Religion


Four houses were burnt in an attack against an interfaith couple in Nattalin Township, Pegu Division on 16 April, according to local authorities. No one was injured and authorities said that calm has been restored.
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American officials are warning that attacks on minority Muslims and foreign aid groups in Burma are threatening the nascent thaw in relations between Washington and this former pariah state.
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At the time of writing, Burma’s first census in over 30 years is drawing to a close. It was meant to have been the latest in a series of milestones affirming the nation’s steady progress toward democracy and away from its bitterly troubled past. Instead, it has become a high-profile fiasco; one that has underlined the burning issues that still trouble the country and threaten to drag it backwards.
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Myanmar activists opposed to hate speech took their campaign to upper Myanmar on April 8, with small groups gathering in several cities to warn against the use of language that can inflame religious and ethnic tensions.
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Well-known Burmese blogger and activist Nay Phone Latt launched the Panzagar (flower speech) campaign last week, which aims to oppose hate speech, a practice of attacking a person or group on the basis of race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation.
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The international community has again issued urgent pleas to the Burmese government to restore humanitarian access and ensure the protection of residents — foreign and local — in Arakan State, where critical health and supply services were largely terminated in late March.
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In response to a UN statement saying that hundreds of thousands of people have been affected by the evacuation of international aid groups from Arakan, the state government has said that there is still enough food for impoverished villagers and those displaced people in shelters.
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Religious leaders have vowed to set up an interfaith dialogue mechanism to protect children’s rights and to prevent inter-communal violence on ethnic or religious grounds.
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Police in the Arakan State capital Sittwe said they have arrested 12 suspects in relation to the attacks on the offices of the United Nations and international aid groups last week.
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Attacks on NGO workers and offices in western Burma occurred last week after an international aid worker in the town of Sittwe removed a Buddhist flag that had been placed in front of the office. Tensions there are evidently at boiling point.
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Within the next couple months, a government commission will finish drafting two bills to restrict religious conversion and to enact population control measures, the deputy minister for religious affairs says.
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Muslims in Bago say they have denied the opportunity to list their ethnic identity in the national census that began on March 30, Mizzima has been told.
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What is your ethnic background? Rakhine organisers of the first census to be held in Myanmar for 30 years had decided they might as well ignore international standards and get the most controversial question over and done with first.
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Last week, violence broke out in Arakan state’s capital Sittwe. The violence kicked off when local residents observed a foreign staffer of humanitarian NGO Malteser International, remove a flag from outside their offices.
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Presidential spokesman Ye Htut has said that international aid workers supporting communities in strife-torn Arakan State should be more sensitive to local customs, after a rumor that an aid worker improperly handled a Buddhist flag sparked attacks on the Sittwe offices of foreign aid organizations last week.
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Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has urged the Government of Myanmar to ensure the safety and security of all staff members and their property in the wake of recent attacks against the United Nations and international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Rakhine state.
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Burma’s first census for 30 years is at risk of being derailed before it has even started, as renewed unrest in the country’s west threatens to send foreign aid workers fleeing, making conditions impossible for counters.
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About 1,000 demonstrators staged a noisy protest outside the Bangladesh embassy in Yangon on March 26 to condemn a commentary in a Dhaka newspaper that called for a referendum in Rohingya-majority areas in Rakhine State on whether to secede from Myanmar.
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The Arakan State government has asked Muslim leaders in Sittwe to urge their fellow followers of Islam not to identify their “race” in Burma’s upcoming census, with authorities worried that allowing Rohingya Muslims to self-identify as such could spark a violent backlash from Buddhists in the troubled region.
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Burma’s government has been irked by a recent op-ed in a Bangladeshi newspaper suggesting that Rohingya-majority parts of Arakan State should hold a referendum on whether to secede from Burma.
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