” Kyaw Lwin said to the forum participants. ”It is paramount that we share laws and positive approaches to solve community needs and problems. We are the people’s government. I am ready to support the people as much as I can.”

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Ma Thet Yee Win, a Ten Household Leader in Ohn Taw village, speaks on behalf of children asking the Education Department for a middle school with laboratory materials for students in her village. (Tat Lan)

Scholar Institute governance coordinator U Tin Aung Ko says the forums are an opportunity to build positive relationships between the government, members of parliament and the public so they can work together for the development of their communities.

“It is important that the public are informed and issues happening in the community are raised with government departments. We need cooperative engagement to solve problems.”

This point of view was endorsed by the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State, led by former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan. In its final report in August, the commission recommended quarterly township-level civil society meetings, which should be attended by local administration  representatives and members of the State Parliament . They suggested these meetings should “gather detailed feedback from communities and civil society” on the design of state level policies. 

Building trust

At the second Public Hearing Forum this January, Kyaw Lwin reported that the Settlement and Land Record Department completed the land registration process for the Ohn Taw farmers and provided them with land ownership certificates. Participants also heard that the Kyaukphyu Municipal Department had ceased collecting the market tax from street vendors. Faulty embankments have been rebuilt and villagers are negotiating with the Department of Education to fund schooling needs in their communities.

Reporting on the public hearing forums, Oxfam said they demonstrated a change in direction among the more progressive Myanmar government departments and revealed their ability to engage in more consultative and closer relationships with communities. Many participants said that “Tat Lan broke the silence”, Oxfam concluded.

Locals in Ayeyarwady Region have welcomed compensation offers for property damaged during a big military training exercise, but are worried that not all the projectiles that missed targets have been found and defused.

By KYAW YE LYNN | FRONTIER

RESIDENTS OF villages on Ayeyarwady Region’s west coast near where the Tatmadaw conducted a big training exercise earlier this month are concerned about unexploded bombs and artillery shells that missed targets.

The land-sea-air exercise, held a few kilometres north of Shwe Thaung Yan Beach between February 2 and 4, was reported to be the biggest conducted by the Tatmadaw in more than 20 years. The exercise was named “Hsinbyushin”, after the Konbaung dynasty monarch, who fought successful wars against China and Siam during his reign from 1763 to 1776.

More than 8,000 troops were reported to have taken part in the exercise, which involved warships firing missiles at targets that were then attacked by jet fighters and helicopters before being “captured” by infantry after a beach landing.

On February 4, Tatmadaw Commander-in-Chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing praised the troops for their performance and the successful conclusion of the exercise.

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However, he raised concern about missed targets during the exercise, reported Myanmar Times.

Photos from the Hsinbyushin war games exercises in the Ayeyarwady Delta held from February 2-4. (Commander-in-Chief's Office | Facebook)

Photos from the Hsinbyushin war games exercises in the Ayeyarwady Delta held from February 2-4. (Commander-in-Chief’s Office | Facebook)

The Tatmadaw needed to find out whether targets were missed because of technological reasons or human error, Min Aung Hlaing was quoted as saying.

“We need to practise more,” he said, adding that a review of the exercise was necessary to raise combat skills.

A journalist who covered the exercise told Frontier by telephone on February 8 that it was obvious a number of projectiles had missed targets. 

“Although we all noticed the misses, they were initially denied by a military officer,” said the journalist, who asked not to be identified.

Residents’ land

A total of 500,000 acres (202,342 hectares) of government-owned reserve forest was designated for the exercise, according to the media reports.

However, residents of Wetthay – a Karen-majority community on a peninsula north of Shwe Thaung Yan beach, which sheltered about 20 tanks during the exercise – said their village is not in a reserve forest and has been owned by locals for generations.

Land owned by some villages was used as target practice during the exercise, while a house in the village was damaged by a bomb that missed its target on a nearby hill, said Saw Hal Htoo, administrator of the Thae Gone village tract, which includes Wetthay.

“The Tatmadaw promised to rebuild the home; we are repairing it although we haven’t heard anything further about compensation,” Hal Htoo said, adding the property is owned by a man who lives in Pathein, the regional capital, where the Tatmadaw’s Southwest Region Command is based.

Hal Htoo said the hill used for target practice covers about 1.2 acres and is owned by a woman named Naw Alze Ta. Another target area is owned by a man named Kale Ko. Neither were in a reserve forest area.

He has made a list of the houses and other property damaged or destroyed by shells and bombs during the exercise.

Practice rounds found by villagers after recent military exercises. (Supplied)

Practice rounds found by villagers after recent military exercises. (Supplied)

“The Tatmadaw asked me to record all damage, so I know it well. For example, one coconut tree and about 200 rubber plants on Naw Alze Ta’s land were destroyed,” Hal Htoo said.

The list was given to the Shwe Thaung Yan sub-township administrative office and the No 36 Light Infantry Battalion, which is based on the peninsula, soon after the exercise.

