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The Bangladesh government on Sunday rejected comments by Burma’s opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi suggesting that stateless Muslim Rohingyas may be illegal Bangladeshi migrants.
Burma has been rocked by two outbreaks of fighting between Buddhists and Rohingyas since June that have left 180 people dead and more than 110,000 crammed into makeshift camps.
Suu Kyi said last week that illegal crossing of the shared border with Bangladesh had to be stopped “otherwise there will never be an end to the problem”.
The foreign ministry in Dhaka said the Rohingya Muslims have been living in Burma’s western state of Rakhine for centuries and they could not be Bangladeshi as the country was only founded in 1971.
“The Ministry wishes to express surprise at such comments since these are clearly at variance from the position of the Myanmar [Burma] Government,” it said in a statement.
“There is… no reason to ascribe Bangladesh nationality to these people,” it said, adding that since 1971 there had been influxes of Rohingya into Bangladesh from Myanmar [Burma] due to “internal situations in their homeland.”
Suu Kyi has faced criticism for her muted response to the ethnic violence in Burma and the displacement of many Rohingyas, who are described by the United Nations as among the world’s most persecuted minorities.
But in a letter to the UN on Friday, President Thein Sein said he is willing to consider new rights for the Rohingya minority, including citizenship, work permits and freedom of movement, although he stopped short of making any commitments.
Analysts see this as a conciliatory move ahead of US President Barack Obama’s landmark visit to Burma today, which is expected to boost US investment in the former pariah state. The US government has already earmarked $US170 million in aid to build democratic institutions and improve education.
“A USAID mission sends a significant signal that the United States is back in terms of our engagement in Burma,” a senior official told AFP on condition of anonymity.
On Sunday, Thein Sein pledged to review its prisoner cases in line with international humanitarian standards. It follows intense criticism from civil society groups that Burma’s latest mass amnesty included no political prisoners.
The government also vowed to pursue “a durable ceasefire” in insurgency-wracked northern Kachin State and to sign new nuclear safeguards.
Human rights groups have called on President Obama to pressure the Burmese government for further democratic reforms.