11/25/2013, 00.00
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For Burmese activist, the Rohingya issue hides anti-Myanmar power games

by Francis Khoo Thwe
For Tint Swe, the country is united against the UN resolution, which calls on Myanmar authorities to grant citizenship to the Muslim minority. Today Islamic movements and nations defend the Rohingya, but were not as generous in the past. The people of Burma "feel threatened". Criticism jeopardises the process of democratisation and development.

Yangon (AsiaNews) - A UN resolution calling on Myanmar to grant citizenship to Rohingya Muslims has created a united front between the government and the country's political parties, including those in the opposition, finding widespread echo in social media, this according to Tint Swe, head of the of the Burma Centre in Delhi, India. The prominent exiled Burmese activist, who is a former representative of Burma's National League for Democracy (NLD), spoke to AsiaNews about the issue.

"In the past," the UN statements on human rights in Burma "were welcomed by an oppressed people" and represented an "encouragement", today they are seen "through different eyes," and are a source of "disappointment."

For weeks, the Rohingya, a persecuted a stateless Muslim minority, have  been at the centre of debate in the former Burma, especially after the United Nations last Wednesday called on Myanmar to grant them citizenship.

Burmese authorities are resisting the pressure, claiming that the Rohingya are "illegal immigrants" from Bangladesh, an opinion shared by the main opposition party, the National League for Democracy (NLD) of Aung San Suu Kyi.

For Mgr Charles Bo, archbishop of Yangon, "interreligious dialogue" and a "case-by-case" examination would be "the best solution" to resolve the issue. Having religious leaders talk would be better than any political decision, the prelate added.

As the debate continues, it seems, for once, to unite both government and opposition movements who represent the majority of Burma's population.

In the past, Tint Swe said, UN resolutions on Myanmar touched its "60 million people". This year, they are focused on a "small part of the population" that is the source of controversy. Only one Myanmar organisation centred on the Rohingya welcomed the UN text.

Under the military dictatorship, "from 1988 to 2012, only two [UN] special envoys visited Burma to vet human rights and the political situation," the activist said.

Today, the 57-member Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) intervened on behalf of their co-religionists. In the past, it never spoke out about the failure to respect human rights in the nation of 60 million people

The Burmese, he warns, "feel threatened" by constant external pressures and do not accept impositions from above or any changes to the country's citizenship law, an entirely domestic affair.

During the cyclone Nargis emergency in May 2008, 138,000 people were killed, at least 6,900 of whom were Muslim, this in country where Muslims constitute 4 per cent of the population, Tint Swe noted. Following violence in Rakhine State, Muslim countries allocated "millions of dollars" but did not show the "same generosity" at the time of the disaster.

"Burma," Tint Swe added, "is in a delicate transition from military dictatorship to the dawn of democracy. This is still fragile and could be exploited politically, economically and more."

For him, "external pressures are being exerted not for religious or human rights reason but only for a name, Rohingya".

The recent escalation of violence between Buddhists and Muslims in the western state of Rakhine has exacerbated tensions among the country's various ethnic and religious groups.

Last year, bloody clashes broke out between Rohingya Muslims and Arakanese after a young Buddhist woman was raped and murdered in May 2012.

The initial violence sparked a spiral of terror that left hundreds of people dead and scores of homes destroyed.

At least 160,000 people were displaced, many forced to seek refuge abroad to escape attacks by an extremist Buddhist group, the 969 movement.

According to United Nations estimates there are at least 800,000 Muslim Rohingya in Myanmar.

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See also
For Archbishop of Yangon, marriage, conversion and the vote are inviolable human rights
Rakhine: More than 100 dead in clashes between ethnic Burmese and Rohingya
Rakhine: a thousand homes torched as tensions between Burmese and Rohingya remain high
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State of emergency to stop Buddhist-Muslim clashes