Officials from the General Administration Department and LIB 36 “said the Tatmadaw will compensate villagers based on the list, but we haven’t heard back from them”, Hal Htoo said.

“We are hoping the villagers will receive compensation to cover the damage,” he said.

The last such military exercise in the area was more than 20 years ago, some villagers recalled, saying they were forced to move to other villages as a safety precaution. The junta that was in power at the time showed little concern for the disruption the exercise caused to locals, residents said.

“We had to move to Ohne Chaung village with all of our belongings, including cows and dogs, and stay there for up to 10 days,” said a 52-year-old resident at Kyu Taw village, about two miles south of Wetthay, who asked not to be identified.

“Wetthay villagers also had to move to Ohne Chaung,” he told Frontier by phone on February 8. “Some things were even stolen from our house during the exercise.”

This time though residents had few complaints about the Tatmadaw’s conduct. During the Hsinbyushin exercises it wasn’t necessary for Kyu Taw village residents to move elsewhere, while people at Wetthay were required by the Tatmadaw to shift outside the exercise area 14 times since December but only during daylight hours.

“We had to leave the village early in the morning and come back late in the evening,” said Saw Kay Ray Show, a Baptist pastor in Wetthay. “They provided military vehicles for us to move and dry rations on those days.”

While they were gone, the Military Police guarded the villagers’ property, he said.

“It seems the Tatmadaw is changing its attitude to the people; they treated us very well.”

However, villagers are still worried about unexploded ordnance.

Photos from the Hsinbyushin war games exercises in the Ayeyarwady Delta held from February 2-4. (Commander-in-Chief's Office | Facebook)

Photos from the Hsinbyushin war games exercises in the Ayeyarwady Delta held from February 2-4. (Commander-in-Chief’s Office | Facebook)

A Wetthay resident who asked not to be named said villagers had informed the Tatmadaw after finding about 11 unexploded bombs and shells in a nearby forest and they had been defused.

“Please don’t mention my name in the story as I am afraid that Tatmadaw officials will be unhappy with me,” he told Frontier by phone.

“But I told you because we also want them to understand our concerns,” he said, adding that villagers were worried about finding more unexploded ordnance.

It was difficult to see unexploded bombs and shells in the dense forest, he said. “It would be great if Tatmadaw clears them.”

General Nyi Nyi Tun, director general of the Tatmadaw’s True News Information Team, said residents had “no need to worry” about the ordinance.

“We recorded how many projectiles were used in the exercise and registered how many unexploded,” he told Frontier by phone on February 11. He however refused to give further information on the number of projectiles that missed the targets during the exercise.

“We are going to find and remove or destroy all unexploded ones systematically after the exercise,” he said. “The best thing the villagers can do is to report to the local military base if they find something that looks like a weapon, or shells or bombs.”

In November, Mr Knut Ostby, from Norway, was appointed the UN’s resident and humanitarian coordinator in Myanmar, replacing Canadian Ms Renata Lok-Dessallien.

In his first published media interview since taking the role, Ostby, who was previously UN’s RC in Timor Leste and has held UN posts in more than a dozen countries, spoke to Frontier’s Sean Gleeson about his review of the UN’s Myanmar strategy, its role in the refugee repatriation program in northern Rakhine State, and what he hopes to achieve during his time in office.

Your predecessor was rather infamous during her tenure here for being media-averse. I’d like to ask first of all why you’ve agreed to have this interview?

I think we need to communicate more. I had a very interesting lesson from Kemal Derviş, the former finance minister from Turkey. He told me that he spent half his time trying to save Turkey from financial crisis, and half his time telling people about it. So I think communication is extremely important for our work. We as outsiders cannot develop people; people have to develop themselves. So when we tell people about what we’re thinking and what we’re doing, that allows people to join in and agree with us, or not agree with us, and you have the chance to bring people onboard and move in the same direction.

So does the UN believe, then, that this lack of communication has been a shortcoming on the part of this office in the past?

I wasn’t here so I cannot say how it worked but I can say that I believe in communication. I think that the UN sometimes of course is under attack and sometimes it has many good things to say, and I think that we need to deal with both.

Last year there was a review of UN operations in Myanmar sent to the secretary general that characterised the mission here as “glaringly dysfunctional”. Is your appointment a response to this review and the shortcomings it identified, and what are your plans to rectify some of the criticisms that have been made?

I’m very aware of the accusation. That’s one of the first things I heard from my colleagues in the UN Country Team. One of the first things they said to me was, “We are aware that we have been accused of being dysfunctional, we strongly disagree with this.” Obviously I have dealt with many UN country teams, and there’s always some issues.

The reason we have a UN reform going on is for a purpose. We are not perfect. I think what I’m trying to do with the Country Team here is to also communicate internally, to have people talk to each other, to have people collaborate more strongly and I have opened this idea of having a new strategic approach to Rakhine, for example. Because there was not full agreement about where we should be going with Rakhine, I needed to bring people together.

