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Myanmar's ethnic unrest

Publication Date : 13-06-2012

 

The escalation of ethnic and sectarian violence in Myanmar has not only raised questions about the future of the democratic reforms in the country but also highlighted the plight of the country's Muslim minority.

The unrest in Myanmar's Rakhine state erupted last week when around 300 Arakan Buddhists allegedly attacked a bus in which Muslims were travelling, killing 10 passengers apparently in retaliation for the rape and killing of an Arakan girl allegedly by three Rohingya suspects. The ensuing violence has resulted in seven more deaths and displacements of thousands of civilians, prompting President Thein Sein to issue a state of emergency in the area.

The President is aware of the danger that ethnic strife is posing to fragile reform process. "If we put racial and religious issues at the forefront, if we put the never ending hatred, desire for revenge and anarchic actions at the forefront there's a danger that the country's stability and peace, democratisation process and development, which are only in transition right now, could be severely affected," he said on Sunday.

Both sides are blaming each other for the unrest. However, being a small minority without any legal and social protection, Rohingya Muslims are more vulnerable to mob violence. According to the UN estimates, 80,000 Rohingyas are living in Rakhine state in poor conditions. Thousands attempt to flee every year to Bangladesh, Malaysia and other countries to escape a life of abuse that include forced labour, violence and restrictions on movement, marriage and reproduction.

The recent wave of violence has also triggered their mass displacement and revived fears of ethnic cleansing.However, it is hoped that the reform-minded current Myanmar government will not only punish the perpetrators of recent violence, but also ensure that all minorities enjoy equal rights in the country.

 

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