Khonumthung News interviewed Soe Htet, Chin State government spokesperson and municipal minister about the continued clashes between the Burma Army and the Arakan Army (AA) in southern Chin State, the humanitarian crisis concerning more than 10,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Paletwa Township, and his expectations for the region given these circumstances.
You are a native of Paletwa. What can you tell us about ongoing clashes there?
I am not a revolutionary man. Many civilians have been killed and have disappeared in armed struggle. Many civilians have been arrested. Many people have been injured. Burma’s civil war has already been going for 70 years. We cannot solve political problems through the means of armed struggle. We need to work together to restore peace in our country. The government and the Burma Army will offer ethnic armed organizations [a chance]to make peace. I think they have some challenges in the peace process. In my opinion, the government is trying. As a local, we want all armed organizations to sign the NCA [Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement] and join the peace process. Then we will have peace in our country. If ethnic armed organizations participate in the peace process, both Chin and Rakhine people will have peace.
How much have people lost in the clashes in the Paletwa region?
Our local people have been struggling for food and shelter. Many people have been arrested and have disappeared in the clashes. More than 100 local people have been arrested. Some people were already released. I think more than 20 people remain in custody. I think 50 people have died in the clashes. Many civilians were wounded. Many local people have become IDPs in Paletwa, Sami, Meezer, and Sein Sinwa. All IDPs want to return to their villages. They cannot return to their villages due to ongoing clashes in the area. Us Chin ethnic people really love our native places. They want to return to their village but they cannot.
What is the current situation in Paletwa? Is the war still ongoing?
Clashes are silent during the rainy season. When we look at the movement of the AA, they have yet to get their demands. The UEC [Union Election Commission] didn’t hold the election in most regions in Rakhine State. If they do not get their demands, I think the armed conflict will occur. Now winter is coming, so clashes are likely to occur in both Rakhine State and Paletwa Township. As a consequence, local people will suffer a lot. Instead of creating armed conflict, they should come to join the peace process. They should make peace. Our local people expect it.
What should the Chin State government do to restore peace in Paletwa?
From the perspective of the government, we want the ethnic armed organizations to sign the NCA. Military means cannot stop the armed conflict. They need to hold discussions in political dialogue. The government has tried to make peace. The government has held the 21st Century Panglong Conference. They should come and discuss at the Panglong Conference. They have to negotiate with the government and the army. There are many things to be done as cooperation. Ethnic armed organizations have carried out an armed struggle for many years but they have not gotten a solution. To restore peace in the country, they need to hold discussions as part of political dialogue. Then they can implement regional development. I think all stakeholders need to join in political dialogue. Then peace will be restored in our country.
What aid does the government provide to IDPs?
The Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement has provided aid to the IDPs. The World Food Program, the International Committee for the Red Cross, and the Myanmar Red Cross Society have also provided assistance to IDPs. Private donors have also provided aid to IDPs. Some people provided funds but some people donated other materials. We have especially provided basic foods such as rice, cooking oil, beans, clothes and other domestic products. The government has allocated a grant for it. The state government also allocated a state grant for it. We have built huts for them.
Does the government have a resettlement plan for IDPs?
The State Counsellor guided us to meet the necessities of the IDPs. When we have regional stability, we will have a housing plan for them. At the moment, there is no regional stability. So we cannot do it. Clashes were reduced during the rainy season. We are worrying that clashes will continue in the area during the winter. If clashes occur, people will suffer and the situation will get worse.
Even though the UEC held the election in Paletwa Township, there was no election in many other regions. Do you think this will impact Paletwa?
A: The UEC didn’t hold the election in seven townships in northern Rakhine State. The election took place in half of all constituencies in Rakhine. We are worried about it. We successfully held the election in Paletwa. [The AA] is demanding to hold the election in the canceled areas. I think conflict is likely to occur. That’s why we are worried about it. Whatever the reason, they should sign the NCA and negotiate with the government. They should seek a solution with the government. Our ethnic group’s revolution didn’t negatively affect us but another ethnic group’s revolution has impacted our region and our local people including their education, health, social welfare, etc. Our people have suffered a lot.
Many people are predicting you will become the next chief minister of Chin State in the next government’s term. If you become the chief minister, what will you do to restore peace in Paletwa?
If the government or people need me, I am ready to accept it. I have both domestic and international experience. I also understand the necessary things of our region. If the government appoints me, I am ready to accept the job. If the government needs me, I am ready to work. I traveled into the conflict-affected area. I have worked on many things. As a representative of the government, I have worked for the local people. I was shot while I was traveling in Paletwa. It’s really difficult to go there but I tried to get there. At the moment, it’s really difficult to make peace and develop the region. It will take us time. We need to discuss it with them [the AA]. Later on, development projects will follow. If the government gives me a job, I can do it.