Anger over in­ter­na­tional ex­perts ap­pointed to Rakhine com­mis­sion

The Myanmar Times - - News - EI EI TOE LWIN eieitoel­win@mm­ – Ad­di­tional re­port­ing by Pyae Thet Phyo

NA­TION­AL­ISTS are al­ready clash­ing with a newly con­vened ad­vi­sory com­mis­sion tasked with form­ing a longterm plan for Rakhine State. Fu­ri­ous over the in­clu­sion of in­ter­na­tional ex­perts on the body, the de­trac­tors are rais­ing con­cerns over a per­ceived grow­ing in­ter­na­tional in­flu­ence over lo­cal af­fairs, and have ac­cused the gov­ern­ment of breach­ing sovereignty.

The ad­vi­sory com­mis­sion is com­posed of three in­ter­na­tional ex­perts – in­clud­ing the com­mis­sion chair, for­mer UN chief Kofi Annan – and six Myan­mar na­tion­als, in­clud­ing Myan­mar Na­tional Hu­man Rights Com­mis­sion chair U Win Mra.

The nine-mem­ber com­mis­sion has been tasked with find­ing preven­tive mea­sures for con­flicts; en­sur­ing hu­man­i­tar­ian as­sis­tance, rights and rec­on­cil­i­a­tion; es­tab­lish­ing ba­sic in­fra­struc­ture; and pro­mot­ing de­vel­op­ment plans in the state.

On Au­gust 24, the State Coun­sel­lor’s Of­fice re­leased a state­ment say­ing it would soon be sign­ing a me­moran­dum of un­der­stand­ing (MoU) with the Kofi Annan Foun­da­tion about the com­mis­sion, but did not spec­ify a date.

One day af­ter the state­ment was re­leased, the Arakan Na­tional Party (ANP) called for “abol­ish­ing the com­mis­sion led by Kofi Annan”. The ANP ac­cused the gov­ern­ment and the newly cre­ated com­mis­sion of be­ing bi­ased against Rakhine eth­nics.

“Our party strongly re­jects the three in­ter­na­tional per­sons, who lack knowl­edge about the his­tory and sta­tus of the Rakhine eth­nics, in the com­mis­sion,” the ANP’s state­ment said. “The work of the com­mis­sion will not be trusted by us.”

“The state­ment [by the gov­ern­ment] will cause not only the loss of the rights of all in­dige­nous eth­nics, but will also have a neg­a­tive im­pact on the state’s sovereignty,” the state­ment said.

Thir­teen Rakhine State MPs signed a let­ter sent to the state par­lia­men­tary Speaker call­ing for an emer­gency meet­ing to dis­cuss the com­mis­sion.

“We as­sume that the new gov­ern­ment’s ac­tion will have neg­a­tive re­sults for the coun­try and the peo­ple as they give pri­or­ity to tackle this sen­si­tive Ben­gali is­sue in­stead of pay­ing at­ten­tion to the more press­ing is­sues such as se­cur­ing a state of peace, de­vel­op­ment and unity among eth­nic groups,” said U Tun Aung Kyaw, gen­eral sec­re­tary of the ANP.

The Union Sol­i­dar­ity and De­vel­op­ment Party echoed the ANP’s state­ment, say­ing that in­clu­sion of the in­ter­na­tional “out­siders” could ren­der an in­ter­nal state is­sue an in­ter­na­tional af­fair.

The USDP said the gov­ern­ment is ne­glect­ing na­tional in­ter­ests and se­cu­rity by con­cen­trat­ing on hu­man rights is­sues. The for­mer rul­ing party

‘We don’t like in­ter­na­tional in­volve­ment in ad­dress­ing our in­ter­nal is­sues. We should solve our prob­lems our­selves.’ Saw Than Myint Na­tional Brother­hoods Fed­er­a­tion

also pledged to act as a watch­dog over the com­mis­sion.

The ob­jec­tion to the com­mis­sion has also gained trac­tion with the Na­tional Brother­hoods Fed­er­a­tion, an alliance of 22 eth­nic par­ties.

