Rakhine stages hos­tile wel­come for ex-UN chief

The Myanmar Times - - Front Page - FIONA MACGRE­GOR f.macgre­gor@mm­times.com – Ad­di­tional re­port­ing by Ye Ywal Myint, trans­la­tion by Zar Zar Soe

Hun­dreds of Bud­dhist na­tion­al­ists lined the road from the Sittwe air­port yes­ter­day, protest­ing the ar­rival of the newly formed Rakhine ad­vi­sory com­mis­sion headed by Kofi An­nan.

AS hun­dreds of pro­tes­tors gave Kofi An­nan a hos­tile wel­come to Sittwe yes­ter­day, the chair of the newly formed Rakhine ad­vi­sory com­mis­sion vowed to work with all sec­tions of the com­mu­nity to end the con­flict that has blighted the state, and to help build eco­nomic pros­per­ity.

Il­lus­trat­ing the chal­lenges ly­ing ahead for the com­mis­sion, hun­dreds of peo­ple lined the air­port road to voice their ob­jec­tions over “for­eign in­ter­fer­ence” in the state’s trou­bles. “No Kofi An­nan,” they shouted.

The govern­ment-backed com­mis­sion, which con­sists of six Myan­mar na­tion­als and three for­eign cit­i­zens, is on a two-day visit to the state to meet with lo­cal po­lit­i­cal, re­li­gious and com­mu­nity lead­ers, in­clud­ing those from the mainly state­less Mus­lim Ro­hingya com­mu­nity.

Ad­dress­ing com­mis­sion mem­bers and around 100 del­e­gates, com­mis­sion chair Mr An­nan said the body was “aware of the great his­tory and cul­ture of Rakhine State” and vowed “im­par­tial­ity”.

But that was not enough to re­as­sure some lo­cal eth­nic Rakhine present, who af­ter­ward ex­pressed anger they had not been al­lowed to ad­dress Mr An­nan di­rectly in the open­ing ses­sion.

“They in­vited us to the meet­ing and asked us to leave without a chance to have a dis­cus­sion. It means they have no re­spect for the Rakhine peo­ple,” said lo­cal res­i­dent U Than Tun.

Over 120,000 peo­ple, mainly Mus­lims, re­main dis­placed in Rakhine af­ter com­mu­nal vi­o­lence broke out in 2012 be­tween Rakhine Bud­dhists and the Mus­lim mi­nor­ity who self­i­den­tify as Ro­hingya but who are re­ferred to as il­le­gal “Ben­gali” im­mi­grants by the ma­jor­ity in Myan­mar.

State Coun­sel­lor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has faced in­ter­na­tional con­dem­na­tion for her fail­ure to ad­dress the on­go­ing hu­man rights abuses in­flicted on the Ro­hingya, who are widely de­nied free­dom of move­ment and face se­verely re­stricted access to med­i­cal care.

The com­mis­sion has been recog­nised as an at­tempt by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi to ad­dress some of those con­cerns, but the in­clu­sion of for­eign­ers has pro­voked anger in Rakhine where Bud­dhist na­tion­al­ists have ac­cused for­eign agen­cies, in­clud­ing the UN and ma­jor INGOs, of pref­er­en­tial treat­ment of the Mus­lim pop­u­la­tion.

“If the Union govern­ment needed to form an ad­vi­sory com­mis­sion on Rakhine State af­fairs, it should have done so with lo­cal eth­nic ex­perts,” said Daw May Phyu, a res­i­dent from Min­gan ward. “I demon­strated be­cause this is an in­ter­nal af­fair and not an in­ter­na­tional is­sue.”

Mr An­nan ar­rived at the govern­ment at around 10am to ex­plain the ob­jec­tives of the com­mis­sion. But with speak­ers set at low lev­els his words were barely audi­ble at times, as around 100 pro­test­ers out­side chanted protest slo­gans.

In his open­ing re­marks, Mr An­nan com­mented on the “ac­tive and hec­tic re­cep­tion” he had re­ceived upon ar­rival at Sittwe air­port that morn­ing.

