OVER 100 people gathered near the Sittwe airport in Burma on Friday to protest the arrival of former UN secretary general Kofi Annan, who is visiting the restive Rakhine state to address the plight of the Muslim Rohingya amid an army crackdown.
According to The Nation, protesters carried banners saying “No to foreigners’ biased intervention in our Rakhine state’s affairs”. They also chanted “we don’t want Kofi Annan commission”.
Critics have been protesting Annan’s appointment as head of the Rakhine Advisory Commission tasked with investigating the communal conflict in the country, with many questioning the panel’s ability to adequately deal with the complicated issues between the Muslim Rohingya and Buddhists in the troubled state.
“The Rakhine issue is an internal affair. We cannot accept interference from outsiders,” Reuters quoted a farmer at the protest saying. “We don’t need foreigners for our internal affairs. This shows how the government mishandles the case.”
The commission is to make recommendations and advice on the stability of the area. The report will be directly submitted to the president by end of January next year.
Annan will travel on Saturday to the north of Rakhine, which has been under lockdown since Oct 9 following attacks by militants on border posts, causing the military to sweep the territory.
Rights groups have accused soldiers of violence during the operation against the Rohingya, in which at least 86 people were killed and some 30,000 displaced. The military and the government, however, reject the allegations of violence.
The United Nations estimates over 10, 000 people have fled to Bangladesh in recent weeks.
In an article on the UN News Centre published Tuesday, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) voiced concern and alarm over reports of rights violations and abuses in the state. The alleged abuses include arbitrary arrests, severe restrictions on freedom of movement, threats to life and security as well as forced labour and sexual violence.
Human rights advocates have accused Burma’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi of condoning the military campaigne due to her silence on the issue. The military has also prevented foreign media and humanitarian aid from entering the area.
Rights groups, including Amnesty international in October called for Burma to urgently lift the restrictions on humanitarian aid in the Rakhine and Kachin states, which have prevented the United Nations and other organisations from reaching the people who are in dire need of it.
The government agreed to allow the aid to resume in the north of Rakhine state in November. The government had also agreed to permit international observers to monitor if aid was reaching the people who were displaced.
It is unclear, however, if the aid was in fact allowed to resume and if international observers were allowed to enter the area.
Additional reporting by Reuters.