In an assurance to the international community, Burmese President Thein Sein says his government will consider resolving contentious rights issues facing the Muslim Rohingya minority, including the possibility of providing them citizenship.
Thein Sein said the government is also prepared to look into the resettlement of tens of thousands of Rohingyas displaced by months of deadly communal violence with Rakhine Buddhists in western Rakhine state in recent months.
It was the clearest indication yet that the government is moving to address the plight of the Rohingyas and came ahead of U.S. leader Barack Obama's historic visit to Burma, the first by a sitting American president.
The Burmese leader gave the assurances in a letter to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon on Friday, according to a statement from Ban's spokesman that also contained excerpts from the letter.
"The United Nations will work closely with the government and people of Myanmar [Burma] to help the affected people in the Rakhine state as well as support the measures that will need to be taken to comprehensively address the issues at the heart of the situation there," Ban's spokesman Martin Nesirky said.
In the letter, Thein Sein condemned the “criminal acts” of elements inside his country that caused the “senseless" communal violence in June and October that left about 180 dead and 110,000 homeless, according to official figures.
He promised to deal with the perpetrators of the violence in accordance with the rule of law.
He said that “once emotions subside on all sides,” his government would be prepared to “address contentious political dimensions, ranging from resettlement of displaced populations to granting of citizenship” for the Rohingyas.
It will also look at “issues of birth registration, work permits, and permits for movement across the country for all, in line with a uniform national practice across the country ensuring that they are in keeping with accepted international norms.”
Thein Sein also underlined the commitment of the government to meet the humanitarian needs of those affect by the violence and sought wider international assistance and cooperation in this regard, the U.N. spokesman said.
Rights groups said Burma's 800,000 stateless Rohingyas, whom the United Nations considers among the world's most persecuted minorities, bore the brunt of the violence, in which Rakhines were also among those killed and made homeless.
The Rohingyas have been viewed by the authorities and by many Burmese as illegal immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh even though many have lived in the country for generations.
It was not immediately clear what steps Thein Sein will take to resolve the Rohingya plight. Thein Sein had previously cited strict citizenship laws stating that only Rohingya whose families settled in the country before independence from Britain in 1948 can be considered citizens.
Separately, on Friday, Thein Sein met senior members of the Buddhist and Muslim communities in Burma, including members of the clergy, and strongly called on them to exert maximum effort to foster harmony and cooperation between the communities.
"The [U.N.] Secretary-General welcomes both President U [honorific] Thein Sein’s letter as well as his recent meeting as positive steps in the right direction," his spokesman said.
"He further welcomes the assurances conveyed on behalf of the Government of Myanmar [Burma], in respect of the immediate and longer term issues connected with the troubles in Rakhine that would be carefully noted by the international community."
White House calls
The White House had urged Thein Sein to take urgent action to end the strife in Rakhine state in calls made ahead of Obama's visit.
It said that the U.S. leader will press the matter, along with demands to free political prisoners as the Southeast Asian country transitions to democracy after a half-century of military rule, with Thein Sein.
Obama departed on Saturday for a three-country swing, with the highlight to be the landmark stop in Burma, a former pariah state, aside from visits to Cambodia and Thailand.
On the eve of his trip, the United States scrapped a nearly decade-old ban on most imports from the long-isolated nation, opening up to products from the country with the exception of gems, a sector seen as a major driver of corruption and violence.
The move is "intended to support the Burmese government's ongoing reform efforts and to encourage further change, as well as to offer new opportunities for Burmese and American businesses," a statement from the State and Treasury Departments said on Friday.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had pledged to normalize trade relations with Burma when she met in New York in September with President Thein Sein, who has launched a wave of democratic reforms since his nominally civilian government took over in March last year after decades of harsh military rule.
The administration issued a waiver on the import ban, which was imposed by Congress in 2003, and the law remains in place if officials decide to resume the sanctions.
Reported by RFA's Burmese service. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.