A coalition of Burma’s pro-democratic ethnic minority political groups said Tuesday it does not recognize the Rohingya among the country’s nationalities, blaming recent deadly ethic violence in Rakhine state on immigration policies.
The National Democratic Front (NDF), a group of eight nationality parties allied with Burma’s opposition movement, issued a statement Tuesday reiterating a decision the group adopted in 2005 not to acknowledge the Rohingya as a fellow ethnic minority.
“‘Rohingya’ is not to be recognized as a nationality,” the NDF said, adding that it wanted its position on the Rohingyas “made known to the people at home and in foreign lands” in light of recent clashes in Rakhine state.
The violence between Rakhines, an officially recognized Buddhist nationality, and Rohingyas, a Muslim group considered outsiders from Bangladesh despite having lived in Burma for generations, have left some 60 people dead since early June, according to government statistics.
Some 800,000 Rohingyas live in Burma, where the government considers them illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and denies them citizenship, while Bangladesh says they have been living in Burma for centuries and should be counted as citizens there.
The United Nations considers them a stateless people and one of the world’s most persecuted minorities.
At least 2,000 Rohingyas have tried to flee since the June violence to neighboring Bangladesh, where some 300,000 Rohingya live in refugee camps, but many have had their boats turned back out to sea.
NDF Secretary Khun Oh told RFA in an interview that the organization had made the decision not to recognize the Rohingya after the issue was raised by its Arakan (Rakhine) Liberation Party representing members of the Rakhine group.
“Even before the current conflict, there has been frequent conflict between Rakhine and Bengalis,” he said, referring to the Rohingyas as people from Bangladesh.
“One of our member [groups], the Arakan Liberation Party, raised this issue some years ago, and we knew this kind of problem could occur one day.”
“We decided that we do not recognize the Rohingyas as one of our ethnic groups. That decision was made in 2005,” he told RFA in an interview.
The NDF statement suggested the ethnic strife in Rakhine was rooted in insufficient control on Rohingya immigration from Burma’s neighbors.
“Consequently, there is always [the] entry of illegal immigrants into Arakan state,” it said, using another name for Rakhine state.
“From the incidents happening frequently in the Arakan [Rakhine] state, the NDF has learnt that more illegal immigrants enter, especially from Bangladesh.”
It did not address how Rohingyas already living in Burma should be treated under the law.
Khun Oh said that some Rohingyas could be granted Burmese citizenship if they meet appropriate qualifications, such as knowledge of a national language.
“Those who are already there, whether they came by the right [legal] means or not, and who meet qualifications for citizenship, should be granted it,” he said.
National Council for the Union of Burma
The National Council for the Union of Burma (NCUB), an alliance of pro-democratic groups that includes the National Democratic Front, issued a similar statement on Saturday blaming the strife in Rakhine state on Rohingya immigration.
“We may conclude that the reason is lack of proper measures to prevent the consequences arising from the Arakan [Rakhine] state having a common border with a country like Bangladesh, which has a dense population.”
It added that the clashes were sparked by the murder of a Rakhine woman, but that the violence had become “increasingly mutual” between ethnic Rakhines and Rohingyas.
It blamed inadequate enforcement on a lack of rule of law on the part of Burma’s government, and proposed stricter controls on immigration as a solution to future ethnic conflict.
“In addition, we would like to point out that it is vitally important to enact an immigration law systematically providing for the prevention of a recurrence of similar incidents in Arakan [Rakhine] state.”
Leaders from Burma and Bangladesh are expected to discuss the issue of Rohingya refugees and related unrest near their shared border next month.
The topic will be on the agenda when Burmese President Thein Sein travels to Bangladesh from July 15-17 to meet Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Bangladesh's ambassador in Rangoon told the Agence France-Presse news agency Monday.
"It is expected the Myanmar [Burma] refugee issue will be discussed with more seriousness this time," he said.
"Bangladesh supports all actions [and] measures that are being taken by Myanmar [Burma] to restore normalcy in Rakhine state as early as possible."
Bangladesh says that its resources are already overly strained and has refused to accept the Rohingya despite appeals from the United Nations to grant them refugee status.
Opposition leader and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi has said that "the most important lesson" from the Rakhine conflict is the country’s “need for rule of law,” which she added is also key to resolving the numerous armed ethnic conflicts in the country emerging from decades of harsh military rule.
Reported by Nyan Win Aung for RFA’s Burmese service. Translated by Khin May Zaw. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.