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Myanmar won't provide special treatment to Rohingya refugees
Jim Middleton speaks with U Ye Htut, Myanmar's Deputy Information Minister and spokesman for President Thein Sein.

Myanmar's human rights record may have vastly improved over the past couple of years, but even president Thein Sein admits it's far from perfect.

Questions about the treatment of ethnic minorities chased the president to Australia on the first visit by a head of state from Myanmar in four decades.

U Ye Htut is Myanmar's deputy information minister and the president's spokesman.

Minister, very good to be talking to you.

JIM MIDDLETON: Myanmar is very rich in natural resources. The president while he's been in Australia sought Australia's support in helping develop those mineral resources. Is your government concerned that it needs to make sure that in exploiting minerals in mining that the environment does not suffer as it has in many other developing countries? Is that what you're seeking from Australia?

U YE HTUT: Yes. The president very interesting about the Australian the mining industry. So what we try to do is in the future we would like to exploit our mineral without affecting the environment and also the socioeconomic of the people and also the very good management of our national resources. That is what we would like to learn from the Australian experience.

JIM MIDDLETON: What about the current protest at the copper mine, I think it's at Monywa that I have read about. Operations there have led to, environmental destruction was a term that Aung San Suu Kyi used when she was reporting on what had happened there. Local people are also very angry at having their land confiscated. That's not a particularly good example, is it?

U YE HTUT: Yes, that is the two important thing we learn from the now recent copper mine crisis is, one, when they make the agreement is not transparent enough to give the information to the local people. And, again, they are not conducting the effective study on environmental effect.

So that sees two things that needs a lot of understanding about the project and the recent crisis. But now the commission led by the Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, made many good recommendations for the copper mine project. And now the president from the commission to implement all the recommendation made by the Daw Aung San Suu Kyi commission.

JIM MIDDLETON: The commission was headed by Aung San Suu Kyi. The local communities obviously angered by what her commission found. What sort of effect do you think events like that will have on her standing, her support among the people in Myanmar?

U YE HTUT: When Daw Aung San Suu Kyi visited that area and explained, I think most of the people said the recommendation now, they accept. But a few very small minority are still against it.

But I think it will not affect our reputation, our country, it will also - it's only more support to her because she is the one who handle the very difficult situation to satisfy all the stakeholder.

JIM MIDDLETON: During the president's visit to Canberra, Australian Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, spoke publicly and privately about the need for further improvements in human rights in Myanmar. You have come a very long way but there is still quite a way to go, is there not?

U YE HTUT: Yes. For the human rights sector we made a lot of improvement in the last two years. Now we have the national human right commission. All the state media, all the private media have the fully practised their freedom of expression and reporting about every the human right views and happening in that country. The government take the necessary action.

But you know like every country we still have the problem. But the most important thing is the government have the political will to solve all of these things.

JIM MIDDLETON: It's only a few days since the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, Tomas Ojea Quintana, suggested that there needed to be further action, that there was still short comings, in particular in relation to the Rohingya.

Why can the Rohingya not be citizens of Myanmar?

U YE HTUT: No, we never say that these Bengali who settle in our Rakhine State will not become the citizens. Firstly we have 1982 citizenship law, there is a lot of criteria but for that generation who settle in that area have the citizenship. So any people not only these people, not only these Bengali, but any people who living in our country ...

JIM MIDDLETON: But some of them have been there for generations. For many, many years.

U YE HTUT: Yes, many these Bengali already have the national registration card. I understand, this.

JIM MIDDLETON: But would it not be fitting for those people who have been there for some time that they should get citizenship too?

U YE HTUT: No that's we have the law the 1982 law and the recent (inaudible) of Parliament reviewed that law and they said they is still meeting our country's situation.

So we have no discrimination against the people. Every people who have the meeting the criteria for the citizenship will have the citizen..

But there are still many illegal immigrants in that that area, we have to sort that problem.

JIM MIDDLETON: I think something like 120,000 people displaced by the violence in Rakhine State last year are still in camps. The United Nations is worried about what will happen to them when the rains come, when the rainy season returns.

Will you allow them to move back into the community as the UN has suggested in time for the wet season, for the rainy season?

U YE HTUT: No. I think most of the people are still living in the camp. But they have enough shelter and food supply for the rainy season. And there are some people who are already moving back to their area with the government and international organisation building the - rebuilding the home. But there may be some people who have to pass this rainy season in the camp. But I think they have enough shelter to face the rainy season.

JIM MIDDLETON: And what about in Kachin State? The UN is suggesting that there ought to be better access for aid organisations to the 40,000 or so people displaced by the fighting there. Will you do more to enable aid to get to those people?

U YE HTUT: The government have the giving grant for the UN organisation to send the humanitarian assistance on the people from both sides of the conflict. I think last month, two or one or more UN convoy reaching the people. So I think there is no problem for the giving assess.

The problem is the damage and the organisation have enough supply to send all those people. That is my opinion.

JIM MIDDLETON: Minister, thank you very much for your time.

U YE HTUT: My pleasure.
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