The Irrawaddy

Kofi Annan ‘Confident’ in Arakan State Advisory Commission’s Mandate

Kofi Annan and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi prepare for a meeting of the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State in Yangon in September 2016. / Myo Min Soe / The Irrawaddy

RANGOON – Burma’s State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said that she believes the Arakan State Advisory Commission—chaired by former UN general secretary Kofi Annan—will bring credible advice in confronting tension in Arakan State.

On Monday, the State Counselor and the nine-member commission conducted their initial meeting at National Reconciliation and Peace Centre (NRPC) in Rangoon. Media were allowed access to the opening speeches of the session.

“All members of the commission will help us to find a way forward,” she said. “We believe that you will give us fair and valuable advice. I believe that it will be based on goodwill to all our people as well as people all over the world. And based on your advice, we will try the best for our country.”

The problems in Arakan State, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi explained, not only have relevance for Burma but also the global community. Since anti-Muslim violence broke out in the region in 2012, more than 140,000 people have been displaced in the state and tensions have grown between the Buddhist Arakanese and the Muslim Rohingya.

Communal violence is not a recent phenomenon, she continued, adding that the problem has been growing for “many years” and a historical investigation would contribute to better understanding of the conflict.

She also refuted assertions from political parties, such as the Arakan National Party and the Union Solidarity and Development Party, that the formation of the commission—which includes three international members—would interfere with Burma’s sovereignty on “internal affairs.”

“No one can interfere with our sovereignty—sovereignty is owned by all people, not only by the government,” Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said. “Our problem has been on the international stage for many years and we want to find out why. We want to find out why our problem has become of great importance to humans all over the world. We must try to evaluate the situation.”

The commission’s purpose, she stated, is to investigate the root causes of conflict in Arakan State and to develop a reconciliation process between the two religious communities in the region.

Kofi Annan delivered a short statement to the press at the event in which he said that the advisory commission would act rigorously to find ways to address the situation in Arakan State, and work closely with the people of the region, including engaging with community and religious leaders, local administration and members of the State Counselor’s Office.

Although the challenges facing Arakan State are “complex and deep-rooted,” Mr. Annan said he remains “confident that we can assist the people of Rakhine to chart a common path for a peaceful and prosperous future.”

During the conference, both sides avoided using the term “Rohingya,” the name with which many Muslims in the region ethnically identify; it is rejected by many Arakanese Buddhists and members of the Burmese public, who describe the group as “Bengali,” implying they are interlopers from neighboring Bangladesh. The “Rohingya” are not listed among Burma’s 135 officially recognized ethnic groups, contributing to widespread statelessness among the population.

The commission itself does not have any Rohingya members—it includes two Muslim representatives, two Arakanese Buddhists and two government representatives, in addition to the three members of the international community.

On Tuesday, Mr. Annan will travel to Arakan State, reportedly to introduce himself to locals as the chair of the advisory commission and spend two days in the region. Around 300 Arakanese Buddhist nationalists have already received permission from the local authorities to hold a peaceful protest at the airport in the state capital of Sittwe, according to police official Aye Khin Maung.

“Locals will protest for two days at the airport, [corresponding with] the arrival and departure times of Mr. Annan,” he said.