OVER a thousand Burmese staged an angry protest today during the arrival of Kofi Annan, who was on his maiden visit to the Rakhine state as the leader of a panel formed to resolve conflict in the area.
According to Reuters, the protest was joined by local residents and Buddhist monks who braved the rain to express discontent at the formation of the nine-member government-appointed commission.
The protesters accused the Ghanaian of meddling in their country’s affairs and also challenged what they claimed was a “foreigners’ biased intervention” in the long drawn out religious and ethnic strife in the troubled state.
The report said that Kofi Annan’s plane was greeted by jeers and chants, which only intensified as his convoy made its way into town.
Upon arrival, the leader reportedly delivered a speech and met with members of both the Rohingya and Buddhist Rakhine communities. The commission is on a two-day visit to Sittwe, which is the capital of the Rakhine state. It will also visit camps for stateless Muslims tomorrow and is expected to present its findings in the next two months.
“We are here to help provide ideas and advice,” Kofi Annan was quoted as telling officials and leaders from the Buddhist Rakhine community amid jeering from demonstrators.
“We are also aware of resistance, fears and doubts that have prevailed again and again,” he added.
According to Associated Press, members of the state’s dominant Arakan National Party and the Rakhine Women Network led the protest.
When Kofi Annan’s convoy passed, the crowd reportedly yelled: “Dismiss the Kofi Annan-led Rakhine Advisory Commission now.”
The wire agency also interviewed locals, one of whom said she joined the protest because she did not like foreigners in her state.
“I don’t know exactly what this group is and what they are doing, but I came here to protest as I don’t like them to come here,” local Rakhine Buddhist resident May Phyu was quoted saying.
It was confirmed last month that Kofi Annan would lead the panel set up by Burma’s government to find “lasting solutions” to the conflict in the Rakhine state.
A statement by the office of de-facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi said on Aug 23 that an agreement would be signed between her office and the Kofi Annan Foundation to set up a nine-member advisory commission to resolve “protracted issues in the region. The council is reportedly made up of six Burmese citizens and three foreigners.
Sectarian violence, which erupted in 2012, has seen dozens of Muslim Rohingyas killed by vigilante mobs comprising hardline Buddhist nationalist groups and followers, with thousands more displaced.
Human rights groups have also documented widespread abuses against the minority Rohingya Muslims.
Every year, tens of thousands of Rohingya, who are known as among some of the most persecuted minorities in the world, flee Burma and make perilous journeys in rickety boats to seek refuge in other Southeast Asian countries. Many have perished in their pursuit of better lives, while others fall victim to human traffickers.
Additional reporting by Associated Press