“We don’t like in­ter­na­tional in­volve­ment in ad­dress­ing our in­ter­nal is­sues. We should solve our prob­lems our­selves. That’s why we say frankly that we don’t like the par­tic­i­pa­tion of the three in­ter­na­tional per­sons [on the com­mis­sion],” said Saw Than Myint, a spokesper­son for the NBF.

The pre­vi­ous ad­min­is­tra­tion was adamant that is­sues in Rakhine State were a sov­er­eign af­fair, even as state­less Muslim Ro­hingya be­came one of the largest refugee pop­u­la­tions and took to hu­man smug­gling boats in re­gional routes via Thai­land, Malaysia and In­done­sia.

Pres­i­dent’s Of­fice deputy di­rec­tor gen­eral U Zaw Htay told The Myan­mar Times that Kofi Annan was ap­pointed head of the com­mis­sion due to grow­ing in­ter­na­tional pres­sure over hu­man­i­tar­ian con­cerns in Rakhine State. The UN and the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity have heav­ily crit­i­cised the NLD-backed ad­min­is­tra­tion for not do­ing more to rem­edy the on­go­ing dis­place­ment and re­stric­tions on the move­ments of the Muslim Ro­hingya in the first few months in of­fice.

“The Rakhine is­sue is sen­si­tive and the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity is in­ter­ested in it. That’s why we are tak­ing into ac­count the role of the in­ter­na­tional ex­perts,” said U Zaw Htay. He added that Mr Annan’s in­ter­na­tional clout should bol­ster the rep­u­ta­tion and cre­den­tials of the com­mis­sion.

“He is trusted in­ter­na­tion­ally,” U Zaw Htay added.

Re­gard­ing the ques­tions of cit­i­zen­ship for the “Ben­galis”, U Zaw Htay stuck to the credo of the con­tro­ver­sial 1982 Cit­i­zen­ship Law in­tro­duced by Gen­eral Ne Win’s mil­i­tary regime.

“Ex­ist­ing rules and reg­u­la­tions are al­ready in place,” said U Zaw Htay.

The newly formed com­mis­sion’s first task is to carry out an eval­u­a­tion of the 59 points as­sem­bled by its pre­de­ces­sor, a 27-mem­ber in­ves­ti­ga­tion body headed by U Thein Sein, which had aimed to ex­pose the “real cause” of sec­tar­ian ri­ots that rid­dled the state in 2012.

In May 2013, the prior in­ves­ti­ga­tion com­mis­sion sub­mit­ted a 186-page re­port fo­cus­ing on is­sues such as hu­man­i­tar­ian as­sis­tance for in­ter­nally dis­placed peo­ple, cit­i­zen­ship, religion, se­cu­rity and ad­min­is­tra­tion, rule of law, and peace­ful co­ex­is­tence.

“We did our best. But the gov­ern­ment failed to im­ple­ment [the sug­ges­tions sub­mit­ted by the com­mis­sion],” said U Thura, more pop­u­larly known as Za­ganar, one of the com­mis­sion mem­bers.

De­spite the crit­i­cism of the in­ter­na­tional ex­perts head­ing up the new com­mis­sion, U Thura said he is op­ti­mistic about the ad­vi­sory body.

“Our com­mis­sion was also strongly crit­i­cised even though it was formed with lo­cal ex­perts and tried to pro­duce a good re­port. Who­ever takes up this task will be sub­ject to crit­i­cism,” he said.

“But the Rakhine is­sue is not just a lo­cal is­sue. Ac­tu­ally it is an in­ter­na­tional is­sue as our coun­try has been lob­bied by the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity. When the re­port was my re­spon­si­bil­ity, I had to go to for­eign coun­tries in­clud­ing Malaysia and the US and had to meet with Is­lamic or­gan­i­sa­tions. So I think the par­tic­i­pa­tion and sug­ges­tions of in­ter­na­tional ex­perts might be help­ful in find­ing [in­ter­na­tion­ally ac­cepted] ways to solve the is­sue. Also Kofi Annan is very ex­pe­ri­enced in deal­ing with con­flict and also is trusted and re­spected in­ter­na­tion­ally.”

The com­mis­sion led by the for­mer UN sec­re­tary gen­eral will sub­mit its find­ings within a year to the gov­ern­ment through the state coun­sel­lor in a re­port that is slated to be re­leased pub­licly.

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