U Aye Thar Aung Speaks of the Meeting Between Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and President Thein Sein

Burmese democracy leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and new President of Burma, U Thein Sein, met in Naypyidaw on August 19 and held what state media called a “frank and friendly discussion”. Asked of his opinion on the meeting by Narinjara, U Aye Thar Aung, Secretary of the Arakan League for Democracy (ALD) replied as follows:

U Aye Thar Aung: “Generally speaking, it is a good thing that President Thein Sein and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi meet and talk. However, since I have no knowledge of what they discussed, it is hard for me to elaborate on the matter. Anyhow, Burma is now at the defining moment that demands the national reconciliation and a solution to the ongoing armed conflicts with ethnic groups. At such a critical moment, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, who is admired by the country, and President U Thein Sein, who represents the current government, meet, and this is really a good thing. Through dialogue, the nation’s important problems can be solved. If one meeting can not solve them, I believe, the next meetings will”

Narinjara: “Could we say this meeting indicates that Burma is rerouting to the right track?”

U Aye Thar Aung: “Such meeting could be seen as a positive step. However, it has to be honest and open. The nation, its ethnic groups and citizens, would like to see sincerity in the current government. There were meetings in the past, but nothing fruitful came out. I don’t want this meeting to be like the previous ones. It will be the best if this meeting can lead to serious dialogue that can build national reconciliation. That is what people want. That is what ethnic groups of this country want. That is the only way that can stop civil war and bring peace.”

Narinjara: “As an ethnic leader, how do you perceive this meeting?”

U Aye Thar Aung: Our nation is going through hard times. A meeting between the current President U Thein Sein and leader of the National League for Democracy is definitely a good thing. However, as an ethnic leader, I would like the ongoing fighting in the ethnic areas to stop and ceasefire to begin. When I say ceasefire, I meant not just for a particular region but for the whole country. Only after ceasefire can efforts to bring peace and tranquility be initiated and national reconciliation will become achievable. It will be great if we can do that.

Narinjara: Now President and Daw Suu met. People in exile after the 1988 uprising are invited to come back home. Also, we see economic workshops and forums. Could we say Burma is moving in the right direction?

U Aye Thar Aung: Though I can say meeting and workshops that you mentioned and also talks to reduce poverty are a good thing, we need to practically materialize them. Sweet talk is not enough. In the past, we have heard so many charming programs. But in reality, nothing results. Therefore, we should not applaud based on what we hear. We should only applaud based on what they actually do. There are so many things to do right now. To build peace with ethnic groups and to stop the ongoing armed conflicts are urgently required. On the other hand, U Thein Sein stated that some problems will be solved only through the 2008 Constitution. Such a statement will not help bring peace to the country. There are many sections in the 2008 Constitution that armed ethnic groups do not accept. The constitution also tries to force them to be the Border Guards under government command. Therefore, U Thein Sein’s statements contradict each other and I don’t foresee all that sweet talk will actually materialized into actions.

To Reduce the Poverty of Arakan…

The management of successive Burmese governments in recent decades could easily be rated as poor. The country has been under a dictatorship and all of the nation’s foreign revenues have been controlled and manipulated by the military’s top brass families and their cronies. As a result the economy has just been going downhill. Burma is still one of the world’s poorest countries. People are drowning in deep poverty with no food to eat, no clothes to put on, and no place to stay.

In order to get out of such abysmal circumstances, the current Thein Sein government recently declared an eight-step poverty reduction program. Government officials publicly stated that the government alone will not be able to implement such a program and called for the cooperation of the people. They invited the people to join hands in the endeavor. There is no doubt that the people of Burma, from all walks of life, will cordially welcome such an invitation. However, the program has its own flaws and at least a few actions need to be taken in order for the program to be successful. Here are some that need to be implemented if the government sincerely wants to reduce poverty in Arakan.

Arakan is blessed with natural resources for development. However, it is the second poorest state among the 14 states and divisions in Burma. In order to reduce poverty in Arakan, the authorities must work on it practically rather than paying lip service. The number of military brigades that are nothing but a burden to the Arakanese must be reduced. All the agricultural land that was unlawfully confiscated by the army must be returned to the rightful owners. All the contractual farming permits issued by the army for the confiscated land must be abolished. All of the collection of tolls at the army, navy, and police checkpoints must be stopped right away. All the government leases solely given to government cronies to freely exploit the sea and waterways of Arakan for their own economic benefit must be ended. Arakanese are the sole owners of their waters and they should have a right to make a living on them.

Along with open economic policies, the free market system must be allowed to flourish. Especially, rice trading must be allowed to take place across Arakan at the will of the business owners. Tolls and taxes levied on the Arakanese at places such as markets, bridges, piers, and bus stations are a big burden to the businesses and must be strictly prohibited. To stimulate the development of industry, 24/7 electricity must be provided to both rural and urban areas using the energy resources found in Arakan. Half of all the revenues gained from exporting Arakanese energy resources abroad must be used for the development of Arakan. The current government must abolish the centralized economic policies and open up business opportunities that will promote the free market system and benefit Arakan.

The eight-step poverty reduction program of the current Thein Sein government could be accepted in principle. However, to effectively address the problems Arakanese are facing today, the aforementioned actions must be taken. The poverty reduction program must be able to mitigate the serious challenges that people are dealing with every day. No matter how grand the policies may be, if they can not solve the fundamental problems that people are facing, any attempt to reduce poverty would just be a waste of time and resources.