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Confusion over Agreement with OIC to Establish Office in Myanmar

This post is part of our special coverage Myanmar's Rohingya.

The June 2012 riots in western Myanmar involving Rohingyas and Rakhine prompted several international Islamic organizations and countries to extend their offer of assistance to resolve the conflict and deliver aid to victims.

The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), for instance, has proposed the establishment of a permanent office in Myanmar. This initiative sparked phenomenal opposition across the country, especially in Yangon, Mandalay, Pakkoku, Sittwe and Phyar Pone. Online comments are also  almost unanimous in opposing an OIC presence in the country.

Many people in Myanmar believe that an OIC office is not necessary to help the Muslim minority in Myanmar. Dr. Aye Maung, a member of parliament and the president of the Rakhine Nationalities Development Party has argued [my] that aid and donation can be delivered without setting up an OIC office in the country:

OIC is mainly for religion purposes, an organisation with 57 countries which are cooperating with Islamic countries. It's unlike ASEAN which is a regional and multi-religious association nor European Union.[...] And therefore we can and should receive the donations through the government without opening an OIC office.

Myo Set advised the OIC to communicate directly with other UN bodies and NGOs if they found the government machinery unreliable:

Burma has full cooperation with NGOs and UN which is why no more political coalition is needed if OIC's pure intention is to provide only food, shelter, health care service and security for Muslims. Whatever they wish to supply can go through the UN if Burmese authorities are not reliable.

Ko Htike wrote with the view that the riot was not a religious clash, thereby asserting that the OIC should not shape the situation to be one.

The Rohingya issue is neither a religious clash nor ethnic clash. It's just a problem between illegal immigrants and locals. It is such an ordinary problem which usually occur in many countries across the world. Nothing more.

I think OIC should not shape the situation to be a religious issue. I respect the kindness to provide humanitarian aid. If the intent is for humanitarian reason, other states and regions in Myanmar should be given assistance as well just like what other countries (e.g. Japan, US) are doing.

Ko Htike echoed the popular domestic opinion in Myanmar, opposing the Rohingya's struggle for recognition as an ethnic minority in the country. Opinion on the Rohingyas is divided; the global community consider them as among the most persecuted minorities in Asia.

For several weeks, there has been talk of a Memorandum of Understanding signed between the OIC and Myanmar's Ministry of Border Affairs, though there is little information about whether the agreement actually exists, and if so, what it comprises. When people started posting comments opposing the agreement, Hmuu Zaw from the president's office clarified[my] that the OIC office would only be a temporary liaison office rather than an official representative office.

This explanation didn't convince many. Tyfone Athene questioned the possible duration of the temporary office:

Temporary liaison office? how long will it take? 60 or unlimited years?

Poe Pwint Phyu thinks that if the government regarded the original incident a non-sectarian clash, then the agreement with the OIC should not have been signed:

Protest against OIC

Photo – CJ Myanmar Facebook Page

My last question to Mr. President's advisers: Do you see this recent conflict as merely a religious riot (thus you allowed a temporary office for OIC) or urgent issue of neglect and violence which victimized Rakhine natives? The answer will explain the present government's direction and its commitment to Rakhine and the survival of democratic Union—where every girl can freely get education and equal rights from the institution.

Others criticized the lack of transparency on procedures of government ministries. Ah Moe made this request [my]:

Be it a temporary liaison office or permanent branch office, what we are asking for now is to show a copy of that MOU to public, that's what we want mainly.

The government attempted to dissuade people from joining the protests against the setting up of an OIC office; despite this, they were held October 15 in several cities across the country. Bowing to public pressure, the president's office announced on the same day that the government would not permit the setting up of an OIC liaison office in Myanmar. However, it didn't mention the content of the controversial MOU. It was not clear if the government had informed the OIC of this decision.

The government has assured [my] the public that it would continue to accept humanitarian aid by coordinating closely with OIC and other international groups.

Meanwhile, the OIC said they have yet to receive a formal notification from Myanmar government regarding a decision to disallow a liaison office.

In related news, the Myanmar Red Cross Society issued a press release denying rumors that it is sponsoring a hidden OIC office inside its building.

This post is part of our special coverage Myanmar's Rohingya.

  • Chinthe

    Establishing OIC in Buddhist Burma is completely out of question. Why should a representative organisation of muslim countires that do not tolerate Buddhism, chrisitanity, judiasm and Hindusim establish an office in Burma?
    The answer is no!
    If they are genuinely concerned about the muslim illegal immigrants calling themselves Rohingyas, why not settle them in the 57 members states each taking about 15,000 Rohingyas. That is nothing! Rohingyas will have a future with thier own fellow muslims.Burma is still a poor country. Rohingyas being there is of no use to them or the Burmese.

  • notok

    I would like to suggest a thorough research be made by the OIC to find out the real reason(s) to why the Rohingyas are being treated the way they are… From my own experienced living with a few of them (5-6) for nearly 2 months, they have this kind of attitudes that in my opinion, no one from any creed, can accept. Therefore, before putting the problems/blames towards others, perhaps some research should be done on the Rohingyas’ attitudes? I can safely say that it got nothing to do with religion nor ethnic (i.e. from my own experience).

  • Pingback: Myanmar: 2012, the Year of Protests · Global Voices

  • Nay Maung Maung

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