AFP – Myanmar has set up a new commission to probe sectarian clashes that saw scores killed and displaced tens of thousands, members told AFP, following intense scrutiny of its handling of the issue.
The nation’s authorities have faced heavy criticism from rights groups after deadly unrest between Muslim Rohingya and ethnic Rakhine Buddhists in western Rakhine state.
The 27-member commission, which includes religious leaders, artists and former dissidents, will “expose the real cause of the incident” and suggest ways ahead, state mouthpiece New Light of Myanmar said.
The newspaper said its remit is to establish the causes of the June violence, the number of casualties on both sides and recommend measures to ease tensions and find “ways for peaceful coexistence”.
“As an independent commission was formed inside the country… it is a right decision which showed that we can create our own fate of the country,” Aye Maung, the chairman of Rakhine Nationalities Development Party, told AFP.
In June, the government established a committee to investigate the sectarian strife. But its findings, originally expected by the end of that month, were never released by President Thein Sein.
The regime also invited the Saudi-based Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, the world’s largest Muslim grouping, to visit the country in an effort to diffuse mounting outcry over the treatment of the Muslim Rohingya.
Official figures say some 80 people died in the initial spasm of violence, but rights groups say the toll is likely much higher — mainly on the Rohingya side.
The commission is expected to call witnesses and be granted access to the areas rocked by the violence, which saw villages razed and left an estimated 70,000 people — from both communities — in government-run camps and shelters.
Thein Sein has overseen a series of reforms since the end of outright military-rule last year, but the Rakhine bloodshed cast a long shadow over those changes.
Myanmar’s government has rejected accusations of abuse by security forces in Rakhine, after the United Nations raised fears of a crackdown on Muslims.
New York-based Human Rights Watch has accused Myanmar forces of opening fire on Rohingya during the June outbreak of unrest, as well as committing rape and standing by as rival mobs attacked each other.
Decades of discrimination have left the Rohingya stateless, and they are viewed by the United Nations as one of the world’s most persecuted minorities.
A statement issued on behalf of foreign ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations — which Myanmar will chair in 2014 — pledged regional support to “humanitarian assistance in Rakhine State”.
Welcoming moves by Myanmar to address the situation, the statement said “harmony” among the nation’s different communities should be an “integral part of Myanmar’s ongoing democratisation and reform process”.