It has been reported that your predecessor sidelined staff that urged a greater emphasis on humanitarian and human rights concerns in Rakhine State. Is the consideration of a new approach a recognition that the UN could have done more to prevent the situation as it stands in Rakhine?

First of all, what I’ve seen is that there was quite a lot done, both before and after the crisis. Publicly you know what has been done after the crisis, there were all these high level interventions. There were also a lot of letters, meetings and expressions of concern both from here and headquarters before this crisis started. There’s always something more that could be done. I feel that quite a lot was done, but I’m not here to try to compare myself to the past. I’m trying to deal with now.

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About this strategy and the human rights approach: it is a concern that the Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights staff have not been able to get visas recently, and also that the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights [Ms. Yanghee Lee] was also refused a visa. We continue to urge the government to collaborate with all our human rights mechanisms.

I haven’t completed this strategy. We are working on it. I’m trying to involve not only the UN, but also international NGOs and the embassies in discussing common areas of focus. And this is not taken out of the blue but we are trying to base it on the Rakhine Advisory Commission recommendations led by Kofi Annan. I am sure it will include issues related to development, humanitarian access, [refugee] returns and human rights.

You recently sent out a New Year’s message saying the UN mission here was committed to ongoing “constructive and principled engagement” with the government. Could you speak a little more on what this means?

I think there are three key transitions in this country that we’re trying to support. One is the democratic transition, which is ongoing. It’s the transition from conflict to peace, which is also not finished yet, and of course the transition from a closed to an open economy. And we are involved in all through various kinds of development programs. We have capacity building programs with both local and central institutions, we have support programs for ceasefire monitoring, although we are not involved directly in political negotiations, and we have development programs for income generation and basic services.

What I mean with a constructive and principled approach is that there are both challenges and opportunities in development and human rights. We see an interest in working with us from different parts of the government on various development areas and also some humanitarian areas. I think it’s important to take those opportunities when they can benefit vulnerable people, people that we want to reach, and work with our counterparts in government and civil society. But then at the same time as we do this, we make sure that we observe our principles and don’t compromise on them.

There have been plenty of signs that the UN’s effort of good faith has not been reciprocated by the government. My understanding is that your appointment was a compromise because the government refused to allow the appointment of an assistant secretary general to oversee this mission. Is that not an example of compromising principle to maintain the UN’s engagement in other areas?

If we start compromising our principles, then we risk doing harm or undermining our own work. When we do programs, whether they are humanitarian or development, that requires that we come back to it and re-examine what we’re doing all the time. And we’re doing that. There is an enormous amount of attention on this particular question.

I think my point is that there is not a whole country of 51 million people and everything is bad or everything is good. It’s not possible. So what we need to do is find where we can do something good, and then we should also express concern or criticism when we see something which is bad. We may not always succeed in doing everything perfectly, but this is the direction I would like to encourage. After all, we have an enormous amount of vulnerable people, whether they are stateless, or in need of humanitarian assistance, or living in poverty, that can benefit from us doing things.

Could you elaborate on the nature of your mandate? I understand that you’re currently halfway through your six-month term. Does the fact that you have only been appointed for six months signal that the UN holds out hope for successfully negotiating the appointment of an assistant secretary general?

I don’t know exactly what the situation is in New York, but it’s with the secretary general [Mr Antonio Guterres]; he will make a decision on this. I was sent here on short notice after the government said they would not agree to an ASG, but I have been told to work as if I am here for the longer term, and that’s what I’m doing. I’m also of course open to the possibility of being extended myself, but that is up to my bosses in New York.

But this is not a usual kind of appointment.

No, the normal appointment is for three to five years depending on the country. And I have had several of these appointments before. So this is unusual, but they were in an unusual situation because there was disagreement with the government on the proposal that was being made and they had to find a way forward. Exactly why they chose this model over others, I cannot say.

There have been conflicting media accounts of the UN’s role in the refugee repatriation program in northern Rakhine State. Could you clarify the nature of the cooperation?

It’s fair to say that this was misrepresented in media, what transpired in the meetings. To directly answer the question, there is no cooperation at the moment. We are interested in collaborating, but UNHCR is taking the lead, trying to propose to government how this could happen and then of course they have certain standards, principles and practices for how responsible returns can take place. The other UN agencies are ready to join in. But the main discussion from our side is with the UNHCR at the moment, but it hasn’t led to any concrete actions.

The agencies who were there, they heard some information, there were some ideas proposed, but they did not respond with specific actions or proposals to move forward with return. They also discussed the general health situation in the state, which is different from return. They told me that they also used the opportunity to express the need for return to be voluntary, dignified and to place of origin.

If the current arrangements for repatriation established by the government of Myanmar continue, will the UN consider operating under that framework?

I don’t think I would like to speculate on what might or might not transpire in the future. But we know about this MoU [between Bangladesh and Myanmar]. UNHCR and UN agencies are mentioned in this MoU. On the Bangladesh side it’s mentioned to engage them immediately, on the Myanmar side, its wording is something like “as soon as relevant”. UNHCR has responded formally on our side. They have written to the government inviting discussions on how to assist with returns.

