New ethnic affairs ministry 'vital for Myanmar'

NAYPYITAW • Myanmar's new President-elect told lawmakers yesterday that plans to create a new ethnic affairs ministry were "vital" for the conflict-torn nation, in his maiden address since being elected the first civilian leader in decades.

Mr Htin Kyaw, a close confidant of Ms Aung San Suu Kyi and who will rule as her proxy, indicated that tackling the legacy of half a century of civil wars in ethnic minority borderlands will be a major priority for his government, which officially takes power next week.

"A ministry of ethnic affairs is of vital importance for the future of the union (Myanmar), which needs peace, development and sustainability," he told lawmakers in a speech primarily centred on plans to streamline the country's bloated bureaucracy.

Mr Htin Kyaw takes the mantle of leadership as Myanmar is in the midst of a dramatic transformation after years shackled by military rule.

Greater openness, a surging economy and the landslide victory in last November's historic elections for Ms Suu Kyi and her party have all buoyed optimism in the future.

But conflicts continue to rage in several areas between ethnic minority armed groups and the still-powerful national army, which operates beyond the reaches of civilian government, after a ceasefire pact signed last year failed to include all of the country's fighters.

ENSURING PEACE

A ministry of ethnic affairs is of vital importance for the future of the union (Myanmar), which needs peace, development and sustainability.

MR HTIN KYAW, Myanmar's new President-elect, on tackling the legacy of civil wars in ethnic minority borderlands.

Some 240,000 people are displaced owing to unrest and communal conflict in Myanmar, mostly in northern Kachin state, where fighting between the army and rebels is ongoing, and in western Rakhine, where tens of thousands of Rohingya Muslims remain trapped in camps following outbreaks of communal violence in 2012.

The situation in Rakhine state is a key concern of the international community, which has urged the new government to prioritise the plight of the Rohingya, many of whom have been left effectively stateless.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 22, 2016, with the headline 'New ethnic affairs ministry 'vital for Myanmar''. Print Edition | Subscribe