RANGOON — The Arakan National Party (ANP) has demanded that the government cancel the new Arakan State Advisory Commission formed on Wednesday, of which former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan will serve as the chairman.
The nine-member team includes three international representatives, including Kofi Annan, and six from Burma—including two Buddhist Arakanese members, two Rangoon-based Muslim members and two government representatives.
In a letter to the government, the ANP expressed objection to the three non-Burmese members selected to serve on the commission, stating that they would not be able to understand the background of and the current situation on the ground in Arakan State.
The region saw significant violence in 2012 and 2013, largely affecting the stateless Muslim Rohingya community and displacing 140,000 civilians. The ANP does not recognize the self-identifying Rohingya minority as belonging to Arakan State, instead describing them as “Bengali” migrants from neighboring Bangladesh.
The ANP announcement stated that the formation of the new commission would likely harm the rights of indigenous people—a reference to the Buddhist Arakanese—and national sovereignty. The problems of the state, said the ANP, is a matter of “internal affairs” which previous governments have failed to resolve in line with current laws.
Muslim commission member Al Haj U Aye Lwin, founder of the interfaith group Religions for Peace, told The Irrawaddy that he finds the involvement of international committee members acceptable and does not believe that the new commission will interfere with Burma’s sovereignty, as the ANP alleged. The work of the committee, he explained, is to make recommendations to the government based on their findings, rather than to take action themselves.
The Burmese government, U Aye Lwin said, needs to take into account the international community’s perspective, because the challenges facing Arakan State have grown beyond those of a domestic issue and have become the focus of global concern.
“So many government experts have tried several times to explain to the international community what is happening. However, they haven’t solved the problem yet. That’s why the government seeks a third party’s perspective,” he said. “We will explain [this situation] to the rest of the world.”
Some members of Burma’s Muslim community also reportedly expressed concern over rumors that the advisory commission had not two, but three Arakanese Buddhist representatives, but U Aye Lwin said that this did not come as a surprise.
“We expected this kind of complaint before the formation,” he said, referring to worries from both Buddhist and Muslim communities regarding the make-up of the commission. “Everybody can share their own opinion in a democratic society. They have the right to criticize. It doesn’t matter.”
The Buddhist Arakanese members of the commission include U Win Mra, who chairs Burma’s National Human Rights Commission, and Daw Saw Khin Tint, who chairs the Arakan Literature and Cultural Association and is the vice-chair of the Arakan Women’s Association.
In addition to Al Haj U Aye Lwin, U Khin Maung Lay, a member of the National Human Rights Commission, will be serving on the commission as a Muslim representative.
The Burmese government’s delegation includes two doctors: Thar Hla Shwe, president of Burma’s Red Cross Society, and Mya Thida, President of the Obstetrical and Gynecological Society of Burma.
There are no Rohingya members on the commission.
U Aye Lwin added that the three international members come from high profile backgrounds, and are believed to be Christian—rather than Buddhist or Muslim. In addition to Kofi Annan, the non-Burmese members are Ghassan Salamé, a scholar from Lebanon and once-advisor to Mr. Annan, and Laetitia van den Assum, a diplomat from the Netherlands and a UN advisor.
The Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) also released a statement of its own about the advisory commission on Thursday, pointing out that the committee’s “endeavors” were “humanitarian” and “ignore the state security issue” in the region.
According to a government announcement, within the next month there will be a signing ceremony between the Kofi Annan Foundation and the Burmese government, initiating the commission’s work.