Myanmar govt will redevelop burnt Rakhine land, says minister

YANGON • Myanmar's government will manage the redevelopment of villages torched during the violence in Rakhine state that has sent nearly half a million Rohingya Muslims fleeing to Bangladesh, a minister has said.

The plan for the redevelopment of areas destroyed by fires, which the government has blamed on Rohingya insurgents, is likely to raise concern about prospects for the return of the 480,000 refugees, and compound fears of ethnic cleansing.

"According to the law, burnt land becomes government-managed land," Minister for Social Development, Relief and Resettlement Win Myat Aye told a meeting in the Rakhine state capital of Sittwe, the Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper reported. He also heads a committee tasked with implementing recommendations on solving Rakhine's long-simmering tensions.

Citing a disaster management law, he said in a meeting with the authorities on Tuesday that redevelopment would "be very effective". The law says the government oversees reconstruction in areas damaged in disasters, including conflict.

There was no elaboration on any plan or what access to their old villages any returning Rohingya could expect. The minister was not immediately available for comment.

Human rights groups using satellite images have said about half of more than 400 Rohingya villages in the north of Rakhine state have been destroyed in the violence.

Refugees arriving in Bangladesh have accused the army and Buddhist vigilantes of mounting a campaign of violence and arson aimed at driving Rohingya out of Myanmar. Buddhist-majority Myanmar has rejected United Nations accusations of ethnic cleansing against Rohingya Muslims in response to coordinated attacks by Rohingya insurgents on the security forces on Aug 25.

The government has said about half of Rohingya villages have been abandoned, but it blames insurgents of the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army for the fires and for attacking civilians.

It also said nearly 500 people have been killed since Aug 25, nearly 400 of them insurgents, and has rejected accusations of crimes against humanity, levelled this week by Human Rights Watch.

The crisis has led to tension between Myanmar and Bangladesh.

The violence in Rakhine state and the refugee exodus is the biggest crisis the government of Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi has faced since it came to power last year in a transition from nearly 50 years of military rule.

Myanmar regards the Rohingya as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, and bouts of suppression and strife have flared for decades. Most of the Rohingya are stateless.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 28, 2017, with the headline 'Myanmar govt will redevelop burnt Rakhine land, says minister'. Print Edition | Subscribe