06/15/2012, 00.00
MYANMAR - SWITZERLAND

As an apparent calm follows sectarian violence in Sittwe, Aung San Suu Kyi ponders the Rohingya issue

Rakhine State Border and Security Affairs Minister says the situation is "under control". Fears of renewed Buddhist-Muslim clashes persist. In Switzerland, opposition leader calls for the rule of law and greater border controls, but avoids talking about citizenship for Muslim minority. But for NLD spokesman, "The Rohingya are not our citizens."

Yangon (AsiaNews/Agencies) - After weeks of Buddhist-Muslim violence, calm has returned to Rakhine State as security forces enforce their rule over the area. For the authorities, like State's Border and Security Affairs Minister Colonel Htein Linn, "the situation [is] under control". Aung San Suu Kyi, who arrived in Switzerland two days ago, addressed the issue of sectarian clashes. In Europe for an official visit, she will travel to Norway, Ireland, Great Britain and France. Although the problem of violence underscores the "need for the rule of law", the Nobel Prize laureate did not press the issue, to avoid perhaps irritating the government and President Thein Sein. Back home, the Rohingya Muslim minority continue to be victimised and suffer from the rejection by the region's Muslim nations (especially Bangladesh).

In Rakhine State, relief work for the people affected by the violence continues, Colonel Linn said, adding that tumours that refugees were starving were untrue. Almost 32,000 people are housed in 37 camps across the state (formerly known as Arakan).

Tensions persist though and renewed violence cannot be excluded. For this reason, local religious leaders have called on their co-religionists to stay calm and cooperate with the authorities to restore peace.

Violence broke following the rape and murder of a Buddhist woman in late May. An angry mob attacked Muslims on a bus who had nothing to do with the crime; ten were killed.

The situation then spiralled out of control, and anger turned into violence that claimed 29 lives (16 Muslims, 13 Buddhists) with 38 people wounded. Some 2,600 homes were set on fire, official sources say. Three Muslim men are on trial for the woman's death.

Aung San Suu Kyi, who is in Europe, spoke about the clashes between Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims, but her schedule was changed when she fell ill at a press conference.

Doctors said that the incident was caused by trip-related fatigue. Suu Kyi recovered quickly and will continue her tour as planned.

Speaking about the sectarian violence in her country, the leader of the National League for Democracy (NLD), insisted on the need for the rule of law, clear rules on citizenship, and "responsible" vigilance along the Burma-Bangladesh border.

When asked whether she considers Rohingyas Burmese citizens, Burma's opposition leader insisted that the rule of law was needed in in the country as well as clear citizenship regulations and efficient border enforcement policies.

For the current Burmese government and the former military regime that ruled the country until 2010, Rohingyas are illegal immigrants. The latter also persecuted them.

For Ms Suu Kyi, there is a "practical problem" in Rakhine State, compounded by a "porous border" that cannot hold back "illegal immigrants crossing."

This is not good enough for Burma's Rohingya leaders, including Kyaw Min, a one-time Suu Kyi ally who spent more than seven years as a political prisoner. "It is politically risky for her," he said, to talk about the issue.

Conversely, for NLD spokesman Nyan Win the matter is clear. Although he would not comment Suu Kyi's position, he said, "The Rohingya are not our citizens."

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