If there is a real discussion and real agreement to the standards that will allow this return to be responsible, we are very keen to go and assist. But there is no indication at this point that this agreement is nearby. There’s no formal response to UNHCR’s request for negotiations.

So if the standards for a safe and voluntary return fall short but the UN is still invited to cooperate, what do you see happening?

As I said, I don’t think I’d like to speculate what we would do in a hypothetical situation in the future.

But it is a possibility. You can’t emphatically rule out that would happen at this stage?

Many things could happen. I think we are focusing on advocating for responsible return and positioning ourselves for discussion for a responsible return, also proposing assistance with the implementation of the Rakhine Advisory Commission recommendations. But we’re not focusing any energy on speculating about possible future questions.

Newly erected tents at the Hla Pho Kaung camp in northern Rakhine State, where the government plans to temporarily house refugees who return from Bangladesh. (Mratt Kyaw Thu | Frontier)

Newly erected tents at the Hla Pho Kaung camp in northern Rakhine State, where the government plans to temporarily house refugees who return from Bangladesh. (Mratt Kyaw Thu | Frontier)

The current framework has similarities to what UN faced in Sri Lanka at the end of the civil war there, where with UN cooperation, IDPs were sent into facilities very similar to the ones being constructed at the moment. Subsequent reports were heavily critical of the UN’s decision to participate in that process. Is it not fair to say that if the UN agreed to cooperate under the existing framework, it would be repeating the mistakes from that era, not to mention a compromise of the sort of principled engagement you discussed earlier?

We are very aware of some of the mistakes from Sri Lanka and other places. We even have people working for us who were part of this. We feel it is very important that those kinds of mistakes are not repeated. But that doesn’t necessarily make me able to answer a question that hasn’t been asked yet.

What is your view on the proposal by the High Commissioner for Human Rights to establish an independent, international and impartial mechanism to gather evidence for any future inquiries into whether crimes against humanity occurred in northern Rakhine?

I haven’t picked up on that particular proposal. I know that the fact-finding Mission is nearing the end of its term. But clearly in the current situation it is not able to work because they are not receiving access to the country. Also on our side, we are not receiving humanitarian access to the northern parts of Rakhine State so we are a bit deprived of our ability to observe. The Special Rapporteur was also denied a visa. So at the moment they are collecting evidence from outside the country.

Of course we would like to have access to Rakhine State, for humanitarian purposes, and for development and protection purposes. We haven’t got the access we would like yet but we continue to ask for it.

There seems to be a strong sense of antipathy towards the UN’s operations in Myanmar, both from the government and the public. There have been claims it is part of a campaign to destabilise and undermine the country. What do you have to say in response?

We have a lot of regular cooperation with the government and civil society in all states and regions of the country. One example is the vaccination program, which recently reached more than 15 million children through WHO and UNICEF. I was yesterday in an earthquake preparedness simulation, where we had a wide range of senior government and military members. We have a whole range of these development programs, humanitarian assistance programs … so we have a good collaboration to assist with these programs.

At the same time, we don’t have all the collaboration we would like to have. Which has manifested itself in this lack of access, for example, in northern Rakhine State, parts of Kachin and Shan, and even Kayin State. And that has a consequence for internally displaced people who are not receiving humanitarian assistance, or development assistance.

What I’m trying to say is that there is a number of members of government at the senior level, and a number of institutions, that are collaborating with us on a regular basis, and we have new programs started all the time.

Now, I can confirm that we are not part of any global conspiracy [laughs]. I have enough insight into what we do here to know that as a fact. We are here at the invitation of the government.

I think it’s important for us to get out to the general public what we are and what we do, the many good things that we do both for the country and the people. There is not enough knowledge today about that and we would like to improve that.

As we speak, there’s a fresh bombardment and displacement underway in Kachin State. What is the UN’s response to the latest conflict in the north and what representations have been made to the government?

We have not made a specific representation to the government on this specific latest attack. It is a concern that this is happening. We are trying to contribute to the peace process and we are trying to request humanitarian access. I was discussing yesterday how we can find a new way to negotiate access across the line to IDPs and others. But I unfortunately cannot show to you any great new initiative to make the peace process accelerate. We are trying to work to support the peace process, to keep the dialogue going, and I think that’s more or less where we are.

The UN has been integral in supporting the peace process, and was instrumental in bringing at least some armed groups that signed the 2015 Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement to be the table. Right now, the peace process doesn’t appear to be in good health. In hindsight, was it right for the UN to support the NCA and its associated architecture, and is there anything the UN could be doing differently?

It’s a bit difficult for me to address what could have been done differently because I’m not privy to the details. But in principle, we would always like to support peaceful solutions. There’s obviously more things that we can do, but we have to do it when the parties want us to be involved. If they want us to be involved, we can definitely do more. We can be involved in mediation, reconciliation processes, but we would need to be invited to do so.

