Ever since Myanmar’s first civilian government in over five decades ascended to power last November, human rights activists and lawyers hoped for the country’s new de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, to address the long ignored persecution of Rohingya Muslim minority at the hands of Buddhist Muslims.
But 100 days into the new government, they were still waiting.
Meanwhile, Suu Kyi touched upon other issues such as economic development and illegal cross-border trade.
Even as she addressed conflicts involving other ethnic minorities such as Kachin, Kayin, Chin and Shan, she steered clear of discussing Rohingya.
In fact, she appeared to deliberately ignore the issue when she banned the term “Rohingya” in June and instead asked foreigners to refer to them as “people who believe in Islam in Rakhine state,” which is where a majority of Rohingya Muslims live.
However, after repeated global outrage and questions raised over the Nobel Peace Prize winner’s commitment to human rights, Suu Kyi has finally taken the first steps towards addressing the plight of the persecuted community.
She is currently overseeing a special nine-member panel that includes four Myanmar representatives and three international ones along with two from Myanmar’s government — all of whom will try to find a long-lasting solution to the conflict between Rohingya Muslims and Buddhist extremists in Rakhine.
Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar — a Buddhist-majority nation — are officially stateless. They are officially considered illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and do not possess citizenship rights, despite the fact that they have been living there for more than a century.
The situation grew uglier in 2012, when Ashin Wirathu launched an anti-Muslim genocidal campaign, which set off a wave of murder and mayhem, resulting in hundreds of deaths of Rohingya Muslims, leaving nearly 125,000 homeless and forcing many others to flee.
As a rule, Wirathu and other influential Buddhist extremists and their followers make sure they block any kind of assistance provided to the members of the Rohingya community. For instance, last January, hundreds of Buddhist monks rallied against a visit by a U.N. envoy who urged the Myanmar government to grant citizenship to Rohingya Muslims.
Naturally, when Suu Kyi proceeded with the panel this week to ensure peace for the Rohingya people, Buddhist extremists took to the streets to express their outrage, yet again.
The Associated Press reported more than 1,000 Buddhists gathered to protests against Annan’s arrival in Sittwe, Rakhine’s capital, claiming he is a “foreigner” trying to interfere in the country's affairs.
As Annan's car passed made its way through the angry crowd, the protesters shouted, "Dismiss the Kofi Annan-led Rakhine Advisory Commission now."
"We came here because we don't want that foreigner coming to our state," May Phyu, a local Rakhine Buddhist resident, told AP. "I don't know exactly what this group is and what they are doing, but I came here to protest as I don't like them to come here.”
The solution to Myanmar’s Rohingya problem is long overdue.
One can only hope that Aung San Suu Kyi, unlike her predecessor Thein Sein, who believed in appeasing Buddhist extremists to maintain his power, doesn’t give in to unruly antics by a group of people who clearly oppose a negotiating process that aims towards bringing much-needed peace to the country.