Myanmar president says will address sectarian violence

YANGON Sat Nov 17, 2012 6:42am EST

Myanmar's President Thein Sein talks during his first news conference since his re-appointment as head of the ruling party Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), at the presidential palace in Naypyitaw October 21, 2012. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun

Myanmar's President Thein Sein talks during his first news conference since his re-appointment as head of the ruling party Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), at the presidential palace in Naypyitaw October 21, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Soe Zeya Tun

YANGON (Reuters) - Myanmar's president blamed nationalist and religious extremists for the violence between Muslims and Buddhists in Rakhine State in October that killed at least 89 people, and the United Nations said he had promised to address the underlying problems.

Thein Sein's remarks, in a meeting with Buddhists and Muslims carried by state television late on Friday and in a letter to the United Nations, came three days before U.S. President Barack Obama is due to visit the country, also known as Burma.

A Reuters investigation into a wave of sectarian assaults on Muslims in the state painted a picture of organized attacks led by Rakhine nationalists tied to a powerful political party in the state, incited by Buddhist monks and, some witnesses said, abetted by local security forces.

The United States has suspended sanctions on Myanmar and removed an import ban in recognition of Thein Sein's political and economic reforms after half a century of military rule, but it still wants him to end ethnic conflict and release all political prisoners.

MRTV television said action had been taken against 1,081 people in connection with the violence in Rakhine, giving no details about those people or their offences.

"There were nationalist and religious extremists who incited and agitated improperly behind the scenes to spread the violence in the region," Thein Sein told the religious leaders.

"Besides, there were some foreign organizations and nations who tried to fuel the flame by circulating false and fabricated news," he said, without identifying them.

"The country will lose face among the international community if we fail to pursue the norms of human rights and humanitarian work being practised in many countries," he said, calling for concerted efforts by the government, Buddhist monks and people of all races and religion to work for a harmonious society where each could be respected.

LETTER TO THE U.N.

The United Nations said Thein Sein had sent a letter to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon promising action to tackle the problems in Rakhine, home to an estimated 800,000 Rohingya Muslims that Myanmar does not recognize as citizens.

Many in Myanmar consider them to be illegal immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh, but Bangladesh does not recognize them as citizens, either.

In a statement issued late on Friday, Ban's office said Thein Sein had promised that "once emotions subside on all sides", his government was prepared to "address contentious political dimensions, ranging from resettlement of displaced populations to granting of citizenship".

It would also look at "issues of birth registration, work permits and permits for movement across the country for all, in line with a uniform national practice across the country ensuring that they are in keeping with accepted international norms".

Many Rohingyas are subject to travel and work restrictions.

The United Nations said Thein Sein had committed his government to meeting the humanitarian needs of people caught up in the violence and had said it would seek international assistance and cooperation.

It said he had condemned the "criminal acts" of elements inside his country and promised to deal with the perpetrators in accordance with the rule of law.

Ban, welcoming those steps, said the United Nations would work with Myanmar to help the affected people in Rakhine state and support measures needed "to comprehensively address the issues at the heart of the situation".

In the comments carried on television, Thein Sein said 167 people had been killed in two periods of violence in Rakhine in June and October this year, while 223 were injured. Some 101,000 buildings were destroyed and 111,000 people were made homeless.

At least 80 people died in the June violence. Some rights activists say the overall total for June and October could be much higher.

(Writing by Alan Raybould; Editing by Paul Tait)

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/
Comments (2)
mohican12 wrote:
The sectarian violence in Rakhine should be dealt with based on historical facts and world geopolitical realities. The historical facts are that the present day Rakhine state within Myanmar has been a Buddhist nation since the time Buddha. To Rakhine and other Buddhists the Rakhine nation is to Saudi Arabia as it is to Muslim Arabs. Another historical fact is the continuous illegal immigration by land and sea from neighboring Bangladesh, a country with one of the worlds largest population density, least natural resources and a country that is severely impacted by climate changes; compared that to Rakhine state with very less population and rich natural resources. On the geopolitical front the Islamization in the world and in particular Bangladesh is severely aggravating the situation. Bangladesh is suffering a vicious cycle of overpopulation, loss of land and Islamic extremism. It is well known that well armed and well funded Islamic extremist/terrorist groups exists in the border areas in Bangladesh and making inroads to Myanmar. It does not appear to be a mere coincident that the sectarian violence erupted after the transition of the Government in Myanmar;possibly, Myanmar government had taken the eye off from war on terrorism to transition to democracy. While the recent call from Myanmar President Thein Sein for illegally immigrated people from Bangladesh to be settle in other possibly Muslim is correct one and should be considered by world leaders as it will alleviate the immediate problem, the actual policy for a long term solution should be developed by the people of Rakhine state. Saudi Arabia and other Islamic nations have developed laws and practices specifically to preserve their religion, culture and heritage. Therefore, should Buddhist Rakhine opt to develop laws and practices to preserve their religion and heritage, they should have the right to do so. The central government of Myanmar should provide all assistance to make this possible; otherwise what is happening in Rakhine state now will be happening in Nay Pyi Daw in the very near future.

Nov 17, 2012 11:16am EST  --  Report as abuse
anan12 wrote:
It is also historical fact that Rohingya people living there for generations.In a similar way thousands of Rakhaine who came from Arakan also living in Bangladesh. If these Rakhaine are full citizen of Bangladesh then why Rohingya case is different.

Nov 17, 2012 2:19pm EST  --  Report as abuse
This discussion is now closed. We welcome comments on our articles for a limited period after their publication.