Thu 14 Jun 2012
Filed under: Editorial,Opinion,Other
Many in Burma don’t have the luxury of worrying about economic advancement (see above). They are just trying to stay alive. Buddhists and Muslims are killing each other and burning down each other’s houses in Burma’s western coastal Rakhine State, and the government seems unable to stop the violence. The Muslim Rohingya minority is already one of the world’s most oppressed groups, and hatred for them among the local ethnic Rakhine population is reaching a fever pitch. A humanitarian disaster now looms.The trouble started when a Buddhist woman was raped and murdered in late May. That led to a reprisal killing on June 3 of 10 Rohingya men who happened to be traveling on a bus stopped by a mob. There are now more than 20,000 internal refugees, and at least 28 more people have been killed.
But the origins of the crisis go further back. The Rohingyas are of South Asian descent, although they have lived in the area for centuries. A Burmese military government stripped them and other South Asian and Chinese minorities of their citizenship in 1982, leaving them stateless. That means they are unable to travel within the country, attend school, own property, or even register births and marriages.
Neighboring countries Bangladesh and Thailand also discriminate against the Rohingyas. The Thai military in the past turned back unseaworthy boats carrying refugees, some of whom drowned. Bangladesh is now doing the same.
Aung San Suu Kyi is pleading for calm and reconciliation. But some of her colleagues in the democratic movement have taken a hard line against the Rohingyas, arguing that they should be driven out of Burma. That is a popular tack, and some in the government may want to prolong the opposition’s dilemma, as it is caught between alienating the majority population if it sympathizes with the Rohingyas, or losing international support if it ignores their plight.
This is a dangerous game to play. Prejudice toward the Rohingyas and inflammatory accusations have proliferated on the Burmese Internet and in the media in recent days. Some of the Rohingyas also seem to be fomenting violence as a way to get international attention. With 800,000 Rohingyas in Rakhine State alone, one quarter of the population, communal violence could spread far beyond the few towns where it has been confined so far.
The United Nations’ envoy to Burma Vijay Nambiar visited the area on Wednesday. The Burmese government ought to be put on notice that if it does not counter the forces on both sides that want to indulge the desire for revenge, it will be held responsible for the consequences.