- U Thaung Tun
Myanmar has been the focus of international attention in recent weeks as unrest in Rakhine State has made headlines around the world. Observers have been quick to make graphic assertions, with reports claiming widespread atrocities.
The government has been accused of indifference to the plight of the people of Rakhine. Our leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, who has fought so hard for democracy, has been accused of standing by in silence.
This could not be further from the truth. The government is fully alive to the situation in Rakhine and has already taken steps to address the issues and restore peace and stability. I have been appointed to the new role of national-security advisor precisely to ensure the safety of everyone in Myanmar, and in response to international concern regarding Rakhine in particular.
I am totally committed to ensuring that the country is safe and secure. I care deeply about all the people of Rakhine, and undertake to protect them.
It is time that we pause to separate truth from fiction, however, before rushing to condemn. The situation in Rakhine State is complex and challenging. Serious mistakes have been made over the years, leading to fear and distrust, compounded by chronic underdevelopment. There is no denial that the Rakhine Muslims have suffered, as have the Buddhist Rakhine, who fear they are becoming a minority in their homeland.
We have a responsibility to provide hope for all the people of Rakhine. But to do this, we must focus on resolving the problems, rather than inflaming them. The situation is not helped when people deny the very real challenges we face.
The International Crisis Group recently acknowledged we are witnessing a new radicalized and armed insurgency in Myanmar, funded and inspired from abroad. This is a worrying and dangerous escalation by forces that do not have the interests of these communities at heart, but use them as pawns in their own game.
It is made worse by propaganda and misinformation. Recently, horrific stories have been carried by media internationally. One showed harrowing footage of a child being tortured, supposedly by Myanmar security forces. But this happened in Cambodia, not Myanmar.
Let me be clear, there is no excuse for excessive force, for murder or rape. Where there is evidence, we will act on it.
For example, we moved swiftly to detain police officers after a video emerged showing security forces committing abuses against Muslim Rakhine. We have also established a national committee to investigate alleged abuses, drawn from the Muslim and Buddhist communities.
A number of sources indicate that we are seeing a sophisticated campaign designed to discredit and destabilize the Myanmar government. To counter this, we must focus on real, lasting solutions to real problems.
That is why we have established an independent commission, headed by former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, which will assist our government in finding solutions. Aided by the U.N. and others, we are providing humanitarian assistance to build stability in the region. I believe that this independent approach is the way forward, allowing us to deliver a better future for the people of Rakhine in a united Myanmar.
Finally, what is happening in Rakhine cannot be seen in isolation. It is just over a year since our first democratic elecitons in 50 years. We are working hard to build peace, prosperity and a democratic future.
Our leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, was held under house arrest for 15 years before the election, and we have had to learn the virtue of patience. Democratic change does not happen overnight but is a hard-fought process. While there is much still to do, we must remember how far we have come.
Our greatest national endeavor is to resolve one of the world’s longest-running civil wars. We have made the peace process our priority, starting a dialogue open to all armed factions. After years of isolation and underdevelopment, we are rebuilding our economy, providing jobs, schools and hospitals.
The world was supportive over the decades when we struggled for freedom. I ask only that the international community continue to support us as we strive to overcome remaining challenges, not only in Rakhine, but across our fragile new democracy.
(U Thaung Tun is Myanmar’s National Security Advisor and a retired career diplomat.)