Myanmar lifts emergency in Rakhine state

(FILES) This file photo taken on October 21, 2012 shows Myanmar President Thein Sein speaking to the media during a press conference at the presidential residence in Naypyidaw. When he became Myanmar's leader five years ago, the unobtrusive Thein Sein was dismissed as a junta stooge -- but as he hands power to Aung San Suu kyi's government, the taciturn ex-general is being lauded for steering a peaceful political transition that has stunned the world.  / AFP / SOE THAN WIN / TO GO WITH AFP STORY BY Phyo Hein Kyaw and Kelly Macnamara

Yangon / AFP

Myanmar’s outgoing government on Tuesday lifted a state of emergency in conflict-hit Rakhine, a parting gesture that coincides with turbulent relations between Aung San Suu Kyi’s new administration and the western state’s powerful Buddhist political party.
Rahkine is deeply scarred by communal violence between Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims that began in 2012, presenting one of the most acute challenges for Myanmar’s first popularly elected government in decades.
In a surprise move on Tuesday outgoing president Thein Sein announced the removal of the emergency order, which had been in place since unrest left scores dead and tens of thousands of Rohingya Muslims confined to miserable displacement camps.
“According to the Rakhine State government, there is currently no threat of danger to people’s lives,” said a statement in state media announcing the order, which will see the military step back from providing day-to-day security in the region.
While Rakhine has not seen a serious outbreak of violence in more than two years, the state remains fractured on religious lines. Most Muslims are trapped either in camps or in heavily regulated areas near the border with Bangladesh. A rising tide of Buddhist nationalism in Myanmar has fuelled discrimination against the Muslim minority, seen by many as illegal immigrants from neighbouring Bangladesh. A web of citizenship rules has rendered many Rohingya effectively stateless and unable to vote in last November’s landmark polls.
Tens of thousands have fled persecution and poverty for neighbouring countries like Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia.
But the tide appears to have slowed this year after a Thai crackdown on people-smuggling in 2015 led boat captains to abandon many Rohingya on land and at sea, spurring a regional crisis.
“We think the situation is good. But any politician can see that Rakhine State is very sensitive and it would be easy for it to explode at any time,” said Aye Maung, chairman of the Arakan National Party (ANP), which represents ethnic Rakhine Buddhists.
The president’s order comes a day after Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy faced protests by lawmakers from the ANP—one of Myanmar’s strongest minority parties—over the NLD decision to appoint a candidate from its own party to be the state’s chief minister.
Around 18 ANP lawmakers, many wearing black stickers on their jackets, walked out of the Rakhine regional legislature on Monday.
It is not clear what is behind the lifting of the state of emergency by Thein Sein. The former general has steered Myanmar’s dramatic reforms since 2011 but has also presided over growing Buddhist nationalism.
“If you are going to leave you might as well take credit for it and the consequences will be left to the next government,” said political analyst Khin Zaw Win.

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