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Myanmar: Marchers condemn ex-UN chief’s role in Rakhine

Buddhist hardliners argue with the residents during the rally in former capital Yangon on Sunday, calling the abolishing the former United Nations (UN) secretary general Kofi Annan-led commission aimed at finding the lasting solution for conflicts between Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims in western Rakhine state, on September 11, 2016. ( Aung Naing Soe - Anadolu Agency )

By Kyaw Ye Lynn, Anadolu Agency

Kofi Annan-chaired commission to advise gov’t on Rakhine attacked again for having foreigner at helm

YANGON, Myanmar – Buddhist hardliners have taken to the streets of Myanmar’s former capital Yangon to protest an ex United Nations chief’s role in a government advisory commission formed to find lasting solutions for conflicts in western Rakhine State.

Rakhine – one of the poorest states in Myanmar – had seen a rise in tensions between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and stateless Rohingya Muslims since communal violence broke out in mid-2012 that left nearly 100 people dead and around 140,000 people displaced, mostly Muslims.

The Kofi Annan-chaired commission was formed last month to advise the government on the “complex and delicate issues” in Rakhine, however it has since been attacked for having a foreigner at its helm.

On Sunday, around 400 people from nationalist groups in Yangon and other regions gathered at Bo Sein Hman ground in the city’s downtown area, calling for it to be abolished.

Pho Thar, one of the organizers of the rally, told Anadolu Agency that even though protesters realized the commission would play a big role in resolving the problems in Rakhine, “including non-Burmese people was totally unacceptable”.

“What happens if the commission suggests us to accept Bengalis as an ethnic group?” said Pho Thar, using a term to refer to Rakhine’s Rohingya minority that suggests they are not from Myanmar, but rather illegal migrants from neighboring Bangladesh.

Myanmar currently grants official statehood to 135 distinct ethnic groups (grouped into eight “major national ethnic races”) but nationalists — stirred by anti-Muslim campaigners such the Committee to Protect Race and Religion (Ma Ba Tha) – are afraid that by including the Rohingya it would give them legal access to the country’s resources.

“It will harm our country’s sovereignty more,” he underlined.

Such protests were once popular in Myanmar’s cities, but with Aung San Suu Kyi’s civilian government now at the helm of the country — following around 50 years of quasi-military governments and dictatorships — their popularity appears to be plummeting.

On Sunday, local residents clashed with protesters, who accused them of wasting their time.

“It’s a playground designed for residents to exercise. We only have Sunday off, but we can’t play football because of these bastards,” 32-year-old Maung Oo told Anadolu Agency after a fierce argument with the protesters, many of whom were Buddhist monks.

Police intervened to stop the two groups arguing after two photojournalists were punched by the protesters for photographing the quarrel.

“A petition signed by residents is now going to be submitted to the authority to stop such protests in the playground,” Maung Oo said.

Aye Lwin, a lawyer who participated in the rally, told Anadolu Agency that instead of forming the new commission, the government should have implemented recommendations from a probe set up by former President Thein Sein after the violence of 2012.

“The current government must work to implement these suggestions, because they have to be transferred from the previous government’s responsibility,” said Aye Lwin.

“We already have solutions for Rakhine. We don’t need advice from foreigners,” he said, underling that he saw the problem as a domestic issue.

“I am here to condemn the government for allowing international interference in our internal affairs.”

Earlier this week, State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi underlined that the conflicts in Rakhine were no longer a domestic problem.

“There are also claims that by forming this commission we are bringing our domestic problems onto the international stages. It is not true in fact,” she said at the commission’s first meeting in Yangon on Monday.

“Our problems have been on the international stage for many years,” she stressed. “We want to find out why, we want to find out why… We want to find out the root causes. We want to find out the solutions.”