Members of Myanmar’s Rakhine Advisory Commission met with President Htin Kyaw and five lawmakers in Naypyidaw on Monday to discuss the unstable situation in the western state where a security crackdown has sparked allegations of genocide of the Rohingya Muslims who live there.
Led by former United Nations chief Kofi Annan, the nine-member commission met with three lawmakers from the lower house of parliament, and two from the upper house following a visit to the northwestern part of Rakhine State.
Myanmar security forces are alleged to have carried out extrajudicial killings, rapes and arson there during their search for “Rohingya militants” responsible for deadly attacks on border guard posts nearly two months ago.
Though the commission had requested a meeting with all lawmakers in Rakhine state, the five parliamentarians were the only ones who agreed to meet with it because of widespread opposition among ethnic Rakhine residents and members of the state legislature’s dominant Arakan National Party (ANP).
“They [members of the commission] have now visited Rakhine three times, and they said cooperation from the Rakhine side was minimal, while that from the Muslim side was very active,” said Soe Win, an upper house lawmaker from the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) party who attended the meeting.
“What they want is for both sides to come and talk about their feelings, hardships, and problems, so they can prepare a report based on those findings,” he told RFA’s Myanmar Service.
The commission, appointed in late August by State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi, must submit a report on its findings to the government within a year. The body is looking into conflict resolution, humanitarian assistance, and development issues in the divided and impoverished state.
A commission member told local media that the body will submit an interim report to the government in the next two months, according to state-run newspaper Global New Light of Myanmar.
“But now that only the Muslims are active, that means there will be very few facts about problems that the ethnic Rakhine people are facing,” said Soe Win. “They are not happy about that, so they want to hear suggestions for possible solutions from us.”
With previous governments failing to effectively deal with the religious divisiveness and related issues in Rakhine state, Aung San Suu Kyi is trying to find a solution that will in turn help the multiethnic country achieve her goal of lasting peace.
But ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and ANP members oppose the appointment of three foreigners, including Annan, to the commission, believing that they will side with the Rohingya.
Rakhine civil society organizations refused to meet with commission members, who instead were greeted by protesters during the weekend when they arrived in Maungdaw, Buthidaung, Mrauk-U, and Myebon townships.
‘Let them leave’
More than 1.1 million stateless Rohingya Muslims, whom the Burmese call “Bengalis” because they consider them illegal immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh, live in troubled Rakhine state. Myanmar’s Buddhist majority has long subjected them to persecution and attacks and denied them basic rights, including citizenship.
About 120,000 live in displaced persons camps where they were placed following communal violence with Rakhine Buddhists that left more than 200 dead and tens of thousands homeless.
The recent security crackdown has forced tens of thousands of Rohingya to flee their villages and attempt to enter neighboring Bangladesh.
“Among the Muslims in Rakhine state, citizenship should be given to those who really deserve it in accordance with existing laws … and action should be taken against those who don’t meet the requirements,” Soe Win said.
“Remove the barriers that stop Muslims in Rakhine state from going to other parts of the country,” he said. “If there are those who want to go abroad, let them leave. Those were my suggestions.”
ANP lawmaker Htu May cautioned that the commission should not make judgments based only on recent events in Rakhine incidents.
“They need to know the entire history,” she told RFA. “The latest incidents are very different from the previous ones. It should have a separate report.”
“The voices of the ethnic Rakhine people have not been heard in the media for so long,” she said. “The commission should know what we Rakhines have to say about what [people] are going through. That’s why I explained some of these things to the commission on their behalf.”
A statement issued by Htin Kyaw’s office said the parties discussed the importance of humanitarian aid for both communities, the need to promote interaction between the two groups, the need to release news to discount rumors and fake reports, the country’s 1982 Citizenship Law, and economic development to improve living standards in Rakhine.
Annan also met with Aung San Suu Kyi and military commander-in-chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing in Naypyidaw.
He will hold a press conference in the commercial capital Yangon on Tuesday, according to Global New Light of Myanmar.
Pressure from Malaysia
Meanwhile Myanmar continues to take heat for the crisis in Rakhine from Muslim-majority Malaysia where members of the local Rohingya community have held public protests against Aung San Suu Kyi’s failure to stop what they call “genocide.”
Following protests last week by Muslims in Malaysia, Indonesia and Bangladesh, Htin Kyaw on Nov. 3 formed an investigative commission on Rakhine to examine the situation that led to the border guard station attacks and subsequent violence, as well as to verify allegations of rights abuses during security operations.
But on Sunday, Prime Minister Najib Razak and members of his cabinet joined another protest in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur, sparking a nationalist counterdemonstration in Yangon where nearly 100 monks and laypeople denounced him, the Myanmar Times reported.
Myanmar’s military chief Min Aung Hlaing told his Malaysian counterpart General Haji Zulkifeli Bin Mohd Zain on Monday that the armed forces had not committed any human rights violations in Rakhine.
He told Haji that investigations are under way to determine the truth of the allegations of executions, rape, and arson, and said that some local Rohingya Muslims have failed to abide by the regulations laid down in accordance with existing laws, according to a post on the Facebook page of Malaysia’s defense services office.
The two generals also agreed to exchange information between their military forces to fight terrorism, it said.
Ye Htut, former presidential spokesman and information minister under the previous Myanmar government’s administration, said Aung San Suu Kyi should use her influence and power with the international community to counter accusations that the military has committed human rights abuses against the Rohingya in Rakhine.
He issued a post on his Facebook page on Monday advising her to interact more with countries that belong to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to engender more understanding of the realities that Myanmar faces in Rakhine.
He also accused Najib Razak of using the Rohingya issue to increase his political standing and support among conservative Malaysian Muslims as he fends off corruption allegations of involvement in taking billions of dollars of public money from a state investment fund.
The demonstrations prompted Myanmar’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, headed by Aung San Suu Kyi, to summon the Malaysia ambassador in Yangon, though he has yet to respond, said Aye Soe, the ministry’s deputy director general on Monday.
She said the ministry would issue a statement after meeting with the envoy.
Reported by Win Ko Ko Latt and Waiyan Moe Myint for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.