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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.