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Former UN chief Kofi Annan to lead Arakan commission

FILE PHOTO: Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan (Photo: The United Nations)

Burma’s Aung San Suu Kyi picked former UN chief Kofi Annan on Wednesday to lead a commission to stop human rights abuses in Arakan State, where violence between Buddhists and minority Rohingya Muslims has cast a pall over democratic reforms.

More than 100 people were killed in violence in the northwestern state in 2012, and some 125,000 Rohingya Muslims, who are stateless, took refuge in camps where their movements are severely restricted.

Thousands have fled persecution and poverty in an exodus by boat to neighbouring South and Southeast Asian countries.

“The Myanmar [Burmese] government wants to find a sustainable solution on the complicated issues in Rakhine [Arakan] State, that’s why it has formed an advisory commission,” the government said in a statement released by Suu Kyi’s office.

While Suu Kyi has eased into her role as de facto head of state, former president Thein Sein, who oversaw the early stages of Burma’s gradual reopening since 2011, was replaced at the helm of his military-backed party that ran Burma until November elections.

Suu Kyi is barred from the presidency by the junta-drafted constitution, but runs Burma as state counsellor and foreign affairs minister.

The Arakan commission would include nine independent members, including six Burmese citizens and three foreigners, the statement from Suu Kyi’s office said.

The commission, which also includes members of the Muslim and ethnic Arakanese communities, would focus on conflict prevention, supporting humanitarian assistance, national reconciliation, human rights and development in Arakan, the statement said.

A report would be published within a year of its formation.

Kofi Annan was Ban Ki-moon‘s predecessor as UN secretary-general from 1997-2006. He shared the Nobel Peace Prize with the United Nations in 2001.

Ban will visit Burma at the end of August. Suu Kyi will go to the United States in September, when she is expected to address the UN General Assembly.

Thein Sein stepped down as head of the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) as Suu Kyi deepened her commitments as the leader of Burma.

He was replaced by Than Htay, a former general who served as Thein Sein’s minister in charge of energy and railways. Than Htay is considered close to former strongman Than Shwe, who led the junta that seized power in 1988.