Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and lawmakers from ethnic minority groups have called on the Burmese government to increase security in restive Rakhine state, urging all parties in the region to “respect human rights,” regardless of religion and race.
The statement follows a meeting between the parliament’s Rule of Law Committee—chaired by Aung San Suu Kyi—and ethnic leaders to discuss steps to prevent new clashes between Muslim Rohingya and Buddhist Rakhines in the area.
Violence in Rakhine since June has left around 180 dead and 110,000 displaced, according to official figures.
The call for heightened security also came as Rohingya residents expressed concerns that they are being classified as “Bengalis,” or illegal immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh, as officials investigate the cause of the ethnic violence, which saw a fresh round of fighting last month.
“Regarding Rakhine state, the Rule of Law Committee urges everyone to respect human rights regardless of religion and race or majority and minority. All parties need to find peaceful solutions,” the statement read.
“We must also recognize the Rakhine nationality’s concerns,” it said. Ethnic Rakhine constitute the majority in the western state, where most of the 800,000 Rohingyas in Burma live as a minority group.
The statement also called for “all individuals and organizations that are instigating violence” in the region to be “brought to justice.”
“Security must be fully reinforced in sensitive areas where violence is more likely to occur at any time,” the statement added.
It urged the government to clearly define its citizenship policies, maintain transparency in its efforts to secure the region, and to act in accordance with Burmese law.
“The government must be transparent in clearly explaining to the public its policy of providing citizenship according to the 1982 Citizenship Laws and how it plans to handle Rakhine affairs,” it said.
The laws, which limit citizenship to those who can prove their ancestors lived in the country, bar citizenship rights to many Rohingya, who have long been regarded by the government as outsiders and immigrants from Bangladesh.
The statement did not mention Bangladesh by name, but appeared to hold Dhaka partly accountable for the unrest.
"Both governments that share common boundaries should respect and take common responsibility for border security and immigration matters," it said. "It is imperative that both countries systematically prevent border crossings."
J Yaw Wu, a Member of Parliament from President Thein Sein’s ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party who met with the Rule of Law Committee on Monday, said that the violence was a result of pressures generated by a “population explosion” by “illegal immigrants” in Rakhine state.
“In areas [of Rakhine state] where the violence took place, the majority was Rohingya and Rakhines were the minority. In those areas, population explosion is a concern due to illegal immigrants from Bangladesh,” he said.
He blamed Muslim religious practices, which he said allowed each man in the area to marry up to four wives.
“But such practices are contrary to our [national] law,” he said. “We don’t allow that.”
Tet Htun Aung, a member of parliament for the Rakhine National Development Party in Rakhine state, said a move to survey households in the state following the violence was encountering “difficulties.”
The survey is believed to be part of operations to track down illegal Rohingyas in at least two townships near the state capital of Sittwe on the orders of President Thein Sein.
“They were insisting that they are Rohingyas, not Bengalis. They insisted that they would not sign [the survey] unless their identity was identified as Rohingya,” Tet Htun Aung, who was part of the investigation team, said.
“Moreover, many families were running away from their homes when we arrived. They did not want to see us.”
Tet Htun Aung said that his team had been collecting information on “how many Bengalis lived in the area” and said that most of the individuals they interviewed “were trying to have their identity marked as Rohingya.”
“We are identifying people by three categories: national, temporary national, and foreigner.”
The U.N. regards the Rohingya as one of the world’s most persecuted minorities.
Many of the stateless Rohingya fear that if they are not recognized as citizens of Burma they will be forced out of the country.
Members of the group who have fled violence in Rakhine state to Bangladesh have been turned away from Bangladesh, which says it is already burdened with an estimated 300,000 of the minority group.
Reported by RFA’s Burmese service. Translated by Win Naing. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.