Commission on Arakan State to be Formed With Buddhist and Muslim Members

By LAWI WENG, THE IRRAWADDY, August 17, 2016

RANGOON, Burma -- Plans are underway to form a new commission to resolve the communal and humanitarian crisis in Arakan State, which will include Muslim and Buddhist Arakanese representatives—but from Rangoon rather than Arakan State.

The Central Committee for Peace and Development in Arakan State convene in Napyidaw on August 9. (Photo: Myanmar State Counsellor Office / Facebook)

The new nine-member commission is to play a consultative role in Arakan State - soliciting views from local Buddhist and Muslim communities, to be forwarded to the central government, which is keeping a tight rein on the region and delegating few decisions to state-level leaders.

The news was imparted during meetings in the state capital Sittwe on Monday, conducted separately with Buddhist Arakanese and Muslim Rohingya “community leaders” by the Central Committee for Peace and Development in Arakan State—a body chaired by State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi, involving Union-level ministers and the Arakan State Chief Minister.

Suu Kyi was absent from the meetings. Lt-Gen Ye Lwin, the Union Minister for Border Affairs, was the highest-ranking member of the committee present.

The new nine-member commission will include three members from “the international community”—The Irrawaddy could not ascertain who this referred to—two Buddhist Arakanese members, two Muslim members, and two government representatives, according to Tha Pwint, a retired Arakanese lawyer from Sittwe who was present at one of the Monday meetings.

He said that Arakanese representatives in their meeting with the high-level committee had expressed dissatisfaction that the Muslim and Buddhist Arakanese members of the new commission would not be local to Arakan State, but be from Rangoon. No objections were reported from Rohingya representatives during their own meeting.

One of the proposed Buddhist Arakanese representatives is Win Mya, the current chairman of Burma’s National Human Rights Commission, which has been widely criticized as ineffective since its formation in 2011.

One of the proposed Muslim representatives—who is seemingly not required to be Rohingya or “Bengali,” as most Burmese term them, or have actual links to Arakan State—is Aye Lwin, a Rangoon-based religious authority and member of Burma’s Interfaith Friendship Organization. The other Arakanese and Muslim representatives have yet to be revealed.

Rohingya and Buddhist Arakanese self-described community leaders, speaking to The Irrawaddy, expressed skepticism over the ability of the new commission to resolve the communal conflict, which has been largely frozen since anti-Muslim violence in 2012 and 2013.

Aung Win, a Rohingya rights activist from Sittwe who also joined one of the Monday meetings, said he would only be satisfied when “direct action” is taken by the central government in Arakan State, suggesting that the new commission is a distraction.

“The day the government gets involved directly, will be the day when our problems can be solved,” he said.

Tha Pwint, the local Arakanese retired lawyer, said the crisis could be resolved only with the imposition of the rule of law.

He accused the government of “not taking action” against “illegal migrants who come to stay in our region”—a reference to the largely stateless Rohingya, whose claim to belonging to Arakan State is strongly denied by most Buddhist Arakanese, and much of the wider Burmese public.

Suu Kyi may visit Arakan State at the end of this month, along with the new commission, and consult with community leaders from both sides, according to Aung Win.