Heavy rain and high hopes as com­mis­sion vis­its IDP camps

The Rakhine State ad­vi­sory com­mis­sion headed by Kofi An­nan vis­ited res­i­dents in a Mus­lim ghetto, a Rakhine IDP camp and a Mus­lim IDP camp yes­ter­day to hear lo­cal con­cerns and ex­plain the newly formed body’s ob­jec­tives.

The Myanmar Times - - Front Page - FIONA MACGRE­GOR f.macgre­gor@mm­times.com

TOR­REN­TIAL rain did not de­ter a crowd of well over 100 peo­ple turn­ing out to wit­ness Kofi An­nan’s ar­rival in the Mus­lim ghetto of Aung Min­galar yes­ter­day.

In con­trast to the protests that had greeted Mr An­nan’s ar­rival in the Rakhine State cap­i­tal of Sit­twe the day be­fore, res­i­dents of Aung Minglar wel­comed the chair of the newly formed Rakhine ad­vi­sory com­mis­sion. Res­i­dents of the ghetto said they hope the body will help fos­ter peace between Bud­dhists and Mus­lims in the state.

The for­mer UN sec­re­tary gen­eral and the eight other com­mis­sion mem­bers were on a two-day visit to Sit­twe to meet with com­mu­nity mem­bers and dis­cuss lo­cal con­cerns, as well as to share the com­mis­sion’s aims.

They also vis­ited an eth­nic Rakhine IDP vil­lage yes­ter­day, be­fore go­ing on to speak to IDPs in one of the state’s no­to­ri­ous camps where Mus­lim Ro­hingya have been in­terred in grim con­di­tions since com­mu­nal vi­o­lence broke out between the two com­mu­ni­ties in 2012. More than 120,000 re­main dis­placed.

Res­i­dents of Aung Min­galar, who be­long to the Mus­lim mi­nor­ity who call them­selves Ro­hingya but are de­scribed as “Ben­galis” by most in Myan­mar, have been con­fined to the ghetto since 2012. Like most Ro­hingya, they are de­nied cit­i­zen­ship and face se­vere restric­tions on move­ment and ac­cess to med­i­cal care.

U Aung Thein, 63, a com­mu­nity leader in Aung Min­galar, who had also met with Mr An­nan as part of an of­fi­cial Mus­lim del­e­ga­tion the day be­fore, said, “For now I have no idea what Mr Kofi An­nan can do, but I hope the com­mis­sion and the gov­ern­ment can solve the prob­lem.”

Some con­tro­versy has sur­rounded con­cerns that the com­mis­sion does not in­clude any­one who iden­ti­fies as Ro­hingya. How­ever, U Aung Thein said he was sat­is­fied that there were Mus­lim rep­re­sen­ta­tives on the com­mis­sion and added, “I trust them, Rakhine or Mus­lim, as long as they want peace.”

And in re­sponse to con­cerns voiced by eth­nic Rakhine pro­tes­tors that “for­eign­ers” such as Mr An­nan could not un­der­stand lo­cal feel­ings, U Aung Thein said, “I am not sure what Kofi An­nan knows about our prob­lems, but if he doesn’t un­der­stand we can talk to him.”

Scores of res­i­dents squeezed into a small hall at the madrasa in Aung Min­galar to meet Mr An­nan and the other del­e­gates in talks last­ing around 20 min­utes. Po­lice po­litely ush­ered jour­nal­ists out and Mus­lim res­i­dents in to make sure as many lo­cals as pos­si­ble could fit into the hall. Dozens of others waited out­side in the rain.

Ma Mar Lar Shwe, a 35-year-old noo­dle seller, said, “It is not good for us liv­ing here now, but we are hope­ful Kofi An­nan can help, and I feel happy to­day be­cause he is here.”

She added that the fact res­i­dents were not al­lowed to leave the ghetto meant that they couldn’t get proper jobs, and said women who were preg­nant suf­fered be­cause they were not al­lowed to leave to give birth, though there were no nurses in the quar­ter.

The com­mis­sion del­e­gates next pro­ceeded to Min­gan vil­lage, where eth­nic Rakhine IDPs live in gov­ern­ment-pro­vided houses. A small num­ber of pro­tes­tors shouted out anti-com­mis­sion slo­gans as the con­voy passed through cen­tral Sit­twe.

How­ever, some vil­lagers also wel­comed the com­mis­sion. Many in the eth­nic Rakhine com­mu­nity have voiced com­plaints that in­ter­na­tional sup­port has fo­cused on the Mus­lim pop­u­la­tion, lead­ing to the al­le­ga­tions of “for­eign bias” and the protests against Mr An­nan as com­mis­sion chair.

But Ma Oo Than Kyi, 43, and her neigh­bour Ma Win Ma Thin, 28, sought to dis­tance them­selves from the protesters.

“They are not the same as us. We do not think like that. We be­lieve Mr Kofi An­nan can help,” said Ma Oo Than Kyi.

How­ever, both Rakhine women, who lost all their be­long­ings and liveli­hoods in the 2012 vi­o­lence, were in­sis­tent the two com­mu­ni­ties could not mix again.

“Maybe if we live in dif­fer­ent ar­eas there will be no more fight­ing,” said Ma Win Ma Thin, adding the main is­sue she wanted the com­mis­sion to ad­dress was their poverty and lack of job op­por­tu­ni­ties.

“We thank the gov­ern­ment for giv­ing us this house, but we don’t have any in­come,” she said.

In his in­tro­duc­tory speech in Sit­twe the day be­fore, Mr An­nan had stressed the re­la­tion­ship between “peace and pros­per­ity”.

At the Thet Kay Pyin IDP camp, hun­dreds of Ro­hingya awaited Mr An­nan’s ar­rival, many hav­ing trav­elled from other camps in the hope of high­light­ing their con­cerns to the com­mis­sion.

“Our mes­sage is that the first, most im­por­tant thing for us is our rights and the sec­ond is our [Ro­hingya] name,” said Abu Rakhim, who lives in Thet Kay Pyin.

Over 100 camp res­i­dents crowded into a roofed-off area where com­mis­sion mem­bers gath­ered, while an­other crowd amassed out­side the meet­ing spot.

“We hope the com­mis­sion is go­ing to iden­tify the prob­lems between the com­mu­ni­ties and take ac­tion. The first thing Mr An­nan should do is some­thing to prove to peo­ple they can be­lieve him,” said U La Mi, 62, a com­mu­nity leader who lives in the Dar Baing IDP vil­lage.

“I came to give a mes­sage from more than 1 mil­lion peo­ple,” said Sadak, a 21-year-old IDP also liv­ing in Dar Baing.

“I want to say to Mr Kofi An­nan, please bring peace for our com­mu­nity and give our com­mu­nity a voice. We’ve been liv­ing in these de­ten­tion cen­tres like an­i­mals since 2012. The most im­por­tant thing is to give at­ten­tion to us and give us a voice, for Mr Kofi An­nan to show he is be­hind us.”

PHOTO: AUNG MYIN YE ZAW

Photo: Aung Myin Ye Zaw

For­mer UN sec­re­tary gen­eral Kofi An­nan meets with peo­ple liv­ing in Sit­twe’s Aung Min­galar quar­ter yes­ter­day.

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