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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.