05/24/2013, 00.00
MYANMAR
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Rakhine: Chinese-style family planning to contain Rohingya Muslims

The members of the minority cannot have "more than two children," a rule designed to stop its "rapid population growth" in accordance with central government recommendations, state spokesman says. Activists complain that under the pretext of opposition to polygamy, a campaign of "ethnic cleansing" is underway.

Yangon (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Authorities in western Myanmar's Rakhine state, have introduced a local regulation setting a two-child limit on Rohingya families in a bid to restrict population growth among the Muslim minority group.

The state in the recent past was scene of ethnic and sectarian violence between the Buddhist majority and the Muslim minority, with hundreds of casualties and displaced persons. Rohingya families, who still do not have the rights to full citizenship unlike other minorities in the country, would be allowed only two children. Family planning was proposed in recent weeks with the aim of easing sectarian tensions and contain the presence of a minority whose members are seen as "illegal immigrants".

The measure, which is part of a policy against Sunni polygamy, should come into effect in coming days in Maungdaw District, Rakhine State, which includes the towns of Maungdaw and Buthidaung.

Both are located along the border with the Bangladesh, an area inhabited largely by members of the Rohingya Muslim group, the only ethnic minority subject to the "two-children law."

Rakhine State spokesman Win Myaing said that the measures should help stop the Rohingya's "rapid population growth" and are in line with recommendations made by the central government.

Since June last year, the area has been the scene of violent clashes between Buddhists and Burmese Rohingya Muslims (about 800,000 throughout Myanmar) that killed at least 200 people and displaced another 140,000.

However, for US-based Human Rights Watch (HRW), the authorities are engaged in virtual "ethnic cleansing" in the area.

Ostensibly, the crisis is rooted in ethnic differences between majority Buddhists and minority Rohingya.  The latter are commonly referred to as "Bengalis" or by the pejorative 'Kalar'. Not only are they Muslim, but they are also darker in complexion and culturally different from ethnic Rakhinese.

But there is more. Certain economic interests could be stirring up sectarian tensions in Rakhine state, one of the poorest and least developed of all of Myanmar, as it has untapped natural resources, including large oil and natural gas reserves.

Burmese authorities have already planned to build a pipeline from the Kyaukphyu Special Economic Zone (SEZ) to Kunming, in the Chinese province of Yunnan. Two other SEZs exist, one in Thilawa and the other in Dawie.

The pipeline should be operational by 2015 and avoid the need to move Middle Eastern oil through the Strait of Malacca.

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