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Myanmar’s Census Exercise Extended Till End of April

By Radio Free Asia 

Myanmar’s first census in three decades, which was scheduled to end Thursday, has been extended to at least the end of the month to cover those who could not participate in the 12-day nationwide exercise, a senior official said.

The exercise, which began on March 30, had covered about 10 million of the country’s estimated 11 million households as of Tuesday, according to Myanmar’s Director of the Population Department Khaing Khaing Soe.

Those who could not meet census takers during the exercise would have to provide their personal data to administrative offices closest to them or to a hotline that has been set up until the end of the month, she said.

“They have to go and provide their data to the closest local administration office. We have already informed village and township census committees about those who were not listed on the census data,” she told RFA’s Myanmar Service.

“If they can’t go and contact them, we have opened a hotline, whose number is 1840, until the end of April,” she said. “When they call and let us know their data, we will take prompt action.”

Khaing Khaing Soe said that “95 percent” of the census has been successful but added that complete data derived from the exercise would be announced only in a year’s time.

“We can’t provide all the details yet, but what we can say is that 95 percent of the work has been successful,” she said.

“The census process is not done yet. We will work on it until we get as much details as we can. We will announce the complete data of this census in March or April of 2015.”

Kachin state

Khain Khaing Soe acknowledged “difficulties” in undertaking the census in Kachin state, where fighting continues between rebels from the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and government troops.

State media had accused the KIA of trying to “interrupt” the census taking process, saying it had threatened and disrupted the work of enumerators in parts of Mansi and Mogaung townships in Kachin state and Momeik and Manton townships in Shan state.

“There are no difficulties in ethnic regions except Kachin state,” Khain Khaing Soe said.

“The census workers who are teachers were told not to take data in KIA-controlled areas in Kachin state. We will discuss and negotiate with the minister of immigration and leaders from KIA-controlled areas to do as much as we can to collect data in Kachin state.”

Myanmar’s largest armed rebel group, the KIO, has been fighting with government troops over the last three years after a 17-year cease-fire was shattered, even though they are participating in talks with government negotiators on a nationwide cease-fire agreement.

Most of Myanmar’s other ethnic rebel groups have agreed to work with officials to administer the census in their areas.

No data for Rohingyas

Another problem area during the census was conflict-ridden western Rakhine state, where the authorities disallowed minority Rohingya Muslims from registering their ethnicity, depriving potentially tens of thousands from participating in the exercise.

Data was not collected from anyone identifying themselves as Rohingya, an ethnic minority regarded as stateless by the authorities although they have lived in the country for generations.

The government doesn’t recognize Rohingya as among the 135 ethnic groups under Myanmar’s 1982 Citizenship Act, saying they should identify themselves as Bengali because the authorities regard most of them as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

Khaing Khaing Soe said the authorities were still trying to woo the Rohingyas to participate in the census.

“The census data is for the country’s development. As the first major priority, we just want to know the number of people and their ages and, secondly, their education levels and occupation,” she said.

“When some people didn’t want to identify their ethnicity, we accepted it and skipped this stage. We were told by some people that they didn’t want to participate in the census taking. For those people, we have discussed and are still negotiating with them.”

Myanmar’s Eleven newspaper quoted a senior official of the Population Department as saying that those refusing to be included in the census will be added to the survey, using estimates.

International concern

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), which has provided technical assistance to the Myanmar government for the census, last week said it was “deeply concerned” about the decision not to accept Rohingya as an ethnicity.

Britain, which partly financed the survey, on Thursday said the exercise was “a critical step in Burma’s development process,” but said the move to exclude the Rohingyas breached international standards, Agence France-Presse reported.

British Foreign Minister Hugo Swire said on Monday he had summoned the Myanmar ambassador over the conduct of the census in Rakhine.

Reported by Kyaw Thu for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.