The Irrawaddy

Kofi Annan Reportedly ‘Unsettled’ By Lack of Arakanese Cooperation

Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan talks to reporters as Burma’s government-appointed chairman of the Arakan State Advisory Commission, during his news conference in a government guesthouse, in Arakan State on Dec. 2, 2016. (Photo: Soe Zeya Tun / Reuters)

RANGOON – In a Monday meeting in Naypyidaw with five Arakanese parliamentarians, chair of the Arakan State Advisory Commission Kofi Annan reportedly voiced his dissatisfaction regarding the ethnic Arakanese community’s level of collaboration with the initiative.

National League for Democracy (NLD) Lower House lawmaker U Tin Nu of Man Aung Constituency said that former UN secretary Mr. Annan told them that the cooperation from the region’s Muslim community has been positive, but that the lack of participation from the Arakanese community has left the commission with an “information blackout.”

“He told us that he is really unsettled,” said U Tin Nu.

Among those five parliamentarians present, Daw Htoot May was only Arakan National Party (ANP) lawmaker in the group; she said that she had joined the meeting as part of her regular duties as a legislator.

She told The Irrawaddy over the phone on Monday afternoon that she emphasized to Mr. Annan the importance of having knowledge of the history of Arakan State as well the current situation. Moreover, she requested that the commission consider the voice of Arakanese society in its February report to Burma’s Union government, which she said she hoped would be “impartial and fair.”

Daw Htoot May urged the advisory commission to also produce a separate report concerning the Oct. 9 attacks on border police posts in Maungdaw Township, citing the nature of the incidents as differing from previous conflicts in Arakan State, due to alleged links to militants and what she described as a threat to Burma’s sovereignty.

Without elaborating, she said that she also told Mr. Annan that allegations made by international rights groups contradicted the situation on the ground.

In late November, the BBC quoted a UNHCR official in Bangladesh accusing the Burmese government of “ethnic cleansing of the Muslim minority.” The government denied the allegation. The government also rejected a Human Rights Watch report released in November that, through the analysis of satellite imagery, identified hundreds of destroyed buildings in Maungdaw Township.

Advisory commission member Al Haj U Aye Lwin explained that although the commission had consistently welcomed suggestions from all Arakanese organizations, some leaders within politics and civil society and rejected the offer to participate.

“When the Arakanese [leaders] did not sit in on face-to-face talks, the commission could not bring in their perspectives. That is what he is upset,” said U Aye Lwin of Kofi Annan.

After the meeting with the NLD’s Arakanese lawmakers, the commission met with Burma’s President U Htin Kyaw and, according to a statement released by the President’s Office on Monday, discussed three necessities required to build peace in Arakan State: the provision of humanitarian assistance to both Buddhist and Muslim communities, the quashing of rumors through the release of real time information, and the acceleration of social interaction between the two groups.

Since the Arakan State Advisory Commission was formed by State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in August, hundreds of Buddhist Arakanese have marched in protest against the group—most recently on a three-day visit to the region which ended on Sunday. Local protesters accuse the international delegation of interfering in Burma’s internal affairs.

For the same reason, the ANP-dominated Arakan State parliament already declared that it would not collaborate with the commission and instructed lawmakers to avoid assisting with its work, said Arakanese Lower House lawmaker U Pe Than on Monday.

Over the weekend, Mr. Annan and the commission’s eight other members traveled to northern Maungdaw, Buthidaung, Mrauk-U and Myaypon townships and faced protests in every city. Almost no Arakanese civil society organizations agreed to meet with the commission on the visit.