The Tatmadaw, the civilian government and the armed groups are all involved in this process. If there’s a discussion between the parties, it has to be between all parties. I have not seen an active interest from any of the parties for us to be more involved in the process while I’ve been here, but I’ve only been here for three months.

It’s a 70-year-old problem with conflict, and we would be extremely happy if we can help put an end to it, or at least partially help put an end to it.

Assuming your mandate is renewed and you serve here for three to five years, what would you like to see the UN achieve here in that time?

A lot of things. I mentioned these three transitions. There is the ambition to complete the democratic transition and this is something where we have a lot of expertise, we can assist in that. The timeframe would allow us to make some real progress there. I don’t dare to predict what progress could be made on the peace process, but some progress could happen. On the economic transition, there was a sort of opening up with new investments and new livelihoods and that has to continue. We can contribute to some of that. Maybe the international banks have more expertise when it comes to big investments, but there are many other parts of the UN system that can also contribute.

Perhaps what is most acute on my mind is access to deliver humanitarian services, not only food and water but also protection, that we are allowed to do as much as we can on those areas and to reach people that we cannot reach today. And of course everybody, including me, would like to make progress on the return of refugees, but it can happen, and we should be ready to contribute to making it happen in a responsible way, with voluntary and dignified return to place of origin and assistance to do so.

I have restarted the human rights theme group among the UN system. There’s something called the Human Rights Up Front initiative, which was developed after the Sri Lankan civil war, and I want to make sure we fully live up to that. I think we can do that before four years are up.

There’s so many things that can be done here. It’s a country that could achieve so much. It’s got a central strategic place in Southeast Asia. It has started so many interesting trends in development. And then it has several challenges that that have to be addressed, which blocks the country going ahead as it should in social, political and economic development. Ideally we would like to be part of helping all of that going forward. But maybe now I’m thinking of more than we can do in four years. A strong partnership between Myanmar and the United Nations could really help the country move forward.

TOP PHOTO: Steve Tickner | Frontier

By THOMAS KEAN

Myanmar Railways has chosen a consortium of Myanmar, Chinese and Singaporean firms to undertake the massive Yangon Central Railway Station redevelopment – one of the country’s largest property projects to date, with an estimated US$2.5 billion price tag.

Singapore-listed Oxley Holdings announced last night that its consortium, which also includes Myanmar’s Min Dhama and China’s Sino Great Wall, had been selected as the preferred bidder for the project.

It beat out a consortium comprising Singapore-listed Yoma Strategic Holdings and Myanmar-listed First Myanmar Investment, both companies connected to businessman Mr Serge Pun.

“The award of contract shall be subject to the completion of negotiations and legal arrangements,” Oxley said in an announcement.

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The company said the project – “a mixed development project comprising a new central transportation hub that integrates rail and mass transit, surrounded by amenities of housing and commerce” – will cover approximately 25.7 hectares, or 63.5 acres, of which 1.09 million square metres of floor space will be developed.

Oxley included in the announcement a February 14 letter from Myanma Railways managing director U Tun Aung Thin stating that the decision to award the tender to the consortium was made at a cabinet meeting on January 30. The letter said Myanmar Railways would soon inform Oxley of a date for “negotiation meetings”.

Sino Great Wall is a construction firm based in Beijing and listed on the Shenzhen stock exchange. Min Dhama is a subsidiary of Mottama Holdings, a company owned by Myanmar-Chinese entrepreneur U Yang Ho.

Occupying one of the largest undeveloped sites in central Yangon, the project will reshape the northern fringe of the downtown area, bringing high-rise towers to an area that is presently railway lines and single-storey homes.

Artist’s impressions for the site released by Oxley show around 20 high-rise towers in an area bordering Bogyoke Aung San Road to the south, Bo Min Yaung Road to the north, Sule Pagoda Road to the west and Theinbyu Road to the east. In the middle of the project is a futuristic new railway station, which will be built beside the existing, heritage-listed terminal on what are presently railway lines.

“There are other large land plots but not right in the centre. It’s pretty unusual for a city to have that sort of land available,” Mr Tony Picon, the vice chairman at real estate consulting firm Colliers International Myanmar, told Frontier last year.

An estimated 10,000 people, mostly railways workers and their relatives, will be resettled. A Myanma Railways official told Frontier that administrative staff would be resettled in Tarmwe Township, and maintenance and other workers to be relocated to Ywartharygi in East Dagon Township.

While the tender attracted significant interest from developers, it was not without hiccups.

After the project was announced in May 2014, Myanma Railways initially received 34 expressions of interest and shortlisted 28 potential developers. However, the tender was cancelled after only three formal proposals were received by the January 6, 2015 deadline and none were deemed suitable.

The following August, Myanma Railways announced a new tender, once again calling for expressions of interest. In February 2016, it announced that 15 had been received from prospective developers or joint venture partners in 14 countries. However, just two formal proposals were accepted, from the Oxley-Min Dhama-Sino Great Wall and Yoma-FMI consortia.

