YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — Former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said Thursday his mission to Myanmar's troubled Rakhine state is not meant to investigate human rights, but to come up with recommendations to ease tensions between Buddhists and minority Muslims.
Annan is leading a nine-member independent commission set up last month by State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi's government to help find solutions to communal conflict in the western state resulting from longstanding discrimination against Muslim Rohingya that exploded into bloody violence in 2012.
More than 100,000 people, mostly Rohingyas, fled the rioting and are still in displacement camps. The situation also spurred many Rohingya to flee by sea to other countries, causing a regional refugee crisis.
Buddhists in Rakhine consider the Rohingya to be illegal immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh, even though many have been settled in Myanmar for generations. Violence against Muslims spread to other parts of the overwhelmingly Buddhist country after the 2012 rioting, and remains a volatile political issue.
About 1,000 Buddhists protested Annan's team when it arrived in Rakhine, charging that the former U.N. chief's participation amounted to foreign meddling. But his group proceeded to hold talks with members of both faiths around the Rakhine capital of Sittwe.
"We heard from a whole range of people, the people in the camps and in villages, focused on issues of concern, development, jobs, education, medical care, freedom of movement, occupations for their wives," Annan said at a news conference in Myanmar's main city of Yangon.
"We are not here to do a human rights investigation and write a human rights report," he told reporters. He said the team's mandate is "to make recommendations that will help reduce tensions, support development in Rakhine state."
"We are not here as an inspector or as a policeman. We are here to help at the request of the government," he said.
Annan also stressed that Rakhine's problems had an international dimension, affecting neighboring countries whose borders were crossed by the refugees.