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Hard-line Buddhists protest Myanmar's Rohingya Commission

They are concerned that Muslims in Rakhine will be granted citizenship and given their own state

Hard-line Buddhists protest Myanmar's Rohingya Commission

Former UN secretary general Kofi Annan, center, escorted by police and security, departs following a meeting with Rohingya Muslims at Thet Kay Pyin camp for displaced Rohingya families in Sittwe on Sept. 7. (Photo by AFP)

Hard-line Buddhists in Myanmar have railed against the former UN chief, Kofi Annan's commission tasked with finding a solution to religious strife in Rakhine State.

Kofi Annan has faced protests by local groups, including Buddhist monks, when his team visited Sittwe on Sept. 6 and some nationalist groups also staged a protest in Yangon on Sept. 11.

A number of political parties demanded on Sept. 16 that the "illegitimate" commission be disbanded. The Arakan National Party (ANP) and former ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party led the charge.

"We [are] concerned that Muslims in Rakhine [will] be granted citizenship [and] given their own state and [the] commission may emphasize human rights [and] neglect the sovereignty and desires of local [Buddhists]," said a joint-statement released by the 11 parties.

Aye Nu Sein, vice-chairperson of the ANP, said that the Rakhine issue is an internal affair and not of international concern. "From a legal perspective, State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi formed the advisory commission which is beyond her role so it is illegitimate," said Aye Nu Sein.

"We have shown our desire by releasing statements and submitting a proposal to parliament which reflects the will of the ethnic Rakhine people. We will keep closely monitoring the commission's activities," she said.

Impoverished Rakhine State is home to 1.1 million stateless Rohingya Muslims who the majority Buddhists refer to as "Bengali" implying that they are illegal migrants from neighboring Bangladesh.

Rohingya people have been denied citizenship, freedom of movement, health care and education since 2012 violence erupted between the majority Rakhine Buddhists and minority Rohingya Muslims that left scores dead.

More than 120,000 Rohingya still remain in squalid camps in apartheid-like conditions.

An emergency proposal, put forward by a lawmaker from the ANP, to reconstitute the commission with only local experts was rejected in the National League for Democracy-dominated parliament.

The Rakhine State Regional Parliament, however, approved the objection on Sept. 14 in their own ANP-dominated parliament.

The influential Buddhist group — the Committee for the Protection of Race and Religion, has distanced itself from protests and released an official statement against the Rakhine commission.

A prominent nationalist monk, U Parmaukkha from Yangon-based Magway Monastery, changed his nationalistic tone and hailed Suu Kyi's decision. "I admire and trust Suu Kyi personally so the concerns of the Rakhine people will emerge by appointing international dignitaries such as Kofi Annan," said U Parmaukkha.

U Parmaukkha said that he is not concerned about the citizenship of Rohingya Muslims as the commission will only consider the matter in reference to the 1982 citizenship law.

Human Rights Watch says: "The stipulations of the Burma Citizenship Law governing the right to one of the three types of Burmese citizenship effectively deny to the Rohingya the possibility of acquiring a nationality."

Suu Kyi established the advisory commission comprising of nine independent members: three international and six from Myanmar, including members from ethnic Rakhine and Muslim communities.

The Annan-led commission will submit their recommendations to the government in the second half of 2017.

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