Myanma Railways blamed the lack of proposals on the requirement that consortiums pay a US$4 million bond. Despite acknowledging this was an issue after the first tender, it kept the requirement the second time around.

The size of the project is thought to have deterred some bidders, with Myanma Railways estimating the required investment at $2.5 billion. A representative from M&A-Iconic Group, a company associated with U Moe Myint of Myint & Associates, said it decided not to pursue its interest in the project because there was not enough time to undertake a full technical feasibility study. The company unsuccessfully sought an extension to the proposal deadline.

For more on the Yangon Central Railway Station redevelopment, read Frontier’s in-depth report and photo essay from October 2017.

In November, Mr Knut Ostby, from Norway, was appointed the UN’s resident and humanitarian coordinator in Myanmar, replacing Canadian Ms Renata Lok-Dessallien.

In his first published media interview since taking the role, Ostby, who was previously UN’s RC in Timor Leste and has held UN posts in more than a dozen countries, spoke to Frontier’s Sean Gleeson about his review of the UN’s Myanmar strategy, its role in the refugee repatriation program in northern Rakhine State, and what he hopes to achieve during his time in office.

Your predecessor was rather infamous during her tenure here for being media-averse. I’d like to ask first of all why you’ve agreed to have this interview?

I think we need to communicate more. I had a very interesting lesson from Kemal Derviş, the former finance minister from Turkey. He told me that he spent half his time trying to save Turkey from financial crisis, and half his time telling people about it. So I think communication is extremely important for our work. We as outsiders cannot develop people; people have to develop themselves. So when we tell people about what we’re thinking and what we’re doing, that allows people to join in and agree with us, or not agree with us, and you have the chance to bring people onboard and move in the same direction.

So does the UN believe, then, that this lack of communication has been a shortcoming on the part of this office in the past?

I wasn’t here so I cannot say how it worked but I can say that I believe in communication. I think that the UN sometimes of course is under attack and sometimes it has many good things to say, and I think that we need to deal with both.

Last year there was a review of UN operations in Myanmar sent to the secretary general that characterised the mission here as “glaringly dysfunctional”. Is your appointment a response to this review and the shortcomings it identified, and what are your plans to rectify some of the criticisms that have been made?

I’m very aware of the accusation. That’s one of the first things I heard from my colleagues in the UN Country Team. One of the first things they said to me was, “We are aware that we have been accused of being dysfunctional, we strongly disagree with this.” Obviously I have dealt with many UN country teams, and there’s always some issues.

The reason we have a UN reform going on is for a purpose. We are not perfect. I think what I’m trying to do with the Country Team here is to also communicate internally, to have people talk to each other, to have people collaborate more strongly and I have opened this idea of having a new strategic approach to Rakhine, for example. Because there was not full agreement about where we should be going with Rakhine, I needed to bring people together.

It has been reported that your predecessor sidelined staff that urged a greater emphasis on humanitarian and human rights concerns in Rakhine State. Is the consideration of a new approach a recognition that the UN could have done more to prevent the situation as it stands in Rakhine?

First of all, what I’ve seen is that there was quite a lot done, both before and after the crisis. Publicly you know what has been done after the crisis, there were all these high level interventions. There were also a lot of letters, meetings and expressions of concern both from here and headquarters before this crisis started. There’s always something more that could be done. I feel that quite a lot was done, but I’m not here to try to compare myself to the past. I’m trying to deal with now.

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About this strategy and the human rights approach: it is a concern that the Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights staff have not been able to get visas recently, and also that the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights [Ms. Yanghee Lee] was also refused a visa. We continue to urge the government to collaborate with all our human rights mechanisms.

I haven’t completed this strategy. We are working on it. I’m trying to involve not only the UN, but also international NGOs and the embassies in discussing common areas of focus. And this is not taken out of the blue but we are trying to base it on the Rakhine Advisory Commission recommendations led by Kofi Annan. I am sure it will include issues related to development, humanitarian access, [refugee] returns and human rights.

You recently sent out a New Year’s message saying the UN mission here was committed to ongoing “constructive and principled engagement” with the government. Could you speak a little more on what this means?

I think there are three key transitions in this country that we’re trying to support. One is the democratic transition, which is ongoing. It’s the transition from conflict to peace, which is also not finished yet, and of course the transition from a closed to an open economy. And we are involved in all through various kinds of development programs. We have capacity building programs with both local and central institutions, we have support programs for ceasefire monitoring, although we are not involved directly in political negotiations, and we have development programs for income generation and basic services.

What I mean with a constructive and principled approach is that there are both challenges and opportunities in development and human rights. We see an interest in working with us from different parts of the government on various development areas and also some humanitarian areas. I think it’s important to take those opportunities when they can benefit vulnerable people, people that we want to reach, and work with our counterparts in government and civil society. But then at the same time as we do this, we make sure that we observe our principles and don’t compromise on them.

