New Myanmar government plans ethnic affairs ministry | News | DW | 21.03.2016
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New Myanmar government plans ethnic affairs ministry

President-elect Htin Kyaw has said his government is planning a ministry to improve relations with minorities. Communal violence has affected tens of thousands of people in the country, including Rohingya Muslims.

"A ministry of ethnic affairs is of vital importance for the future of the union, which needs peace, development and sustainability," Htin Kyaw told the nation in his first address since the National League for Democracy (NLD) won last year's elections.

Ethnic clashes in the country have displaced over 240,000 people in Myanmar's northern Kachin state, where rebels are fighting the army. The western Rakhine state in Myanmar has also been riddled with violence against the Rohingya Muslims, which Myanmar considers as immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh.

On Monday, the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, said thousands of Rohingyas, who had fled their homes after violence broke out in 2012, were going back. The agency's regional spokeswoman, Vivian Tan, told Reuters news agency that the number of refugees in camps in Rakhine state had gone down to 120,000 from 145,000 in the last days.

However, local leaders expressed skepticism that the new ministry could tackle such conflicts. "The ministry of ethnic affairs is concerned with Myanmar ethnics. Bengali people are not one of our ethnic groups," MP Ba Shein told AFP news agency,.

Htin Kyaw's party, the National League for Democracy (NLD) led by Aung San Suu Kyi, has also been reticent about the issue. The party did not field any Muslim candidate in the elections, suggesting it may have wanted to appease Buddhist nationalists.

Indonesien Flüchtlinge Rohingya

Rohingyas do not have citizen status in Myanmar

Move to reduce bureaucracy

The president-elect's comments came as part of a wider speech to announce reforms in the nation's bureaucracy. Htin Kyaw pledged job security for public servants but also said the number of ministries would be reduced from 36 to 21. The changes would save Myanmar more than $4.1 million (3.65 million euros), which would be used for healthcare, education and rural employment.

The president-elect was expected to announce his cabinet on Tuesday, with anticipation focused around what role Suu Kyi might have to play in the new government.

The Nobel laureate is barred from holding the president's position according to Myanmar's constitution. Analysts say she may be named as the foreign minister, or could remain NLD's chief and rule by proxy, without taking up a cabinet post.

mg/msh (Reuters, AP, AFP)

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