RANGOON – Chairman of the Arakan State Advisory Commission Kofi Annan told reporters at a Rangoon press conference that when describing the crisis in Arakan State, the term “genocide” should be used with caution.
Reporters at the event on Tuesday questioned former UN secretary Annan about whether Burmese security forces were committing genocide against the self-identifying Rohingya population in Arakan State’s Maungdaw Township, as some international coverage of the region’s crisis has suggested.
Genocide, Mr. Annan said, “is a very serious charge that requires legal review and judicial determination. It is not a charge that should be thrown around loosely.”
In late November, the BBC World Service published a story in which a UN refugee agency official in Bangladesh was quoted as accusing the Burmese government of committing ethnic cleansing against the country’s Muslim minority. The government denied the claim.
Burma’s State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was asked about the Arakan State conflict in a Dec. 2 interview with Channel News Asia.
“I would appreciate so much if the international community would help us to maintain peace and stability and to make progress in building better relations between the two communities instead of always drumming up calls for bigger fires of resentment,” she said.
Kofi Annan came to Burma in late November to learn more about the situation in Arakan State following recent armed clashes between the Burma Army and militants in Maungdaw Township. For three days, he and the eight other commission members visited Buthidaung and Myaypon townships and the ancient city of Mrauk-U, and the delegation toured villages in northern Maungdaw Township, an area where rights groups have said that army abuses and rights violations took place and communities were destroyed.
Despite efforts to document the different perspectives of both Arakanese and Muslim community and religious leaders and youth, few local Arakanese civil society organizations or politicians have agreed to speak face-to-face with Mr. Annan and the commission, arguing that the delegation is interfering in Arakan State’s internal affairs.
Participants in a meeting with Kofi Annan on Monday told The Irrawaddy that the lack of collaboration from the Buddhist Arakanese community had left the commission chairman feeling “unsettled.”
On Monday and Tuesday, Mr. Annan conducted meetings with Burma’s President U Htin Kyaw, State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the army’s commander-in-chief Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing, as well as with Arakanese lawmakers.
Since the Burma Army declared Maungdaw Township an operation zone, journalists have not been allowed to obtain news from the region independently; humanitarian assistance has also been largely blocked.
During the meeting with Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing, Mr. Annan encouraged a shift in the restrictions for media and international relief organizations’ access to the area. Lifting these barriers, he explained, would also serve to create better understanding of the communities’ circumstances and the events taking place on the ground.
“There are so many stories and rumors. People don’t know what is what,” he said. “Transparency is a powerful tool to eliminate some of the rumors. The press will also be allowed to do their work,” he pointed out.
The Arakan State Advisory Commission will deliver its preliminary report to the Union government in February.