Myanmar’s strife-torn region needs aid, troops

PUBLISHED : Monday, 29 April, 2013, 8:46pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 30 April, 2013, 1:36am

Myanmar should urgently help tens of thousands of Muslims displaced by deadly religious unrest in the western state of Rakhine and flood the area with troops to stem further conflict, a report said on Monday.

A commission set up by the government in response to waves of fighting that left around 200 dead in Rakhine last year said the “temporary separation” of Buddhist and Muslim communities should continue in the state, where 140,000 people remain homeless.

“While keeping the two communities apart is not a long-term solution, it must be enforced at least until the overt emotions subside,” the commission said in recommendations published almost a year after the first outbreak of violence in June last year.

Last week watchdog Human Rights Watch accused the quasi-civilian government and security forces of being involved in the “ethnic cleansing” of Rohingyas – a claim rejected by the government.

Monday’s official report said soldiers and police should be held accountable for any illegal actions, but also recommended doubling the security presence in the region “to control and prevent further violence”.

Rakhine state remains deeply divided following major eruptions of unrest in June and October that saw mobs go on deadly rampages through villages and torch thousands of homes, mainly those of Rohingya Muslims.

While keeping the two communities apart is not a long-term solution, it must be enforced at least until the overt emotions subside

Overcrowding, poor sanitation and malnutrition were said to be of critical concern particularly in camps for Rohingya whom the report referred to as “Bengalis”.

Myanmar views its population of roughly 800,000 Rohingya as illegal Bangladeshi immigrants.

“It is extremely urgent to provide the Bengali (internally displaced persons) with access to safe and secure temporary shelters prior to the monsoon season,” the commission said, adding that 15 per cent of food needs and 90 per cent of housing needs remain unmet in the state.

Thousands of Rohingya have fled Myanmar since June on rickety boats, mostly believed to be heading for Malaysia after Bangladesh refused them entry.

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.

The commission said Myanmar should “immediately” resolve their citizenship status “in a transparent and accountable manner” and recognise the basic human rights of those deemed stateless as part of longer-term measures.

Other recommendations included regulating religious schools “that teach extremism”, banning hate speech and training security forces in crowd control.

It also said authorities should encourage family planning in Rohingya communities to limit population growth that has fuelled Buddhist fears in Rakhine, although such measures should not be mandatory.

HRW deputy Asia director Phil Robertson 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.

HRW last week said Myanmar officials, community leaders and Buddhist monks organised and encouraged mobs, backed by state security forces, to conduct coordinated attacks on Muslim villages in October in Rakhine.

It said “impunity” for those instigating the violence had helped encourage extremists in central Myanmar, where anti-Muslim violence exploded in March and left at least 43 dead.