NAYPYIDAW – Kofi Annan was met with a hostile reception when he landed in Myanmar, exiting Sittee airport to over hundreds of Buddhist protesters who booed and chanted against the former UN secretary-general, while displaying signs that read ‘No Kofi-led commission’ and ‘No to foreigner based intervention in our Rakhine state affairs’
Native Buddhists of Myanmar are extremely displeased with Annan’s presence in the country. His mission in the region comes as part of a national commission to overcome the violence of the conflict between native Buddhists and the large ethnic minority of Rohingya Muslims that has left the region bitterly torn, with tensions leading to the eruption of violent riots in 2012.
Protestors resent not only with Annan’s presence, but the entire commission itself; which features 2 other foreign members and is expected to release a report with its recommendations within the coming months.
Annan was invited to help on the conflict by the leader of Myanmar’s new government Aung San Suu Kyi, who is hopeful in his experience providing relief to the divided region. Rohingya Muslims have a population of over one million in the country yet face hardship, as they are not recognized as an official ethnic minority and denied citizenship, while local Buddhists are resentful of which is considered an alien presence in their territory.
Annan will be meeting with Rakhine leaders and visiting displacement camps during his time in the region. Many of these camps suffer from conditions of poverty with many inhabitants enduring such conditions for over four years, prohibited to leave by the government.
The reconciliation mission has already been met with fierce resistance however as the country’s largest political group Arakan National Party has rebuffed any opportunity to meet with Annan, with an MP reinforcing they ‘did not need to rely on any foreigner’
Tensions were intensified after Annan’s cold reception, as a protest of up to 500 in the capital of Yangon lead to an outbreak of violence that resulted in minor injuries and police intervention. Protestors referred to Annan as the ‘black kalar’ from Ghana, a term that is used hatefully against Muslims but is also used as a derogative towards Africans and Indians.
In response to his arrival and the Yangon protest, Annan stated that the population ‘have a right to free expression’.
The Rohingya population have welcomed Annan’s presence; forgoing his arrival current UN chief Ban Ki Moon had also pushed for the granting of citizenship to the Rohingya people in hopes of moving towards a peaceful resolution of the conflict.
When reached out for a direct quote, representatives of the Rohingya community stated that ‘the recommendations are not enough…Burma must revoke the 1982 citizenship laws and allow aid to get to the Rohingya…the commission should bring to account those who persecuted, massacred and trafficked the Rohingya as slaves’.
– Anusha Muller, Correspondent (Politics)