Hundreds of people rallied in Myanmar on Tuesday to denounce an advisory commission, led by visiting former UN chief Kofi Annan, which is charged with probing the plight of the country’s Muslim minority.
Local residents and Buddhist monks joined the protest overseen by dozens of police, despite rain in the northwestern Rakhine State, challenging what they perceived as “foreigners’ biased intervention”.
The demonstration was called by some leaders in the state’s powerful Arakan National Party (ANP), which has criticised the commission, insisting that foreigners cannot understand the history of the area.
“The Republic of the Union of Myanmar is a country with its own sovereignty. As that kind of country, we find it unacceptable that this commission has been formed with outsiders,” said Aung Than Wai, secretary of the ANP’s executive committee.
“I don’t want to see foreigners involved in this commission. I want to see a commission involving people of the Rakhine nationality,” Kyaw Zin Wai, a 52-year-old carpenter told Reuters, adding that the two ethnic Rakhine commission members were not “representative” of people in the state.
Amid longstanding reports of abuses against Rohingya Muslims, committed by the Buddhist majority in Rakhine state, Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi set up the commission last month to try to find a solution to the crisis which has cast a shadow over democratic reforms in the former Burma.
Suu Kyi, who is barred from the presidency by the junta-drafted constitution but leads in the roles of state counselor and foreign minister, plans to visit the US this month, where she is thought to be seeking further sanctions relief for her country but is likely to face questions over her efforts to improve conditions for the Rohingya.
“To build the future, the two major communities have to move beyond decades of mistrust and find ways to embrace shared values of justice, fairness and equity,” Annan said in Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine state.
“Ultimately, the people of Rakhine state must chart their own way forward. We are here to help. We are here to provide ideas and advice.”
The commission, made up of six Myanmar citizens and three foreigners, is on a initial two-day visit to meet local communities. It will visit camps for stateless Muslims on Wednesday, where people live in cramped and poorly maintained huts. It hopes to present its findings in the next few months.
The challenge it faces is immense.
Clashes in Rakhine in 2012 left over 100 people dead and razed some neighbourhoods to the ground
Some 125,000 people are still displaced, the vast majority of them Rohingya. They are prevented from moving freely, have their access to basic services restricted and are mostly denied citizenship in Myanmar. Many have fled by sea in rickety boats.