Authorities in Myanmar's western Rakhine state have introduced a two-child limit for Muslim Rohingya families, in an effort to ease tensions with the Rohingya's Buddhist neighbours after a spate of deadly sectarian violence, an official said yesterday.
Officials said the new measure - part of a policy that would also ban polygamy - would be applied to two Rakhine townships that border Bangladesh and have the highest Muslim populations in the state. Buthidaung and Maundaw townships are about 95 per cent Muslim.
The measure was enacted a week ago after a government-appointed commission investigating the violence issued proposals to ease tensions, which included family planning programmes to stem population growth among minority Muslims, Rakhine state spokesman Win Myaing said. The commission also recommended doubling the number of security personnel in the region.
"The population growth of Rohingya Muslims is 10 times higher than that of the Rakhine [Buddhists]," Win Myaing said. "Overpopulation is one of the causes of tension."
Sectarian violence in Myanmar first flared up between the state's Rakhine Buddhists and Muslim Rohingya nearly a year ago. Mobs of Buddhists armed with machetes razed thousands of Muslim homes, leaving hundreds dead and forcing 125,000 people - mainly Muslims - to flee.
Since the violence, religious unrest has grown into a campaign against the country's Muslims in its other regions.
Containing the strife has posed a serious challenge to President Thein Sein's government as it attempts political and economic liberalisation after nearly half a century of harsh military rule. It has also tarnished the image of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been criticised for failing to speak out in defence of the country's embattled Muslim community.
Win Myaing said authorities had not yet decided how the measures would be enforced, but that the two-child policy would be mandatory in Buthidaung and Maundaw. It would not yet apply to other parts of the state with smaller Muslim populations.
"One factor that has fuelled tensions between the Rakhine public and [Rohingya] populations relates to the sense of insecurity among many Rakhines stemming from the rapid population growth of the [Rohingya], which they view as a serious threat," the government-appointed commission said in a report issued last month.
Mainly Buddhist Myanmar does not include the Rohingya as one of its 135 recognised ethnicities, branding them illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.