SITTWE — People forced from their homes by communal violence in Rakhine State gathered Wednesday to meet former UN chief Kofi Annan, as the envoy toured displacement camps during his peace mission.
Mr Annan was in late August asked by State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi to head a commission tasked with trying to heal divisions between ethnic Rakhine and Muslim communities and alleviate poverty in the state.
Annan’s two-day visit to the western state, which is home to the minority Muslim Rohingya, got off to a shaky start Tuesday when angry Buddhist nationalists protested against his “international interference”.
But the Ghanaian diplomat’s arrival Wednesday at several decrepit camps outside the state capital Sittwe, where tens of thousands of people — mostly Muslims — languish after being displaced by communal violence in 2012, was largely met with curiosity.
Crowds gathered to listen as community elders spoke of the hardships they faced, such as severe restrictions on their movement and limited access to health care, work and education.
“Our lives here are worse than those of prisoners,” Aung Nyein, a 63-year-old Rohingya leader, told AFP after meeting Annan in Aung Mingalar, an impoverished Muslim ghetto which residents cannot leave without permission.
“We asked him to find the best solution for the future of Muslims here … we welcome anyone who comes to work for stability of Rakhine State,” he said.