Buddhist Rakhines in western Burma are opposing plans by authorities to set up a refugee camp for Muslim Rohingyas who fled recent deadly violence between the two communities, officials and residents say, as a U.N. panel expressed concern over the government's treatment of the Rohingya stateless group.
The proposed temporary shelter in Pauktaw township, east of the Rakhine state capital Sittwe, is part of plans to resettle more than 100,000 homeless people, mostly Rohingyas, following the communal violence in June and October.
“Local people don’t want them [Rohingyas] to be relocated in the town,” Pauktaw resident Aung Myint told RFA’s Burmese service. “If they are resettled close to the town, there will be problems with them.”
Instead of setting up the camp in their township, residents of Pauktaw, where clashes occurred in October, want authorities to investigate whether any of the displaced Rohingyas are living in Burma illegally, he said.
“We want transparency … on what will be done if they are not yet Burmese citizens,” Aung Myint said.
“We want the authorities to investigate them according to the 1982 Citizenship Law and decide to replace them in appropriate location when they become Burmese citizens.”
“They are not trustworthy. It is impossible to live together with them [Rohingyas] in the same area,” Aung Myint said.
The 1982 Citizenship Law, which limits citizenship to those who can prove their ancestors lived in the country, bars citizenship rights to many Rohingya, whom the U.N. considers one of the world’s most persecuted minorities.
The Rohingyas have been long viewed by the authorities and by many Burmese as illegal immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh even though many have lived in the country for generations.
Rights groups said many of Burma's 800,000 stateless Rohingyas bore the brunt of the violence. Rakhines were also among those killed and made homeless during the clashes.
Earlier this month, authorities launched operations to track down illegal Rohingyas, beginning with inspections in Pauktaw.
No decision yet
Rakhine state’s Minister of Social Affairs Aung Kyaw Min said the authorities had not yet decided on the location of the proposed camp in Pauktaw and that they were considering views from “both sides.”
“We are still choosing the appropriate location for them Rohingyas. It might be in the villages,” he told RFA’s Burmese service.
“This plan is not settled yet,” he said. “To fulfill the requests of people from both sides, they need to be fair.”
He added that those who would be settled in the camp had been living in Pauktaw township before they were displaced.
“We are thinking to replace the refugees who were living in Pauktaw township in an appropriate place in the same township because [neighboring] Sittwe township is much more crowded,” he said.
Around 180 killed were killed in the communal clashes in June and October, according to official figures, with displaced about 111,000 people, officials have said.
The U.N. General Assembly’s Third Committee, which focuses on rights concerns, adopted a resolution on Monday raising the sensitive issue of citizenship for the stateless Rohingyas and calling on the Burmese government to address human rights abuses on the group.
The committee’s resolution "express[es] particular concern about the situation of the Rohingya minority in Rakhine state [and] urges the government to take action to bring about an improvement in their situation and to protect all their human rights, including their right to a nationality,” according to Reuters news agency.
Burma’s mission to the U.N. told the committee it would accept the resolution but rejected the characterization of the Rohingya as one of Burma’s ethnic groups.
"There has been no such ethnic group as Rohingya among the ethnic groups of Burma," a representative of the mission said, according to Reuters.
"Despite this fact, the right to citizenship for any member or community has been and will never be denied if they are in line with the law of the land."
The Burma representative said that the two outbreaks of violence were not rooted in any persecution of Rohingyas.
"The violence in Rakhine state was just a violent communal clash affecting both sides of the community. It is not an issue of religious persecution," he said.
Reported by RFA’s Burmese service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.