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Burma’s lower house of parliament on Tuesday rejected a proposal by the Arakan National Party (ANP) to prevent three foreigners, including former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, from sitting on a nine-person commission to investigate the volatile situation between Buddhists and Muslims in Arakan State.
The emergency proposal was tabled after the leader of the Burmese government, Aung San Suu Kyi, approved the formation of the Arakan State Advisory Commission to be headed by Annan.
The motion put forward by ANP lawmaker Aung Kyaw Zaw suggested that the inclusion of three foreigners on the commission threatened turning a “domestic issue” into an international one. He called on the 440-seat Pyithu Hluttaw or Lower House to replace the three with local experts.
Debate on the proposal was joined by 34 MPs – with Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy representatives speaking out against the motion, and ANP and military representatives expressing support – in the lower house on Tuesday.
The ANP’s Khin Saw Wai stressed that prioritising human rights over sovereignty would allow the foreigners to meddle with the issue of “undesirable people entering the Rakhine [Arakan] region illegally.”
Burma’s state media cited Chin Pe Lin, MP for Mansi, expressing his support for the formation of the Advisory Commission “with eminent, highly experienced and well-respected international and national persons.”
He added: “It is obvious that the Rakhine issue is not described as an internal affair from the international point of view,” adding that now is the time to clear international criticism through transparency.
The proposal to dismiss the three foreigners – chairman Annan; Ghassan Salame, a former Lebanese Minister of Culture; and Laetitia van den Assum, the special adviser to UNAIDS and former Netherlands ambassador to the UK – was rejected by a vote of 250 objections, 148 in support, and one abstention.
Kofi Annan was greeted with jeers by hundreds of Arakanese Buddhists when he arrived at Sittwe Airport in the Arakanese capital yesterday.
As a representative of the UN and the international community, Annan is seen by many in the predominantly Buddhist region as being pro-Muslim. Many towns and cities in the state are struggling to contain inter-religious tensions, which boiled over in 2012 when mob violence broke out between nationalist Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims. At least a hundred were killed across the state as lynch mobs took to the streets.