Nationalists organise protests across Rakhine
Buddhists gathered yesterday to register their objection to a government edict to replace the terms “Rohingya” and “Bengali” with “Muslims in Rakhine State”.
RAKHINE State saw mass protests yesterday as thousands of Buddhists, including monks, demonstrated in a show of opposition to a government edict referring to Muslim communities in the restive province, organisers said.
Anti-Muslim rhetoric has spiked across Myanmar recently, with two mosques torched by Buddhist mobs in just over a week in a country where sectarian violence has left scores dead since 2012.
Rakhine State – home to about 1 million stateless Muslims who selfidentify as Rohingya – has been hardest hit by religious violence that has left tens of thousands of the persecuted minority in fetid displacement camps.
The Muslims are reviled by Rakhine Buddhists who refuse to recognise any shared rights to the province and instead call them “Bengalis” – or illegal immigrants from nearby Bangladesh.
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s new government has sought to defuse the row over the term “Rohingya”, instead ordering officials to refer to “Muslim communities in Rakhine”.
But protesters yesterday said that too was unacceptable as it hands Muslims recognition in a Buddhist state.
“We reject the term ‘Muslim communities in Rakhine State’,” U Kyawt Sein, a protest organiser in Sittwe, said, adding more than 1000 people, including monks, had joined the rally in the state capital.
Rally-goers there shouted slogans including “Protect Rakhine State”, while a protest in the town of Thandwe drew similar numbers.
“Bengalis should be called Bengalis,” Ko Phoe Thar Lay, a leader of a local Rakhine youth group, said, adding that all 17 townships across Rakhine were participating in protests yesterday afternoon.
Most Rohingya live cut off from the Buddhist community in displacement camps or remote settlements since sectarian riots tore Rakhine apart in 2012.
Persecution and poverty have forced tens of thousands to flee by sea, but the dangerous trafficking route south through the Bay of Bengal was closed late last year during a Thai crackdown on people smuggling.
State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has drawn criticism from rights groups for not taking up the cause of Muslims.
Instead she has carefully sought to sidestep controversy, urging the international community to give the country “space” to unpick its sectarian problems.
After a 12-day visit to Rakhine and other conflict sites in Myanmar, a UN rights investigator warned on July 1 that “tensions along religious lines remain pervasive across Myanmar society”.
Yanghee Lee urged the country’s new civilian government to make “ending institutionalised discrimination against the Muslim communities in Rakhine State … an urgent priority”.
The same day, a mosque was torched by a Buddhist mob in the jade-mining town of Hpakant in the far north.
That incident came eight days after another crowd of Buddhists destroyed another mosque in central Bago Region, forcing the Muslim community to seek refuge in a neighbouring town. –
Demonstrators hold pro-Rakhine signs at a rally in Sittwe, Rakhine State, on July 3.
Buddhist monks participate in an anti-Muslim demonstration in Sittwe, Rakhine State, on July 3.