ANP Lawmaker Calls for Removal of International Experts From Arakan State Commission

By Moe Myint 30 August 2016

RANGOON – Arakan National Party (ANP) Lower House lawmaker Aung Kyaw San submitted an urgent parliamentary proposal on Tuesday calling for three non-Burmese experts on the Arakan State Advisory Commission to be replaced with local academic specialists.

The proposal will be debated in Parliament on Sept. 1 with the vote for further discussion receiving backing from Lower House military representatives. According to MP Aung Kyaw San, about 20 legislators expressed interest in joining the debate.

“Even some NLD members support the proposal, but I don’t know what will happen in the next session,” he said, referring to parliamentarians belonging to the ruling National League for Democracy party.

The State Counselor’s Office—headed by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi—formed the nine-member Arakan State Advisory Commission with three international representatives on August 24. The commission will reportedly recommend “lasting solutions to complex and delicate issues” in Arakan State, in reference to ongoing tension and a history of violence often directed toward the self-identifying Rohingya minority.

The international commission members include former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, 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.

There are also six members from Burma—two Buddhist Arakanese members, two Muslim members and two government representatives are included in the commission. The Arakanese Buddhist members and the Muslim members are from the commercial capital of Rangoon; the Muslim members are not themselves linked to Arakan State. There are no Rohingya members of the commission.

On August 25, the ANP published a letter of objection to the government demanding a cancellation of the commission, stating that it would diminish the rights of indigenous people—a reference to the Buddhist Arakanese—and national sovereignty.

The commission’s purpose is to gather suggestions from relevant people, including international experts, regarding the most appropriate manner to address the conflict in Arakan State. Also a priority is the guarantee the security of the region’s residents. Recommendations for prevention of conflict, further provision of humanitarian support, addressing the issues of rights and reconciliation, and contributing to the construction of basic infrastructure are also included in the commission’s work.

In his proposal, Aung Kyaw San specifically objected to what he described as foreigners’ “interference in internal affairs,” stating that selecting international members for the commission demonstrated the “low confidence” of the government in the country’s ability to address its own issues.

The ANP MP also objected to a commission review of refugees from Arakan State—most of whom identify as Rohingya Muslims—with the purpose of possibly facilitating some of the individuals’ returns to Burma. This, Aung Kyaw San said, would be like “pouring fuel on the fire.”

“I don’t believe that the commission will have a good impact on us,” he added.

In an interview with The Irrawaddy last week, Muslim commission member Al Haj U Aye Lwin said that he welcomed the involvement of international committee members, noting that the challenges facing Arakan State have grown beyond those of a domestic issue and have become the focus of global concern.