Arakanese civil society organisations (CSOs) and community leaders in Sittwe expressed disappointment at not having a chance to speak to Kofi Annan, the leader of the newly formed Arakan State Advisory Commission, during a meeting with him on Tuesday.
Local CSOs and influential figures in Sittwe were invited to meet Annan at a government guesthouse when he arrived in the town to begin his first visit to the state since being appointed chair of the commission in late August. At the meeting he pledged to assess the situation there impartially and to listen to the voices of local people and community organisations before making his recommendations to the government.
However, attendees said they were upset when the meeting was pronounced over before they were given a chance to speak to the commission’s chairman.
“Civil society representatives, including us, were invited to the meeting with Kofi Annan. The meeting opened with a speech from the State Counsellor’s Office Minister U Kyaw Tint Swe, the Arakan State Chief Minister U Nyi Pu and then Mr. Annan. We were expecting to get a chance to speak too when they finished, but we were told the meeting was over,” said Than Htun, a CSO representative who took part in the meeting.
“We were very upset and angry. It was thoughtless and rude, and can ruin our trust,” he said.
Thar Pwint, an Arakanese community leader in Sittwe, said government officials phoned him after he got back home from the event and told him to come back, informing him that another meeting with Annan was being arranged.
“I don’t want to blame the commission, as this was mainly due to the incompetence of the state government, which arranged the meeting. After I got home, I received phone calls from the township administrator and also the regional border affairs minister, who told me to come back as they are planning another meeting. I told them the answer was no,” said Thar Pwint.
Than Htun said the Arakanese CSOs had doubts about the impartiality of the commission’s report on the situation in Arakan State, as their voices were not heard at the meeting.
“The [CSOs] came prepared for the meeting — they wanted to talk about legal issues and the ongoing situation, as well as the historical background, hoping that Kofi Annan would listen to their voice,” he said.
“But the meeting ended without us having our say, which suggests that the commission is only planning to the listen to the Bengali side for their report,” he added, referring to the state’s Rohingya Muslim minority.
At the meeting, Arakan State Chief Minister Nyi Pu welcomed the commission and pledged to cooperate with its efforts to find a solution to issues affecting the state.
Hundreds of Sittwe residents staged a protest outside of the venue of Tuesday’s meeting with community leaders and CSOs, a day after he was greeted by a similar protest outside of the town’s airport upon his arrival in the state on Monday.