Myanmar’s government has formed a commission to investigate the causes of recent sectarian violence between Muslim Rohingya and ethnic Rakhine Buddhists, in which at least 78 people were killed.
President Thein Sein’s website announced the commission on Friday, more than two months after the June clashes that also displaced tens of thousands of people.
The nation’s authorities have faced heavy criticism from rights groups after the deadly unrest in western Rakhine state raised international concerns about the Rohingya’s fate inside Myanmar
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 the commission will aim 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”.
The commission is expected to call witnesses and be granted access to the areas rocked by the violence, which saw villages razed and has left an estimated 70,000 people – from both communities – in government-run camps and shelters.
Sein, who has introduced political reforms to Myanmar since taking over as president last year following decades of repressive military rule, has rejected calls from the United Nations and human rights groups for independent investigators, saying the unrest is an internal affair.
“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 the AFP news agency.
The commission will be headed by a retired Religious Affairs Ministry official and include former student activists, a former UN officer and representatives from political parties and Islamic and other religious organisations.
They include several government critics who served jail time as political prisoners, including the widely respected activist and comedian Zarganar, and Ko Ko Gyi, who helped lead a failed student uprising against the former junta in 1988.
“The president wants to show the international community that he is trying his best to deal with this extraordinarily sensitive issue,” said Hkun Htun Oo, who also was appointed to the body.
Hkun Htun Oo chairs an ethnic minority political party, the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy, and was released from prison in January after a seven-year term.
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 Sein.
The new commission is tasked with proposing solutions to the longstanding hatred between the two communities and is to submit its findings by September 17.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon welcomed the establishment of the commission, which “could make important contributions to restoring peace and harmony in the state and in creating a conducive environment for a more inclusive way forward to tackle the underlying causes of the violence, including the condition of the Muslim communities in Rakhine,” UN deputy spokesman Eduardo del Buey said late on Friday.
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”.