Heck­lers take on na­tion­al­ist protest

A rally against the Rakhine State Ad­vi­sory Com­mis­sion yes­ter­day grew heated as res­i­dents yelled at pro­test­ers, po­lice in­ter­rupted skir­mishes and or­gan­is­ers kicked out the me­dia.

The Myanmar Times - - Front Page - SHOON NAING news­room@mm­times.com

TIRED of an out­pour­ing of na­tion­al­ist sen­ti­ment in their back­yard, Ba­han town­ship res­i­dents shot back at pro­test­ers demon­strat­ing against the Rakhine State Ad­vi­sory Com­mis­sion yes­ter­day. Park­go­ers at the Bo Sein Hman sports grounds heck­led the gath­ered crowd, and in at least one in­stance ob­served by The Myan­mar Times,a woman yelled ob­scen­i­ties at the demon­stra­tors. A sep­a­rate al­leged in­ci­dent led to a scuf­fle and the punch­ing of a pho­tog­ra­pher cov­er­ing the event.

Sev­eral hun­dred na­tion­al­ists had as­sem­bled on the field yes­ter­day to protest a per­ceived for­eign in­tru­sion into na­tional af­fairs with the ap­point­ment of for­mer UN chief Kofi An­nan to head a com­mis­sion for Rakhine State.

The monks and layper­sons gath­ered around a makeshift stage where read­ings took place. Pro­test­ers held up sign­boards say­ing, “Kofi An­nan’s de­ci­sion, no need” and “No per­mis­sion to make our in­ter­nal con­flict ex­ter­nal”.

As one of the pre­sen­ters spoke out against Mr An­nan, a woman in the park be­gan yelling, and curs­ing, back. Protest or­gan­is­ers and around 20 po­lice quickly in­ter­vened. How­ever, po­lice re­fused to kick the woman out of the park as the pro­test­ers re­quested.

In an­other in­ci­dent wit­nessed by The Myan­mar Times, pho­to­jour­nal­ist Ko Myat Kyaw Thu from the Myan­mar Pressphoto Agency was try­ing to take a pic­ture of an­other woman speak­ing out against the demon­stra­tors when he was hit in the face. In the chaos it was un­clear who the as­sailant was.

“They asked, ‘Why did you take that photo?’ and then they hit me,” Ko Myat Kyaw Thu said. “I don’t know who hit me be­cause it was a mess of peo­ple. I only know that some­one hit me.”

Fol­low­ing the scuf­fle, demon­stra­tors told the as­sem­bled me­dia to leave the field.

Be­fore the demon­stra­tion turned hos­tile, U Zaw Win, a protest or­gan­iser, told The Myan­mar Times that the event had been called mainly to protest Mr An­nan chair­ing the new com­mis­sion. He said the head of such a sen­si­tive team should be some­one from Myan­mar who un­der­stands the com­plex­ity of the is­sue, as well as the his­tory.

“We are to­tally against for­mer UN sec­re­tary gen­eral Kofi An­nan lead­ing the com­mis­sion. It is a big con­cern be­cause what he says will have huge in­flu­ence over the in­ter­na­tional community,” said U Zaw Win. “Since he is a No­bel Peace Prize win­ner and also the for­mer head of the UN if he says that the ‘Ro­hingya are re­ally Myan­mar peo­ple ex­ist­ing here as refugees’ the in­ter­na­tional community will ac­cept that.”

How­ever, U Zaw Win added that he would not have con­cerns about the com­mis­sion if Mr An­nan pledged not to push the recog­ni­tion of Mus­lim Ro­hingya as an of­fi­cial eth­nic group.

“If he stands on the side of Myan­mar na­tion­al­ity, and doesn’t break up the unity of Myan­mar as a coun­try that is ma­jor­ity Bud­dhist and also doesn’t cre­ate a new eth­nic­ity with the name ‘Ro­hingya’, we will sup­port him,” he said.

The govern­ment-backed com­mis­sion, which con­sists of six Myan­mar na­tion­als and three for­eign cit­i­zens, last week con­ducted a two-day field visit to Rakhine State, tour­ing both Mus­lim and Bud­dhist IDP camps.

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 self-iden­tify as Ro­hingya but who are re­ferred to as il­le­gal “Ben­gali” im­mi­grants by the ma­jor­ity in Myan­mar. The camps re­main a sub­ject of ma­jor con­cern to rights groups due to the dire hu­man­i­tar­ian con­di­tions faced by res­i­dents.

How­ever, Mr An­nan em­pha­sised dur­ing his visit that the ad­vi­sory body is tak­ing on a con­sul­ta­tive – not de­ci­sion-mak­ing – role, and will be en­gag­ing the con­cerns of all sides, in­clud­ing Rakhine Bud­dhist na­tion­al­ists.

At yes­ter­day’s protest, lawyer U Aye Paing, who self-iden­ti­fied as a “na­tional ac­tivist”, told The Myan­mar Times that event was held with the per­mis­sion of town­ship author­i­ties, and was meant to fos­ter ideas for a pe­ti­tion to be sent to par­lia­ment.

Last week, par­lia­ment shot down a pro­posal to re­move in­ter­na­tional fig­ures from the com­mis­sion, which was cre­ated at the be­hest of State Coun­sel­lor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

Photo: Naing Wynn Htoon

Po­lice had to break up ar­gu­ments be­tween lo­cal res­i­dents, monks and protest or­gan­is­ers at a demon­stra­tion yes­ter­day.

Photo: Naign Wynn Htoon

An­gry lo­cals in­ter­rupted pro­test­ers’ speeches against the Rakhine State Ad­vi­sory Com­mis­sion yes­ter­day.

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