Can the Muslim and Buddhist communities of Rakhine State come to an understanding under Aung San Suu Kyi’s rule?
In December 2016, former secretary-general of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, visited Myanmar for talks with State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, regarding simmering tensions between Buddhists and Muslims in Rakhine State, on the western coast of the country.
Rakhine is home to over one million displaced people, most belonging to the Rohingya community. It is one of the largest stateless populations in the world, in spite of their belief that they are indigenous to Rakhine.
The Rohingya have been called the most persecuted people in the world – at this moment in time – and are denied Myanmarese citizenship. Physical violence against them is common, with hundreds killed and thousands of houses belonging to them burned down since 2012. Reports of sexual abuse by the police and even the army have also been rife, with many Rohingya denied access to healthcare, means of employment and food.
One hundred thousand people, Buddhists and Muslims, are estimated to be displaced as a result of the violence between the two groups. Both sides talk to Al Jazeera about potentially finding a peaceful resolution to a conflict in one of the most ethnically complex countries in the world.
The Rohingya believe they have as much right to Rakhine as the Buddhist community does. “Rohingya are not illegal immigrants because the Rohingya did not come to this country after its independence. We are the indigenous citizens of this country,” says Abdul Rasheed, Chairman of the Rohingya Foundation.
Historians debate whether the Rohingya were living in Myanmar pre-independence – when it was still known as Burma – in 1948. However, they have always lived primarily in Rakhine. But unlike many other ethnic groups – and there are hundreds of them, they were never considered part of the Myanmar’s population. They were frequently denied the right to participate in elections and many considered them to be from neighbouring Bangladesh, migrating to Myanmar after the Bangladesh liberation war of 1971.
The sentiment is echoed by U Wara Thara, a monk from Sittwe in Rakhine: “This land is owned by us, the Buddhists, the people of Rakhine. We are only seven percent of the population here. As their population is getting bigger, they shouldn’t be here any more. If they live here honestly, it doesn’t matter to us, but they are now appropriating our lands.”
You can talk to Al Jazeera, too. Join our Twitter conversation as we talk to world leaders and alternative voices shaping our times. You can also share your views and keep up to date with our latest interviews on Facebook.