At least 400 pro­test­ers, in­clud­ing a small num­ber of monks, lined the road from the air­port shout­ing that Mr An­nan was not wel­come and wav­ing ban­ners ob­ject­ing to his pres­ence as a kind of for­eign in­ter­ven­tion.

“We do not be­lieve the com­mis­sion is fair,” said Ko Aung Ko Moe, who was as­sist­ing protest or­gan­is­ers at the air­port.

U Tin Maung Swe, sec­re­tary of the Rakhine State govern­ment, claimed pro­test­ers had been paid to at­tend, given K5000 each by a po­lit­i­cal or­gan­i­sa­tion.

“They are not from Sittwe,” he said, an al­le­ga­tion ap­par­ently backed by some pro­test­ers them­selves who said they had come from sur­round­ing vil­lages af­ter be­ing ral­lied by lo­cal lead­ers the night be­fore.

How­ever Sittwe lo­cal res­i­dents also ex­pressed un­hap­pi­ness about the in­clu­sion of for­eign­ers in the com­mis­sion.

“The most im­por­tant per­son in the com­mis­sion is the chair, and if that is Kofi An­nan the prob­lem is that he doesn’t know well the feel­ings of the peo­ple of Rakhine State. We are wor­ried that if he makes the wrong de­ci­sion it will in­flict more pain on the peo­ple here,” said lawyer U Myint Soe Win, as he sat with friends in a lo­cal tea shop.

Open­ing the meet­ing of about 100 del­e­gates, U Kyaw Tint Swe, min­is­ter for the State Coun­sel­lor’s Of­fice and for­mer am­bas­sador to the UN un­der the mil­i­tary regime, said the com­mis­sion had been formed “in the in­ter­est of the en­tire na­tion”. He also pressed home the mes­sage that “sta­bil­ity and de­vel­op­ment go hand in hand”.

His ad­dress was fol­lowed by re­marks from the chief min­is­ter of Rakhine State, U Nyi Pu, who urged “friendly and frank dis­cus­sions” and said, “This is not the kind of work that can be com­pleted in one day, or one visit, so I hope this ef­fort will be con­tin­ued if a so­lu­tion is to be found.”

Mr An­nan, a for­mer UN sec­re­tary gen­eral, also stressed a link be­tween peace and eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment.

He said as chair of the com­mis­sion he is aware of the “great suf­fer­ing” of peo­ple in Rakhine, and the chal­lenges ahead.

“My ex­pe­ri­ence has shown me that peace­ful democ­racy and peace­ful so­ci­ety can be built on three things: sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment; peace and se­cu­rity; and re­spect for rule of law and hu­man rights.”

He added, “No na­tion can long re­main pros­per­ous without re­spect for rule of law and hu­man rights.”

The for­mer UN chief also called on Myan­mar’s neigh­bours to “play a con­struc­tive and pos­i­tive role”.

Af­ter the event, Dutch com­mis­sion mem­ber Laeti­tia van den As­sum, a for­mer diplo­mat and UN ad­viser, re­it­er­ated Mr An­nan’s prom­ise that the body would fo­cus on com­mu­nity con­sul­ta­tion

“We are here to lis­ten and to learn,” she said.

The com­mis­sion mem­bers are to­day due to visit camps for in­ter­nally dis­placed per­sons (IDPs) and vil­lages around Sittwe be­fore Mr An­nan flies to Nay Pyi Taw.

A per­ma­nent of­fice for the com­mis­sion is cur­rently be­ing es­tab­lished in Sittwe and will op­er­ate with around five to 10 staff mem­bers, a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of Mr An­nan’s del­e­ga­tion con­firmed.

‘We are wor­ried that if he makes the wrong de­ci­sion it will in­flict more pain on the peo­ple here.’ U Myint Soe Win Lawyer

Photo: Nyan Zay Htet

Demon­stra­tors in Sittwe protest for­mer UN sec­re­tary gen­eral Kofi An­nan’s ar­rival to the Rakhine State cap­i­tal yes­ter­day.

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