A police checkpoint at a closed-off Rohingya area of Sittwe. Source: Flickr
Former United Nations secretary general Kofi Annan has said his mission to western Myanmar’s Rakhine State is not meant to investigate human rights, but to find recommendations to ease tensions between the Buddhist and Muslim communities.
Annan is chairing a nine-member independent commission set up last month by State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi’s office to search for solutions to communal conflict from decades-long discrimination against Muslim Rohingya that exploded into mass killings in 2012.
More than 100,000 people, mostly Rohingyas, remain in squalid refugee camps, causing many to attempt to flee by sea to other countries, causing a regional refugee crisis.
Buddhists in Rakhine consider their Muslim neighbours to be illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, while Islamic communities have been recorded in the area for hundreds of years. Anti-Muslim pogroms spread to across Myanmar in 2012.
About 1,000 Buddhists demonstrated against Annan and his other commissioners on their arrival in Rakhine, claiming that the presence of foreigners in the commission would lead to international intrusion into a domestic issue. The majority party in the state, the Arakan National Party, announced that foreigner could not understand the complex nature of the state’s history.
Annan held meetings with representatives of both groups in Sittwe.
An ethnic Rakhine, Khin Mar Nwe, a Minngan camp resident, was quoted saying by the Myanmar Eleven: “What we discussed was whether we can stay together with the ‘Bengalis’ or do business together,” she said, using the controversial term for the Muslim community, implying they are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
“We said we are not OK to stay together with them and we don’t want to do business with them. We told that they will bully the Rakhine women. If we stay together, ethnic Rakhine do not dare to sleep at night and it is very unpleasant for us,” she said she told the commission.
Annan told the media when he had returned to Yangon: “We heard from a whole range of people, the people in the camps and in villages, focused on issues of concern, development, jobs, education, medical care, freedom of movement, occupations for their wives.
“We are not here to do a human rights investigation and write a human rights report,” the former UN chief said, adding that he was “to make recommendations that will help reduce tensions, support development in Rakhine state”. Annan has a year to report.
“We are not here as an inspector or as a policeman. We are here to help at the request of the government,” the Ghanaian diplomat said.
The Rakhine problems had an international dimension, affecting the whole region which was confronted by migrants fleeing the state, he said.