There have been plenty of signs that the UN’s effort of good faith has not been reciprocated by the government. My understanding is that your appointment was a compromise because the government refused to allow the appointment of an assistant secretary general to oversee this mission. Is that not an example of compromising principle to maintain the UN’s engagement in other areas?

If we start compromising our principles, then we risk doing harm or undermining our own work. When we do programs, whether they are humanitarian or development, that requires that we come back to it and re-examine what we’re doing all the time. And we’re doing that. There is an enormous amount of attention on this particular question.

I think my point is that there is not a whole country of 51 million people and everything is bad or everything is good. It’s not possible. So what we need to do is find where we can do something good, and then we should also express concern or criticism when we see something which is bad. We may not always succeed in doing everything perfectly, but this is the direction I would like to encourage. After all, we have an enormous amount of vulnerable people, whether they are stateless, or in need of humanitarian assistance, or living in poverty, that can benefit from us doing things.

Could you elaborate on the nature of your mandate? I understand that you’re currently halfway through your six-month term. Does the fact that you have only been appointed for six months signal that the UN holds out hope for successfully negotiating the appointment of an assistant secretary general?

I don’t know exactly what the situation is in New York, but it’s with the secretary general [Mr Antonio Guterres]; he will make a decision on this. I was sent here on short notice after the government said they would not agree to an ASG, but I have been told to work as if I am here for the longer term, and that’s what I’m doing. I’m also of course open to the possibility of being extended myself, but that is up to my bosses in New York.

But this is not a usual kind of appointment.

No, the normal appointment is for three to five years depending on the country. And I have had several of these appointments before. So this is unusual, but they were in an unusual situation because there was disagreement with the government on the proposal that was being made and they had to find a way forward. Exactly why they chose this model over others, I cannot say.

There have been conflicting media accounts of the UN’s role in the refugee repatriation program in northern Rakhine State. Could you clarify the nature of the cooperation?

It’s fair to say that this was misrepresented in media, what transpired in the meetings. To directly answer the question, there is no cooperation at the moment. We are interested in collaborating, but UNHCR is taking the lead, trying to propose to government how this could happen and then of course they have certain standards, principles and practices for how responsible returns can take place. The other UN agencies are ready to join in. But the main discussion from our side is with the UNHCR at the moment, but it hasn’t led to any concrete actions.

The agencies who were there, they heard some information, there were some ideas proposed, but they did not respond with specific actions or proposals to move forward with return. They also discussed the general health situation in the state, which is different from return. They told me that they also used the opportunity to express the need for return to be voluntary, dignified and to place of origin.

If the current arrangements for repatriation established by the government of Myanmar continue, will the UN consider operating under that framework?

I don’t think I would like to speculate on what might or might not transpire in the future. But we know about this MoU [between Bangladesh and Myanmar]. UNHCR and UN agencies are mentioned in this MoU. On the Bangladesh side it’s mentioned to engage them immediately, on the Myanmar side, its wording is something like “as soon as relevant”. UNHCR has responded formally on our side. They have written to the government inviting discussions on how to assist with returns.

If there is a real discussion and real agreement to the standards that will allow this return to be responsible, we are very keen to go and assist. But there is no indication at this point that this agreement is nearby. There’s no formal response to UNHCR’s request for negotiations.

So if the standards for a safe and voluntary return fall short but the UN is still invited to cooperate, what do you see happening?

As I said, I don’t think I’d like to speculate what we would do in a hypothetical situation in the future.

But it is a possibility. You can’t emphatically rule out that would happen at this stage?

Many things could happen. I think we are focusing on advocating for responsible return and positioning ourselves for discussion for a responsible return, also proposing assistance with the implementation of the Rakhine Advisory Commission recommendations. But we’re not focusing any energy on speculating about possible future questions.

Newly erected tents at the Hla Pho Kaung camp in northern Rakhine State, where the government plans to temporarily house refugees who return from Bangladesh. (Mratt Kyaw Thu | Frontier)

Newly erected tents at the Hla Pho Kaung camp in northern Rakhine State, where the government plans to temporarily house refugees who return from Bangladesh. (Mratt Kyaw Thu | Frontier)

The current framework has similarities to what UN faced in Sri Lanka at the end of the civil war there, where with UN cooperation, IDPs were sent into facilities very similar to the ones being constructed at the moment. Subsequent reports were heavily critical of the UN’s decision to participate in that process. Is it not fair to say that if the UN agreed to cooperate under the existing framework, it would be repeating the mistakes from that era, not to mention a compromise of the sort of principled engagement you discussed earlier?

We are very aware of some of the mistakes from Sri Lanka and other places. We even have people working for us who were part of this. We feel it is very important that those kinds of mistakes are not repeated. But that doesn’t necessarily make me able to answer a question that hasn’t been asked yet.

What is your view on the proposal by the High Commissioner for Human Rights to establish an independent, international and impartial mechanism to gather evidence for any future inquiries into whether crimes against humanity occurred in northern Rakhine?

