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Nationalists plan another protest over advisory commission

(Photo: RFA)

By Aung Kyaw Min 
September 9, 2016

Undeterred by the defeat of a parliamentary motion on the matter this week, Buddhist nationalists suspicious of the involvement of international personalities in what they insist is a local Rakhine problem have announced plans to mount a demonstration on September 11 in Yangon.

One nationalist compared the involvement of the international members of the Rakhine State Advisory Commission to “a blind elephant going into the forest”.

State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi set up the commission, whose three foreign members include its chair, the former UN secretary general Kofi Annan. Mr Annan’s arrival in the Rakhine State capital of Sittwe on September 6 was met by about 300 protesters, some of whom were reportedly brought in from surrounding villages by groups promising payment.

More than 120,000 people remain displaced in Rakhine after communal violence in 2012 between Rakhine Buddhists and the Muslim minority who self-identify as Rohingya but are referred to as illegal “Bengali” immigrants by the majority in Myanmar.

Opposition to the involvement of foreigners in the Rakhine question has also been voiced by the Committee for the Protection of Race and Religion, better known as Ma Ba Tha. A leading member of the group, U Tawpaka, said on September 6, “Sitagu Sayadaw has said the problem in Rakhine is like a quarrel between husband and wife, and we agree,” he said, referring to the prominent Buddhist cleric and Ma Ba Tha vice chair.

“We should have been consulted on whether or not it was appropriate to involve the international community in our local affairs.”

However, Ma Ba Tha spokesperson U Tay Za Ni Ya said his organisation would not seek to pressure the government and had no plans to release a statement on the commission.

He added, “We are following the situation closely. We believe the situation in Rakhine should be considered by people who are experts on the history of Rakhine and Bengal. Otherwise, it would be like a blind elephant going into the forest.”

In Yangon, local nationalists said they planned to mount a protest against the Rakhine State Advisory Commission on September 11 at the Tarmwe Bo Sein Mann grounds. They have not yet secured permission.

“We filed an application requesting permission for about 1000 people to protest,” said nationalist lawyer and protest organiser U Aye Paing.

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