Burma Mulls Rights for Rohingya

The country's leader tells the UN he is prepared to address resettlement and citizenship issues facing the Rohingya.
2012-11-17
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A Buddhist Monk reads a local newspaper carrying a picture of President Barack Obama in Rangoon, Nov. 17, 2012.
AFP

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.

Illegal immigrants

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.

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from Wellington

It's understandable that the Burmese people are not in-step with the thinking in Western Countries like the US yet, but to be in-step they need to think carefully. 99% of Americans are not the indigenous people of America. Only the North American Indians are indigenous people and they are very small in number. The same could be said of all of South Ameaica, Canada, Australia etc etc. To be born in a country is to have citizenship and that's the way of the world.

Nov 20, 2012 04:39 PM

Anonymous Reader

Rohingyas are not Bengalis, they are distinct ethnic race who should be termed as Arakanese Muslims. They are not even illigal immigrants from Bangladesh. Myanmar government has already verified their nationality. During the period of 1978 to 1990 almost 2,50,000 rohingyas fled to Bangladesh to escape persecution by Burmese military and took refugee in Bangladesh. Later, Myanmar verified their nationality and found 2,36,000 as Myanmar nationals and took back them to Myanmar. another 24,000 waits for verification. That means rohingyas are Myanmar nationals. so they should be given their due rights. Myanmar govt should not act racist like. and for Rakhines, lessons are yet to be learned. they forgot who tried to eradicate them from their land and who gave them shelter during their time of distress. Bamars say, if you see a snake and a Rakhine, first kill the Rakhine. It is more dangerous!!

Nov 19, 2012 01:30 PM

Freedom and equility

I just listened the Obama's original speech in the Yangon University .It was so shocking to see how most of the other local media not mentioning about the rohingya issue that he addressed.
Obama was thoughtful enough that he understood the problem was most Burmese people are brain washed badly(through school and religion)to be xenophobic and hate (anybody who looks like any kind of Indian decedents) and most of the people think that war on Afghanistan and Iraq is merely to wipe out Muslims or Islam.
Therefore, he was trying to educate those wrongly educated people who are afraid foreigners and people from different religious background.
However, it is so sad that skynet stopped translating his speech after 5 minutes because it seems like they are scared that majority of Burmese people will be open-minded and stop hating who don't look like them.

Nov 19, 2012 12:23 PM

Anonymous Reader

Where are the Rakine Buddhists to write comment against the above news? I invite them very cordially.

Nov 19, 2012 02:03 AM

Anonymous Reader

President Thein Sein should listen to the people of Burma's voices, which clearly said we do not want Bangali Illegal to settle in our mother land. Bangali illegals are nothing but trouble makers and they are the threats of Rakhine Local who are more than enough suffering living with them.

Nov 18, 2012 11:23 AM

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