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Myanmar panel urges more troops in Rakhine

Commission on deadly sectarian violence last year in western state also suggests limiting births of Rohingya Muslims.

Last Modified: 29 Apr 2013 18:05
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A government-appointed commission has proposed to double the number of security forces in western Myanmar's Rakhine state to ease tensions there in the wake of deadly sectarian violence last year.

The report, released on Monday, also recommended the introduction of family planning programmes to stem population growth among minority Muslims, cited as a reason for increased hostility from Rakhine Buddhists in the area.

It emphasised, however, that if the government went ahead with a proposed family planning programme, it should "refrain from implementing non-voluntary measures which may be seen as discriminatory or that would be inconsistent with human rights standards".

It's quite chilling to start talking about limiting births of one particular group

Phil Robertson, HRW's deputy Asia director

The long-awaited report contained responses to the violence last June and October that killed nearly 200 people and left 140,000 homeless, mostly Rohingya Muslims in an area dominated by ethnic Buddhists.

The committee said it was unlikely the estimated 100,000 displaced Rohingya Muslims would be returned to their homes anytime soon, saying the widespread segregation of Buddhists and Muslims is a temporary fix that must be enforced for now.

The violence appeared to begin spontaneously, but by October had morphed into anti-Muslim pogroms across western Rakhine state that spread last month into central Myanmar.

'Ethnic cleansing'

President Thein Sein appointed the 27-member panel last year to investigate the causes of the conflict and recommend measures to prevent further violence.

The panel included former political prisoners, Christians, a Hindu, Muslims, and Rakhine Buddhists, but did not include any Rohingya Muslims.

Overcrowding, poor sanitation and malnutrition were said to be of critical concern particularly in camps for Rohingya whom the report referred to as "Bengalis", a reference to their reported South Asian roots.

 

 Phil Robertson, HRW Asia division, talks to Al Jazeera.

Shwe Maung, a Rohingya member of parliament from Rakhine state, objected to the commission's terminology, saying that the word "Bengali" fails to reflect reality and people's sense of their own identity.

"The report is unfair," he said. "The usage and recommendations are similar to what Rakhine ethnic people have been demanding."

The report also calls for all ethnic groups to learn the Myanmar language.

Phil Robertson, the Human Rights Watch deputy Asia director, welcomed calls for more aid for the camps, but said the official report should have addressed allegations of authorities' involvement in ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.

"Doubling the number of security forces in [Rakhine] state without first ensuring implementation of reforms to end those forces' impunity is a potential disaster," he said.

Robertson said family planning initiatives could be problematic if they are not implemented carefully.

"It's quite chilling to start talking about limiting births of one particular group," he said.

Hate speech

The report also called for a crackdown on hate speech and stepped-up aid for the displaced ahead of monsoon rains expected in May, and urged the government to determine the citizenship status of all those living in Rakhine state.

The issue has posed a major challenge to the government of Thein Sein, who took office after a long-ruling military junta stepped down two years ago and has since embarked upon a series of reforms.

Most Rohingya are effectively stateless despite the fact that some have lived in Myanmar for generations. Predominantly Buddhist Myanmar does not include Rohingya as one of its 135 recognised ethnicities.

Last week, Human Rights Watch issued the most comprehensive and detailed account yet of what happened in Rakhine state last year.

The report accused authorities, including Buddhist monks, local politicians and government officials, and state security forces, of fomenting an organised campaign of "ethnic cleansing'' against the Rohingya.

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Source:
Agencies
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