05/01/2013, 00.00
MYANMAR
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Govt panel proposes limiting births to contain Myanmar Muslims

In order to stem rising sectarian tensions, a governmental commission proposes family planning among Rohingya and other Muslim groups in Burma. Human rights activists call the proposal "chilling". Fresh Muslim-Buddhist violence breaks out with a mosque and shops targeted in a small town north of Yangon.

Yangon (AsiaNews/Agencies) - In order to ease sectarian tensions, a government commission set up last year to investigate anti-Rohingya violence in the western state of Rakhine plans to introduce family planning programmes to limit the growth of the Muslim minority.

Created by President Thein Sein in 2012, the panel has 27 members from different backgrounds. In a recent statement, it said that it is unlikely that the 100,000 or displaced Rohingya Muslims would be returning home anytime soon, arguing that the widespread segregation of Buddhists and Muslims is a temporary fix that must be enforced for now.  

Despite appeals for calm from international organisations, Catholic leaders and local activists, sectarianism and religious nationalism, fuelled by members of the former military junta who have their own political goals, are a rising problem in Myanmar and could aggravate the crisis between Buddhists and Muslims.

"We cannot recommend swift resettlement to people's original places because that would trigger more riots," said commission secretary Kyaw Yin Hlaing. So far nearly 200 people have died because of the unrest.

The report drafted by the pro-government commission focuses on the "concerns" voiced by majority Buddhists in Rakhine State with regards to the growth of the Muslim population. For Buddhists, the latter are illegal immigrants, for whom family planning "would go some way to mitigating" the crisis. 

Human rights activists and organisations have serious doubts and misgivings about the proposal. For Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch, "It's quite chilling to start talking about limiting births of one particular group,"

Meanwhile, Muslim-Buddhist violence continues. In Oakkan, about 100 kilometres north of Rangoon, fighting broke out after a woman accidentally bumped into a young novice monk and knocked his alms bowl onto the ground. Police in the small central Burma town fired warning shots to disperse a crowd after a mosque and Muslim-owned shops were attacked on Tuesday.

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