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Kofi Annan to advise Myanmar on Rohingya community

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YANGON: Former UN chief Kofi Annan will advise Myanmar’s new government on resolving conflicts in Rakhine, a region divided on religious grounds and home to the stateless Muslim Rohingya, it was announced Wednesday.

The country’s western state is deeply scarred by bouts of sectarian bloodshed in 2012 that forced more than 100,000 Rohingya into squalid displacement camps.

The Rohingya, a minority in overwhelmingly Buddhist Myanmar, are denied citizenship and face severe restrictions on their movements and access to health care and other basic services.

Finding a solution for the group, who are reviled by Buddhist nationalists, has posed a tough challenge to the new civilian administration led by Aung San Suu Kyi.

The veteran democracy activist has come under fire from international rights groups for failing publicly to address the plight of the Rohingya as she seeks to avoid stoking further unrest over the sensitive issue.

On Wednesday her office announced the formation of an advisory panel that will be chaired by former UN secretary general Annan and focus on “finding lasting solutions to the complex and delicate issues in the Rakhine State”.

A spokesman for the Kofi Annan Foundation confirmed the news and said the nobel laureate would travel to Myanmar in early September.

The nine-member commission will submit recommendations to the government on “conflict prevention, humanitarian assistance, rights and reconciliation, institution-building and promotion of development of Rakhine State,” said a statement from Suu Kyi’s office.

It did not mention the Rohingya by name. Hardline Buddhists reject the term and insist the nearly one-million strong group are illegal immigrants from neighbouring Bangladesh, even though many have lived in Myanmar for generations.

In June Suu Kyi tried to placate Buddhist nationalists by ordering officials to refer to the group only as “Muslims of Rakhine State”.

But even that order sparked mass protests in Rakhine, with local Buddhists demanding the government call them “Bengalis”.

During a July visit to the former junta-run country, UN envoy Yanghee Lee urged Suu Kyi’s government to make ending “institutionalised discrimination” against Muslims in Rakhine an urgent priority.

Amnesty International hailed the commission, which it said would have three international members and six from Myanmar, as a “welcome step”.

“The commission should investigate decades of discrimination against minorities in Rakhine state, ensure accountability, recommend reparations and lead efforts at reconciliation,” Rafendi Djamin, Amnesty’s director for Southeast Asia and the Pacific, said in a statement.

Myanmar also announced this week that current UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon would attend a peace conference at the end of the month.

The five-day talks, an effort to end a host of long-running ethnic minority insurgencies, will begin on August 31.

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