Former United Nations chief Kofi Annan on Wednesday submitted to the Myanmar government the final report of the advisory commission he leads that has been looking into ethnic and religious strife in beleaguered Rakhine state.
Formed a year ago by State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi, the nine-member Advisory Commission on Rakhine State has proposed ways to solve sectarian tensions between Muslims and ethnic Rakhine Buddhists, although it did not evaluate possible human rights violations.
Annan met with President Htin Kyaw in the capital Naypyidaw to give him the report, the President’s Office announced.
Htin Kyaw said that he will consider the report’s recommendations and believes they will support the government in Rakhine State, the announcement said.
The statement also said that the two discussed the implementation of recommendations in the interim report that the commission submitted to the government in March, the process of educational and social development in Rakhine state, humanitarian assistance, the rule of law, security, and drug problems.
The government will hold a press conference on the report’s findings on Thursday in the commercial capital Yangon.
The government said previously that it is complying with most of the 30 recommendations made by the commission by opening restricted areas of Rakhine state to news media, allowing increased humanitarian access, and agreeing to close down three internally displaced persons (IDP) camps in the Rakhine towns of Kyaukphyu, Sittwe, and Ramree.
Rakhine is home to 1.1 million Rohingya Muslims, who are considered illegal immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh and have been denied citizenship even though many have lived in Myanmar for generations.
Communal violence between the Rohingya and ethnic Rakhine Buddhists in 2012 killed more than 200 people in Rakhine and forced 140,000 Rohingya into internally displaced persons (IDP) camps where they are denied access to basic services.
The U.N. later estimated that about 90,000 Rohingya fled from the state’s three northern townships mainly to neighboring Bangladesh during an October 2016 crackdown by Myanmar security forces. Soldiers and police had moved into the area following a deadly attack on local border guards, which was blamed on Rohingya militants.
The security forces are said to have committed atrocities against the Rohingya during the crackdown, though the Myanmar government has denied most of the allegations and has blocked a U.N. commission from looking into them.
Thousands more Rohingya have crossed the border into Bangladesh since a military buildup started in Rakhine state earlier this month, Agence France-Presse reported on Wednesday, citing community leaders.
Lawmakers discuss security issues
Also on Wednesday, lawmakers in Myanmar’s lower house of parliament discussed security issues in northern Rakhine state, where disappearances, murders, attacks on security forces, and periodic killings by troops have occurred since the end of the crackdown in February.
Earlier this month, the Myanmar government dispatched an army battalion to provide additional security for ethnic Rakhine people following a spate of deadly attacks blamed on Muslim “terrorists.”
Khin Saw Wai, an Arakan National Party lawmaker, said she called for the discussions because the crimes are threatening the state’s stability, rule of law, and public safety.
Oo Hla Saw, a lawmaker from Rakhine’s Mrauk-U township, was among the 15 legislators to discuss Khin Saw Wai’s proposal. He called for an effective way to get rid of the terrorists and for government leaders and ministers to respond clearly on diplomatic issues that involve Rakhine state.
Maung Myint, a member of parliament from Mingin township, Kale district, in northwestern Myanmar’s Sagaing region, said the government must work to resolve the issue of people living in Rakhine who are not citizens.
“We have a 1982 citizenship law,” he said, referring to the statute that effectively renders the Rohingya stateless by prohibiting them from holding Myanmar citizenship.
“If someone is not eligible to become Myanmar citizen under this law, he has to live with support from international organizations, such as the UNHCR,” he said, referring to the U.N.’s humanitarian agency.
“We have this problem because the government doesn’t work enough on this issue,” he said.
Aung Thaung Shwe, a lawmaker from Rakhine’s Buthidaung township, which was under lockdown by security forces following the October 2016 attacks, noted that the state’s residents want the government to resolve the issue of Rohingya living illegally in Myanmar.
“They have asked [authorities] to check on people who live in Rakhine state illegally, according to the 1982 citizenship law, but the people didn’t let them check, and the authorities let them remain only in Rakhine,” he said. “So they make problems only in Rakhine state.”
He suggested that the government transfer the illegal Rohingya to other states and regions in Myanmar to ease pressure from the international community about the issue.
Rakhine militias clash in Chin
In a related development, two ethnic Rakhine armed groups clashed on Tuesday in western Myanmar’s Chin state, leaving four soldiers dead in a spillover of the violence that has gripped adjacent Rakhine state.
About 70 troops from the Rakhine-based Arakan Army (AA) attacked the headquarters of the Arakan Liberation Army (ALA) in Paletwa township near Myanmar’s borders with Bangladesh and India.
Khine Soe Naing Aung, vice chairman of the militia’s political wing, the Arakan Liberation Party (ALP), said on Wednesday that the group does not know why the AA attacked its army’s headquarters.
“I don’t know why the AA attacked us, but four ALA troops were killed,” he said.
“The chairman of the ALP sent a letter to the AA’s chairman yesterday evening, saying that it is not good to have fighting between two Rakhine groups and asking the AA to return the headquarters to the ALP,” he said, adding that the ALP had not yet received a response.
“We want to solve political problems by political means,” he said.
RFA’s Myanmar Service has not been able to reach the AA about the attack and capture of the ALP headquarters in Paletwa township in western Myanmar’s Chin state.
The attack was the first such armed incident between the two Rakhine militias since 2015.
The ALA is a signatory of the government’s NCA, but the AA is not.
Reported by Thiha Htun, Min Thein Aung, and Win Ko Ko Latt for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.