06/12/2012, 00.00
MYANMAR

U.S. and EU demand an end to violence between Burmese Buddhists and Muslims

Tensions remain high in the western Rakhine State, after days of ethno-religious conflict. Activists criticize the government and call for free access for independent bodies. The United Nations move staff; Bangladesh strengthens border controls. At least 12 thousand displaced people.

Yangon (AsiaNews / Agencies) - The international community is calling for an end to violence in the Rakhine State - west Myanmar, along the border with Bangladesh - where in recent days at least seven people were killed in violent ethnic clashes - between Buddhists and Muslims. Washington is calling for the calm and peaceful resolution of this matter, the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says the situation "underlines the absolute need for mutual respect among all ethnic and religious groups." Attention is on President Thein Sein and the Burmese army - which has often in the past violently suppressed riots and tensions - to clarify the circumstances of events. The spokesman for European Union chief diplomat Catherine Ashton said she is that certain "security forces are facing these difficult interethnic violence in an appropriate manner."

Human rights activists and members of civil society are more critical of the Burmese government, which has allowed its troops to take control of the province. They demand that foreign journalists, diplomats and volunteers be given access to areas affected by fighting. Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch (HRW) has confirmed that the violence "is getting out of hand, under the eyes of the government." Even the UN has decided to transfer - at least temporarily - much of the  "non-essential" staff from the area. And across the border, the Border Guards in Bangladesh have strengthened inspections and driven back several boats, carrying groups of refugees. The number, depending on the sources, varies from 50 to 300. According to a list provided yesterday by the Rakhine Nationalities Development Party, about 12 thousand inhabitants are housed in emergency centers, located in four different towns of the State.

Meanwhile, throughout Myanmar anti-Muslim and anti-Rohingya sentiments are spreading, a minority living in Burma's border with Bangladesh, often victims of abuse and persecution in the past of a religious nature. The Rohingya activists have repeatedly demanded, without success, inclusion in Myanmar and the recognition of their full rights. On the web, however, Burmese bloggers and citizens describe members of the minority as "invaders" or "terrorists".

The violence erupted in the Rakhine State about a week ago when a Buddhist woman was raped and murdered. An angry mob accused some Muslims, killing 10 of them, who were traveling on a bus. The capital of Rakhine State, Sittwe, is controlled by security forces. The area is a very important hub for trade, because it is the origination point of an oil pipeline and gas pipeline built by China that brings power up to Yunnan.

Myanmar is composed of more than 135 ethnic groups, and historically has always found it difficult to promote coexistence. The military junta often uses harsh repression against the most recalcitrant. Myanmar Muslims constitute about 4% of a population of 60 million people. The UN says there are 750 thousand Rohingyas in the country, concentrated mainly in Rakhine State. Another million or more are scattered in other countries: Bangladesh, Thailand, Malaysia. The state of emergency declared yesterday is the first to be declared under Thein Sein, President for over a year, who is attempting to lead the country from military dictatorship to at least minimal democracy.

 

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