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Myanmar leader pledges to uphold Muslim rights

May 6, 2013

YANGON — Myanmar’s president on Monday pledged to uphold the
“fundamental rights” of Muslims in strife-torn Rakhine state, in the
wake of deadly religious unrest that has spread across the country.

In a speech to the nation
following the release last week of an official report into last year’s violence
in western Rakhine that killed around 200 people, Thein Sein said the country
should aim for “peaceful coexistence”.

“Regarding Rakhine,
our government will take responsibility for upholding Muslims’ fundamental
rights,” he said, adding that ethnic Rakhines, who are mainly Buddhist,
“will not be neglected”.

Rakhine state remains
deeply divided following major eruptions of unrest in June and October that saw
mobs rampage through villages and torch thousands of homes, displacing 140,000
mainly Rohingya Muslims.

Waves of anti-Muslim unrest
have spread across the country this year. Buddhist monks have been linked to
some incidents, while security forces have been accused of standing by while
mosques and homes were attacked.

Thein Sein said he accepted
that “there were human rights violations… because of the policies that
we used formerly”, without elaborating on which measures he was referring

He pledged to use his
authority “to make sure that security forces fully implement measures to
restore peace and the rule of law”.

Attacks against Muslims —
who make up an estimated four percent of Myanmar’s population — have exposed
deep fractures in the formerly junta-run country and cast a shadow over reforms
under a quasi-civilian regime that took power two years ago.

At least 43 people were
killed and thousands left homeless in March after a flare-up apparently
triggered by a quarrel in a gold shop in the central town of Meiktila.

A renewed bout of
anti-Muslim unrest last week saw one killed and mosques and homes destroyed in
Oakkan, around 100 kilometres (60 miles) north of Yangon, as the unrest spread
closer to the country’s main city.

The Rakhine commission
called for increased aid in Rakhine, where tens of thousands of Rohingya are
trapped in squalid camps amid fears of a deepening humanitarian crisis as the
monsoon season approaches.

But the report also
recommended maintaining the segregation of the two communities while tensions

Human Rights Watch, which
has claimed the authorities were involved in ethnic cleansing in Rakhine, said
the report’s call to double troop numbers there was a “potential
disaster” without proper oversight.

Rohingya — considered by
the United Nations to be one of the world’s most persecuted minorities — have
been rendered effectively stateless in Myanmar with few rights and scant access
to public services.