Myanmar names Kofi Annan to head panel on Rohingya Muslims

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YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — Myanmar's government has set up an advisory panel headed by former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan to find "lasting solutions" to the conflict in Rakhine state, where human rights groups have documented widespread abuses against the minority Rohingya Muslims.

A statement Tuesday by the office of State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi said an agreement will be signed between her office and the Kofi Annan Foundation to set up a nine-member advisory commission to resolve "protracted issues in the region."

A statement issued through the Kofi Annan Foundation in Geneva quoted the former U.N. chief as saying he is "pleased to support the national efforts to promote peace, reconciliation and development in Rakhine."

"I look forward to listening to the leaders and people of Rakhine and to working with the State and central authorities to ensure a more secure and prosperous future for all," Annan said.

The foundation will assist the commission, according to the statement. The foundation's website describes its mission as providing leadership to mobilize "political will to overcome threats to peace, development and human rights."

The foundation's statement also said the commission will convene its first meeting on Sept. 5 in Yangon, Myanmar's biggest city, and submit its final report and recommendations to the Myanmar government in the second half of 2017.

The commission will comprise three international and six national experts.

Officials in Myanmar said this week that the current U.N. secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, will attend a peace conference next week that seeks to end decades of armed conflict with ethnic minority groups. The U.N. is expected to soon confirm Ban's attendance at the conference, which begins Aug. 31 in the capital, Naypyitaw.

Rohingya Muslims have lived in the northwestern state of Rakhine for generations but are denied citizenship because they are considered outsiders. More than 100 people, mostly Rohingya, were killed in clashes with members of Myanmar's Buddhist majority in 2012. Tens of thousands of Rohingya have fled in rickety boats to seek refuge in other Southeast Asian countries, and many have perished in the perilous journeys or fallen victim to human traffickers.

Many displaced Rohingya are now sheltering in refugee camps within the country in squalid conditions with little medical care.

In a reflection of how sensitive the Rohingya issue is, the Myanmar government's announcement did not name the community in the entire text, only describing it as "the complex and delicate issues in the Rakhine state."

The closest it came to acknowledging the Rohingya was by saying that the commission will "examine international aspects of the situation, including the background of those seeking refugee status abroad."

The inclusion of foreigners on the commission seems to represent an acknowledgement of international criticism of state policy on the issue. The previous military-backed government was openly resentful of outside interest, and Suu Kyi's administration, which took power at the end of March, had seemed barely more responsive.

It said the commission will "consider humanitarian and development issues, access to basic services, the assurance of basic rights, and the security of the people of Rakhine." The commission will make recommendations on conflict prevention, humanitarian assistance, rights and reconciliation, institution building and promotion of development of Rakhine state.

Its recommendations will be given to Suu Kyi, who holds the dual titles of state counselor and foreign minister. She is barred by the constitution from becoming president, but for all intent and purposes has been the country's leader since her party won elections in November 2015 and replaced a quasi-civilian government controlled by the military.

Kofi Annan was the U.N. chief from 1997 to 2006. He shared the Nobel Peace Prize with the United Nations in 2001.

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