Buddhist monks, politicians and other ethnic Arakanese figures are kindling hatred towards Muslim Rohingya in an area plagued by sectarian violence, Burma’s president has warned in a report seen by AFP Friday.
In an unvarnished assessment of the role of Buddhists in unrest in Arakan state, which has left scores dead on both sides and displaced tens of thousands of people, President Thein Sein also said ethnic Arakanese could not accept the Rohingya as fellow citizens.
Decades of discrimination have left the Rohingya stateless and Burma’s government considers their 800,000-strong population as foreigners, while many citizens see them as illegal immigrants from neighbouring Bangladesh and view them with hostility.
“Political parties, some monks and some individuals are increasing the ethnic hatred. They even approach and lobby both the domestic and overseas [Arakan] community,” Thein Sein said in a report sent to Burma’s union parliament, which combines the upper and lower houses, on 17 August.
“[Arakanese] people are continuously thinking to terrorise the Bengali Muslims living across the country,” he said, using a term frequently used in Myanmar for Rohingya.
Thein Sein also said ethnic Arakanese could not envisage sharing their land with people they consider foreigners, echoing comments he made in July calling for camps or deportation of Rohingya.
“They cannot consider a situation in which the Bengali Muslims can be citizens,” the president said.
A leading Arakanese political party rejected the findings, saying it had already lodged “an objection” over the report to parliament.
“We don’t agree with their review… such a review should not be released in this current time…, it can worsen the clashes,” said Aye Maung, chairman of Rakhine Nationalities Development Party.
Burmese authorities have faced heavy criticism from rights groups after clashes between Rohingya and Buddhist Arakanese, which according to government figures left 87 people dead.
In response the government on 18 August announced a new 27-member investigating commission, including religious leaders, artists and former dissidents, to probe the causes of the violence and suggest ways forward.
The president’s review also found that the economy of Arakan state had been decimated by the unrest, while both communities are suffering “mental trauma” after the clashes, which saw neighbours turn on each other and thousands of homes torched.
New York-based Human Rights Watch has accused Burmese forces of opening fire on Rohingya during the June outbreak of unrest, as well as committing rape and standing by as rival mobs attacked each other.