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Jakarta Pressing Burma on Rohingya Legal Rights

Indonesia’s Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa
attends the opening session of the 46th ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in
Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei, June 30, 2013. (File)

Ron Corben
July 10, 2013

BANGKOK — Indonesia is pressing Burma’s
government to grant legal status to the country’s Muslim Rohingya. As more
Rohingya seek asylum in Indonesia and elsewhere abroad, Ron Corben reports from
Bangkok that Indonesia’s Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa says Burma needs to
take action to end inter-communal violence.

Indonesia’s Foreign Minister, Marty Natalegawa,
says Burma has to press on with democratic reforms and recognize the legal
rights of hundreds of thousands of stateless Muslim Rohingya.

Burma – also known as Myanmar – has been wracked by
sectarian bloodshed over the past year that has led to more than 200 deaths and
displaced tens of thousands. Fighting began in communities with large numbers
of ethnic Rohingya, who are denied citizenship in Burma.

Natalegawa, speaking to reporters in Bangkok
Wednesday, says Indonesia is “encouraging” Burma to grant legal recognition to
the Rohingya as an initial step to ease tensions.

“There is the issue of the status issue, which on
the one hand is political as well as legal, which we are now encouraging the
government of Myanmar to address in a fundamental way so that the Rohingya can
obtain the kind of status and legal rights similar and akin to the rest of
their countrymen,” said Natalegawa.

Burmese authorities have long excluded Rohingya
from the ethnic groups recognized as Burmese citizens, claiming that they have
always been illegal immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh.

Natalegawa says there is a “huge sense of distrust”
that now lies between the Buddhist majority and Muslim minority in Burma as a
result of the sectarian bloodshed. He said Indonesia had to work through
similar bouts of violence since the late 1990s as it moved towards
democratization. He says Indonesia is ready to share its experience with
Burmese authorities in rebuilding the communities.

“So we know there is an issue to be addressed but I
believe that this is part and parcel of Myanmar’s democratization
efforts,” he said. “It cannot be treated in isolation so we must
impress upon the Myanmar government as we have been, that to be able to
transform democratically there must be at the same time, not sequentially, at
the same time they must also address the issue of communal tensions and
horizontal conflicts.”

Thousands of Rohingya have fled by boat on perilous
journeys, with an unknown number perishing at sea, as they seek asylum abroad.

Indonesia is planning to convene a major regional
conference this year to combat people smugglers and reduce the flows of boat
people coming into the region.