I haven’t picked up on that particular proposal. I know that the fact-finding Mission is nearing the end of its term. But clearly in the current situation it is not able to work because they are not receiving access to the country. Also on our side, we are not receiving humanitarian access to the northern parts of Rakhine State so we are a bit deprived of our ability to observe. The Special Rapporteur was also denied a visa. So at the moment they are collecting evidence from outside the country.

Of course we would like to have access to Rakhine State, for humanitarian purposes, and for development and protection purposes. We haven’t got the access we would like yet but we continue to ask for it.

There seems to be a strong sense of antipathy towards the UN’s operations in Myanmar, both from the government and the public. There have been claims it is part of a campaign to destabilise and undermine the country. What do you have to say in response?

We have a lot of regular cooperation with the government and civil society in all states and regions of the country. One example is the vaccination program, which recently reached more than 15 million children through WHO and UNICEF. I was yesterday in an earthquake preparedness simulation, where we had a wide range of senior government and military members. We have a whole range of these development programs, humanitarian assistance programs … so we have a good collaboration to assist with these programs.

At the same time, we don’t have all the collaboration we would like to have. Which has manifested itself in this lack of access, for example, in northern Rakhine State, parts of Kachin and Shan, and even Kayin State. And that has a consequence for internally displaced people who are not receiving humanitarian assistance, or development assistance.

What I’m trying to say is that there is a number of members of government at the senior level, and a number of institutions, that are collaborating with us on a regular basis, and we have new programs started all the time.

Now, I can confirm that we are not part of any global conspiracy [laughs]. I have enough insight into what we do here to know that as a fact. We are here at the invitation of the government.

I think it’s important for us to get out to the general public what we are and what we do, the many good things that we do both for the country and the people. There is not enough knowledge today about that and we would like to improve that.

As we speak, there’s a fresh bombardment and displacement underway in Kachin State. What is the UN’s response to the latest conflict in the north and what representations have been made to the government?

We have not made a specific representation to the government on this specific latest attack. It is a concern that this is happening. We are trying to contribute to the peace process and we are trying to request humanitarian access. I was discussing yesterday how we can find a new way to negotiate access across the line to IDPs and others. But I unfortunately cannot show to you any great new initiative to make the peace process accelerate. We are trying to work to support the peace process, to keep the dialogue going, and I think that’s more or less where we are.

The UN has been integral in supporting the peace process, and was instrumental in bringing at least some armed groups that signed the 2015 Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement to be the table. Right now, the peace process doesn’t appear to be in good health. In hindsight, was it right for the UN to support the NCA and its associated architecture, and is there anything the UN could be doing differently?

It’s a bit difficult for me to address what could have been done differently because I’m not privy to the details. But in principle, we would always like to support peaceful solutions. There’s obviously more things that we can do, but we have to do it when the parties want us to be involved. If they want us to be involved, we can definitely do more. We can be involved in mediation, reconciliation processes, but we would need to be invited to do so.

The Tatmadaw, the civilian government and the armed groups are all involved in this process. If there’s a discussion between the parties, it has to be between all parties. I have not seen an active interest from any of the parties for us to be more involved in the process while I’ve been here, but I’ve only been here for three months.

It’s a 70-year-old problem with conflict, and we would be extremely happy if we can help put an end to it, or at least partially help put an end to it.

Assuming your mandate is renewed and you serve here for three to five years, what would you like to see the UN achieve here in that time?

A lot of things. I mentioned these three transitions. There is the ambition to complete the democratic transition and this is something where we have a lot of expertise, we can assist in that. The timeframe would allow us to make some real progress there. I don’t dare to predict what progress could be made on the peace process, but some progress could happen. On the economic transition, there was a sort of opening up with new investments and new livelihoods and that has to continue. We can contribute to some of that. Maybe the international banks have more expertise when it comes to big investments, but there are many other parts of the UN system that can also contribute.

Perhaps what is most acute on my mind is access to deliver humanitarian services, not only food and water but also protection, that we are allowed to do as much as we can on those areas and to reach people that we cannot reach today. And of course everybody, including me, would like to make progress on the return of refugees, but it can happen, and we should be ready to contribute to making it happen in a responsible way, with voluntary and dignified return to place of origin and assistance to do so.

I have restarted the human rights theme group among the UN system. There’s something called the Human Rights Up Front initiative, which was developed after the Sri Lankan civil war, and I want to make sure we fully live up to that. I think we can do that before four years are up.

There’s so many things that can be done here. It’s a country that could achieve so much. It’s got a central strategic place in Southeast Asia. It has started so many interesting trends in development. And then it has several challenges that that have to be addressed, which blocks the country going ahead as it should in social, political and economic development. Ideally we would like to be part of helping all of that going forward. But maybe now I’m thinking of more than we can do in four years. A strong partnership between Myanmar and the United Nations could really help the country move forward.

TOP PHOTO: Steve Tickner | Frontier