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    Myanmar panel urges more troops in Rakhine

    April 29, 2013

    Commission on
    deadly sectarian violence last year in western state also suggests limiting
    births of Rohingya Muslims.
    A
    government-appointed commission has proposed to double the number of security
    forces in western Myanmar’s Rakhine state to ease tensions there in the wake of
    deadly sectarian violence last year.
    The report,
    released on Monday, also recommended the introduction of family planning programmes
    to stem population growth among minority Muslims, cited as a reason for
    increased hostility from Rakhine Buddhists in the area.
    It emphasised,
    however, that if the government went ahead with a proposed family planning
    programme, it should “refrain from implementing non-voluntary measures
    which may be seen as discriminatory or that would be inconsistent with human
    rights standards”.
    The long-awaited
    report contained responses to the violence last June and October that killed
    nearly 200 people and left 140,000 homeless, mostly Rohingya Muslims in an area
    dominated by ethnic Buddhists.
    The committee said
    it was unlikely the estimated 100,000 displaced Rohingya Muslims would be
    returned to their homes anytime soon, saying the widespread segregation of Buddhists
    and Muslims is a temporary fix that must be enforced for now.
    The violence
    appeared to begin spontaneously, but by October had morphed into anti-Muslim
    pogroms across western Rakhine state that spread last month into central
    Myanmar.
    ‘Ethnic cleansing’
    President Thein
    Sein appointed the 27-member panel last year to investigate the causes of the
    conflict and recommend measures to prevent further violence.
    The panel included
    former political prisoners, Christians, a Hindu, Muslims, and Rakhine
    Buddhists, but did not include any Rohingya Muslims.
    Overcrowding, poor
    sanitation and malnutrition were said to be of critical concern particularly in
    camps for Rohingya whom the report referred to as “Bengalis”, a
    reference to their reported South Asian roots.
    Shwe Maung, a
    Rohingya member of parliament from Rakhine state, objected to the commission’s
    terminology, saying that the word “Bengali” fails to reflect reality
    and people’s sense of their own identity.
    “The report is
    unfair,” he said. “The usage and recommendations are similar to what
    Rakhine ethnic people have been demanding.”
    The report also
    calls for all ethnic groups to learn the Myanmar language.
    Phil Robertson, the
    Human Rights Watch deputy Asia director, welcomed calls for more aid for the
    camps, but said the official report should have addressed allegations of
    authorities’ involvement in ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.
    “Doubling the
    number of security forces in [Rakhine] state without first ensuring
    implementation of reforms to end those forces’ impunity is a potential
    disaster,” he said.
    Robertson said
    family planning initiatives could be problematic if they are not implemented
    carefully.
    “It’s quite
    chilling to start talking about limiting births of one particular group,”
    he said.
    Hate speech
    The report also
    called for a crackdown on hate speech and stepped-up aid for the displaced
    ahead of monsoon rains expected in May, and urged the government to determine
    the citizenship status of all those living in Rakhine state.
    The issue has posed
    a major challenge to the government of Thein Sein, who took office after a
    long-ruling military junta stepped down two years ago and has since embarked
    upon a series of reforms.
    Most Rohingya are
    effectively stateless despite the fact that some have lived in Myanmar for
    generations. Predominantly Buddhist Myanmar does not include Rohingya as one of
    its 135 recognised ethnicities.
    Last week, Human
    Rights Watch issued the most comprehensive and detailed account yet of what
    happened in Rakhine state last year.
    The report accused
    authorities, including Buddhist monks, local politicians and government
    officials, and state security forces, of fomenting an organised campaign of
    “ethnic cleansing” against the Rohingya.