Govt Justifies International Involvement in Arakan Issue

By Htet Naing Zaw 29 August 2016

Amid criticism of former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan’s appointment to chairman of the new Arakan State Advisory Committee, the deputy-director general of the State Counselor’s Office said the choice was made in response to international pressure.

Deputy director-general U Zaw Htay told reporters at a press conference on the government’s 100-day plan in Naypyidaw on Friday that the decision to include international representatives followed outside pressure, after previous local commissions failed to resolve the Arakan State issue.

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.

“The commission must include impartial, respected and experienced people. We planned to form the commission with three international representatives and six local representatives. The three international representatives we have selected are very seasoned,” U Zaw Htay told reporters.

Burma’s main opposition party—the Union and Solidarity and Development Party (USDP)—and nationalist forces have criticized the National League for Democracy (NLD)-led government’s decision to involve international representatives in the Arakan State issue, stating that the move “neglects national security.”

The USDP released a statement that criticized “bringing an internal issue into the international spotlight.”

U Zaw Htay said the Arakan State crisis was not merely an internal issue, adding that the international community was already involved through the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).

“No matter how unwilling we are to accept it, international pressure does exist. International involvement could clearly be seen in the previous boat people crisis,” said U Zaw Htay.

He said the government understands the concerns of political parties over the formation of the advisory commission but that they should not worry given that its mandate only allows for recommendations, submitted to the government via State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

The State Counselor’s Office and the Kofi Annan Foundation have yet to sign a memorandum of understanding to form the advisory commission. A draft MoU has been submitted to the attorney general’s office to seek further advice, U Zaw Htay said.

“We have heard what [critics] say about Kofi Annan. But we appointed him not because he is the former UN secretary-general. He adopted the Millennium Development Goals, won a Nobel Peace Prize and helped resolve many conflicts—including issues in Syria,” he said.

The Arakan National Party (ANP) previously demanded the cancellation of the committee, stating that the non-Burmese members would not be able to understand the background of the current situation in Arakan State.

The region saw significant violence in 2012 and 2013, largely affecting the stateless Muslim Rohingya community. The ANP does not recognize the self-identifying Rohingya minority and instead refers to them as interlopers from Bangladesh.

Regarding the issue of citizenship and the Rohingya, U Zaw Htay said that decisions going forward would be made in accordance with the contentious 1982 Citizenship Law—which defines eligibility in racial terms and renders stateless most Rohingya.

“The government does not necessarily have to follow the commission’s recommendations. It is the government’s choice. The issue is not an international issue but draws huge international interest and therefore is politically sensitive,” he said.