Kofi Annan, the former UN chief, will meet members of Myanmar’s federal government in Yangon to try to mend ties between Buddhists and the minority Rohingya.
Annan has been appointed to lead a commission to investigate a communal conflict pitting the ethnic Rakhine Buddhists against Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslim minority.
He has pledged to stay impartial as he leads the advisory commission.
“To build the future, the two major communities have to move beyond decades of mistrust and find ways to embrace shared values of justice, fairness and equity,” Annan said as he arrived in Sittwe, capital of Rakhine.
“Ultimately, the people of Rakhine state must chart their own way forward. We are here to help. We are here to provide ideas and advice.”
However, local Buddhists gave Annan a hostile welcome in Rakhine.
Hundreds arrived at Sittwe airport as Annan landed to protest against his visit.
Many booed and shouted “No Kofi-led commission” as his convoy left the state capital airport.
Others held signs reading “No to foreigners’ biased intervention in our Rakhine State’s affairs”.
Annan has been entrusted by Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of Myanmar’s new government, with the task of finding ways to heal wounds in the impoverished region.
“It is not a PR stunt taken by Aung San Suu Kyi; there are pros and cons considering the high-profile personality of Kofi Annan,” Maung Zarni, a human rights campaigner, told Al Jazeera.
“It is a significant step within the military, the ex-ruling political party within the Buddhist majority, in one sense it is very significant because it represent or indicates that the Rohingya crisis is not longer internal, it has an international aspect.”
Annan is meeting Rakhine leaders as well as visiting camps where tens of thousands of Rohingya languish in punishing poverty.
However, the region’s largest political group, the Arakan National Party, has already ruled out meeting Annan.
Members of the nearly million-strong Rohingya community are largely denied citizenship and the government does not recognise them as an official ethnic minority.
Their appalling living conditions, including heavy restrictions on movement, have led tens of thousands to flee, many via treacherous sea journey south towards Malaysia.
Last week, Ban Ki-moon, the sitting UN chief, called on Myanmar to grant citizenship to the the group and respect their right to self-identify as Rohingya.
More than 100 people have been killed – the majority Muslims – while tens of thousands of the stateless Rohingya group have spent the past four years trapped in displacement camps with limited access to health care and other basic services.