Burma’s resources are being spread thin in an effort to provide shelter and other aid to the more than 100,000 people left homeless following two outbreaks of ethnic violence in western Burma, a minister said Tuesday.
Border Affairs Minister Lt-Gen Thein Htay told RFA’s Burmese service that investigations are ongoing into the circumstances that led to the clashes in June and October between Muslim Rohingyas and Buddhist Rakhines in Rakhine state, which left a total of around 180 killed, according to official figures.
"There were about 75,000 refugees during the first wave and another 35,000 in the second wave. So, altogether there are about 111,000 refugees resulting from the two waves of violence,” he said.
“We've been able to carry out rehabilitation programs to some extent for the first wave of refugees from the June incidents so that they will soon be able to work again in the [rice] paddy fields. But for the second wave of refugees of 35,000, we just have to focus on how to resettle them.”
According to official figures, around 36,400 people were left homeless following renewed clashes in October.
International rights group say the Rohingyas, who number around 800,000 in Rakhine state, bore the brunt of the June and October violence and make up the majority of those displaced in the clashes, though Rakhines were also killed and made homeless.
Lt-Gen Thein Htay said that authorities in the area were carrying out investigations “to mete out action in accordance with the rule of law.”
He said the government is trying to resolve the conflict by “emphasizing on how the people from the two sides can live in harmony within the law and without resorting to violence.”
In November, authorities in Rakhine state launched operations to track down illegal Rohingyas in the aftermath of the October clashes on the orders of President Thein Sein.
The investigations are being conducted by ward, village, and township level officials, as well as the military, the police, immigration authorities, and Muslim community leaders. They are based on legislation from 1982 which limits citizenship to those who can prove their ancestors lived in the country.
The law bars citizenship rights to many Rohingya, whom the U.N. considers one of the world’s most persecuted minorities and who have long been regarded as outsiders and immigrants from Bangladesh.
Lt-Gen Thein Htay said that provisions under the 1982 Citizenship Law are viewed differently by the Rakhine and the Rohingya, which has complicated the investigation process.
“Both sides want [the investigations] to be carried out in accordance with the 1982 Citizenship Law. But they have different views,” he said.
“One side wants the investigation to focus on the issue of illegal stay, and the other side wants us to investigate if they have the right to stay legally.”
The Border Affairs minister downplayed reports that residents who had not been recognized as Rohingyas had refused to cooperate with the investigation’s findings to date.
“Only around 100 from among the thousands of people were complaining about recognition as Rohingyas,” he said.
“It is illogical that their mothers and fathers were Bengalis,” he said, using the local term for illegal immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh, “but only that person wants to be called a Rohingya.”
On Friday, ahead of an historic visit by U.S. President Barack Obama, Thein Sein assured the international community that his government will consider resolving contentious rights issues facing the Rohingya, including the possibility of providing them citizenship, in the clearest indication yet that Burma is moving to address the plight of the minority group.
Obama, who on Monday became the first sitting U.S. president to visit Burma, called for an end to the unrest in Rakhine, saying there is "no excuse for violence against innocent people," whether of Rakhine or Rohingya ethnicity.
Reported by RFA’s Burmese service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.