Burma has acknowledged the persecution of its stateless Rohingya Muslim minority and is considering giving citizenship to thousands of members of the group as a first step to finding a solution to the conflict with local Rakhine Buddhists.
The government’s search for a ‘win-win’ solution to the conflict between the two groups follows a new outbreak of violence last week in which attacks by Buddhist mobs left 89 dead and forced more than 28,000 to flee their homes. An estimated 130 Rohingya refugees from the violence are missing off the coast of Bangladesh after their boat sank while heading to
The scale of the violence and the suffering of those forced to flee prompted calls for the Burmese government to intervene and warnings from the international community that its recent democratic reforms would be tarnished if it did not stop the attacks.
In an interview with The Hindu newspaper, Burma’s information minister, U Ang Kyi, said his government is working towards a “win-win solution for all stakeholders” and acknowledged that the statelessness of its Rohingya Muslim minority is a key cause of its suffering in the country.
He said local Rakhine people had not intended to cause violence on the scale seen over the last week and that he was confident the conflict will be brought under control. “The local people also have this belief, and from this situation we are going to create a win-win situation for all stakeholders, a solution that will benefit everybody,” he said.
“Rohingyas are denied citizenship by Myanmar [Burma] and as a consequence the rights that go with it,” he added.
The government is understood to be considering new moves to confer citizenship on several hundred thousand ‘third generation’ Rohingya who are already entitled to it under Burmese law but who were illegally denied it by previous governments.
Muslims from neighbouring Bangladesh have lived in Rakhine, formerly Arakan, for more than 600 years but their numbers steadily increased under British rule, causing rising resentment among the indigenous Rakhine Buddhists. There have been periodic clashes between the two groups but violence intensified in June this year when 78 were killed following reports of a rape of a Rakhine woman by Muslims.
Diplomatic sources in Burma said the government is now focused on granting citizenship rights on third generation Rohingya, but has yet to decide what to do with several hundred thousand first and second generation Rohingya who are regarded as Bengali immigrants by local Rakhine Buddhists. The government is also understood to be considering whether to accept the Rohingya as a ‘national race’, but progress is expected to be slow because of Rakhine opposition. “Lots of people are being denied basic rights of citizenship to which they are entitled….and it undermines the rule of law,” said one source.