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Commission to help Rohingyas begins work

16 September 2016


International panel: Kofi Annan (third from right) and Commission members at a press conference in Yangon, last week

International panel: Kofi Annan (third from right) and Commission members at a press conference in Yangon, last week

A SOLUTION to the deadly conflict in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, which has caused more than 100,000 members of the Muslim Rohingya community to flee their homes, could be in sight after the former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan began work chairing an independent commission tasked with resolving the dispute.

There has been long-standing discrimination towards the Rohingya people for many years; but the conflict escalated in 2012 when riots broke out between the Rohingya and the majority Buddhist population (News 9 November 2012). Many houses and religious buildings were destroyed by arson attacks. A number of people were killed, but sources disagree over how many. A large number of Rohingya sought sanctuary in neighbouring countries, making the dangerous journey over Andaman Sea and Bay of Bengal to Malaysia, Thailand, and Indonesia.

The Rohingya people are continuing to flee: the UNHCR estimated that 370 refugees died trying to make the crossing last year; but Amnesty International said that the real figure could be in their thousands. It warns that many “people remain unaccounted for, and may have died during their journeys or have been sold for forced labour.”

About 120,000 Rohingyas are living in refugee camps.

Now, Myanmar’s new State Counsellor, Aung San Suu Kyi, has established an independent commission to find a solution to the conflict. The nine-person panel includes six Burmese and three international members — including the commission’s chairman, Kofi Annan.

At a press conference this week, as the commission began its work, Mr Annan insisted that they were not in Myanmar to investigate accusations against the differing sides.

“We are not here to do a human rights investigation and write a human rights report [but] to make recommendations that will help reduce tensions [and] support development in Rakhine state,” he said. “We are not here as an inspector or as a policeman. We are here to help at the request of the government, and we see this as a Myanmar commission that we are participating in, bringing some international dimensions, and you will get an honest report from all of us.”

The commission has already met with people on both sides of the dispute. Mr Annan said that they raised a number of concerns, including development, jobs, education, medical care, freedom of movement, and “occupations for their wives”.

About 1000 Buddhists staged a protest about “international interference” at the airport as Mr Annan arrived. This, he said, was a “healthy sign that the people felt they should make their views known in their own way.”

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