By Kyaw Ye Lynn
YANGON, (AA): Former United Nations chief Kofi Annan has called on the international community to cooperate further with Myanmar’s government to resolve conflicts between Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims in the country’s troubled Rakhine State.
Annan, who chairs an Advisory Commission tasked with helping find solutions to stop ongoing violence in the region, made the appeal in commercial capital Yangon on Tuesday after concluding his second visit to the country.
After traveling to Rakhine last week, the nine-member commission visited several places in the state, including conflict-torn northern areas predominately inhabited by the members of the stateless Rohingya community.
“We had felt that tensions between the communities in the area are still high,” Annan told a press conference Tuesday.
The commission’s visit came on the back of Oct. 9 attacks, during which nine police officers were killed by armed individuals near the Bangladesh border.
Since the deaths, soldiers have been accused of numerous human rights violations — including sexual assaults — in the area as they conduct clearance operations to find those responsible. Anywhere between 74 and 400 Rohingya have died.
Annan, however, refused to answer questions about whether the commission found signs of alleged rights abuses in the area.
“We are not investigating the accusations. So we have no comment on this,” he said.
“And we are deeply concerned by the reports of alleged human rights abuses,” he underlined.
Annan had discussed Rakhine issues with fellow Nobel Peace laureate State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi, President Htin Kyaw and military chief Min Aung Hlaing in political capital Nay Pyi Taw on Monday.
“Our discussions focused on the reconciliation among the communities of Rakhine, freedom of movement, citizenship verification, and economic and social development of Rakhine state,” he said.
When asked whether he agreed with recent comments in which Suu Kyi accused the international community of stoking resentment between Buddhists and Muslims in Rakhine, Annan responded that Myanmar needs more cooperation from the international community.
“International cooperation is critical in resolving the issues,” he stressed.
He also warned against resorting to accusations of genocide.
“Genocide and ethnic cleansing is a very serious charge. It is a charge that requires legal review. It is not a charge that should be thrown around loosely,” he said.
The commission is to present an interim report on its findings to the government in February, before completing a full report later in 2017.
Rohingya advocacy groups claim around 400 Rohingya have been killed in military operations in Rakhine’s north since Oct. 9, while Myanmar says just 91 — 17 soldiers and 74 alleged “attackers” (including four who reportedly died during interrogation) — have been killed.
A law passed in Myanmar in 1982 denied Rohingya — many of whom have lived in Myanmar for generations — citizenship, making them stateless.
The law denies the Rohingya 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 calls one of the most persecuted people in the world — as Bengali, which suggests they are not Myanmar nationals but interlopers from neighboring Bangladesh.
Rohingya have fled Myanmar in droves for decades, with a new wave of migrations occurring since mid-2012 after communal violence broke out in Rakhine between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya.
[Photo: Former United Nations (UN) chief Kofi Annan, who chairs the advisory commission of Rakhine State attends a press conference in Yangon, Myanmar on December 6, 2016. Photographer: Muhabiri Kyaw Kyaw/AA]