World Bulletin / News Desk
Protests have greeted former United Nations secretary general Kofi Annan on his arrival in Rakhine State as leader of a commission tasked with probing alleged human rights violations in the area.
On landing in state capital Sittwe on Friday morning, the Advisory Commission on Rakhine was met by several hundred people from a network of community groups who had waited for hours along a road between the airport and the regional government office for Annan's motorcade.
"Ban the Kofi Annan commission,” read signs carried by the protesters, while others chanted "We don't want Kofi Annan commission."
During visits to camps around the Sittwe area, the commission is scheduled to meet leaders of both Rakhine Buddhist and Rohingya Muslim communities in an effort to probe deaths and violence that has left anything between 86 and 400 people dead in the area in the last six weeks.
The groups, however, have refused to meet up with the commission, due to terminology both Annan and other members have used that protesters claim legitimizes Rohingya presence in the area.
“We are not meeting or discussing with the commission as long as it or [any] one of the commission members uses the Rohingya word for Bengalis,” the network of 74 groups operating in the conflict-torn state said in a statement Friday.
A law passed in Myanmar in 1982 denied Rohingya -- many of whom have lived in Myanmar for generations -- citizenship, making them stateless.
It denies the Rohingya -- around 1.2 million of whom live in Rakhine -- rights to Myanmar nationality, removes their freedom of movement, access to education and services, and allows arbitrary confiscation of property.
Myanmar nationalists have since taken to referring to the Rohingya -- which the United Nations sees as one of the most persecuted people in the world -- as Bengali, which suggests they are not Myanmar nationals but interlopers from neighboring Bangladesh.
Network spokesman Than Tun told Anadolu Agency on Friday that the commission should avoid using the word if they "sincerely" want to find possible solutions to "sensitive" issues in the state.
“They are not calling them 'Bengali', so they also should [also] not use that 'Rohingya' word,” he said by phone.
Since mid-2012, a series of incidents of communal violence have taken place in Rakhine between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya, which have left around 100 people dead and some 100,000 displaced in camps -- mostly members of the Rohingya minority.
On Oct. 9 this year, nine police officers died in attacks by armed individuals in Rakhine’s northern areas near the Bangladesh border, since which soldiers have been accused of numerous human rights violations -- including sexual assaults -- in the area as they conduct clearance operations to find those responsible.
Rohingya advocacy groups claim around 400 Rohingya have been killed in the military operations in the north of the state since the operations began, while Myanmar says just 86 people -- 17 soldiers and 69 alleged "attackers" -- have been killed.
Local media reported Friday that a further two soldiers were killed late Thursday night after troops and armed men exchanged fire in the area.
The commission’s five day trip will see them meet up with community leaders Friday, travel to Maungdaw, Buthidaung and Myaypone townships -- where much of the violence has taken place -- Saturday, and then on to the ancient city of Mrauk-U to meet both Buddhist and Muslim communities Sunday.
A mission statement released Friday says the commission aims to probe the background situations that led to the violent attacks that occurred Oct. 9 and Nov. 12-13, in Maungtaw, Rakhine State and gain the truth about the incidents.
It is to "investigate whether existing laws, rules and regulations were observed in taking measures to avoid similar incidents in the future before making recommendations," the statement from the president's office says.
"The investigation commission shall find out the truth for the following incidents and make recommendations and advice for stability of the area," it adds.
On Monday, the commission is to meet up with Myanmar's President Htin Kyaw, State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi and army chief Min Aung Hlaing in the capital Nay Pyi Taw, and on Tuesday it is set to discuss its findings at a Yangon press conference.
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