June 18, 2012 / 3:30 PM / 7 years ago

Suu Kyi says Myanmar must clarify citizenship laws

LOSBY GODS, Norway (Reuters) - Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi said on Monday Myanmar must clarify citizenship laws underlying ethnic tensions in the country, but declared she was unsure whether Muslim Rohingyas at the center of clashes could be regarded as nationals.

Secular violence between Rakhine Buddhists and stateless Muslim Rohingyas in the northwestern Rakhine region have clouded Suu Kyi’s first visit to Europe in nearly a quarter of a century and has tested the country’s fragile transformation.

“If we were very clear as to who are the citizens of the country, under citizenship laws, then there wouldn’t be the problem that is always coming up, that there are accusations of that some people do not belong in Bangladesh, or some people do not belong in Burma,” Suu Kyi told a news conference.

The violence, which displaced 30,000 people and killed 50 in Myanmar, also known as Burma, flared last month with a rampage of rock-hurling, arson and machete attacks, after the gang rape and murder of a Buddhist woman that was blamed on Muslims.

Tensions stem from an entrenched, long-standing distrust of around 800,000 Muslim Rohingyas, who are recognized by neither Myanmar nor neighboring Bangladesh, and are largely considered illegal immigrants.

“We are not certain exactly what the requirements of citizenship laws are,” said Suu Kyi, who spent a total of 15 years under house arrest between 1989 and her release in late 2010.

Asked whether the Rohingyas should be regarded as Burmese, she replied “I do not know.”

“There are some who say that some of those who claim to be Rohingyas aren’t the ones actually native to Burma, but have just come over recently from Bangladesh,” she said.

“On the other hand Bangladesh says no, they don’t want them as refugees because they are not native to Bangladesh but come from Burma,” said Suu Kyi, who accepted her 1991 Nobel Peace Prize on Saturday and her 1990 Rafto human rights prize on Sunday.

The violence has put both Suu Kyi and Myanmar President Thein Sein in a tight spot. The government is under pressure from rights groups and Western countries to show compassion towards the Rohingyas but a policy shift risks angering the public.

The tension is also testing the quasi-civilian government which emerged from a 2010 vote, which has surpassed expectations in introducing a series of reforms to try to rid the country of its pariah status after decades of isolation and decay.

Suu Kyi became a member of parliament this year following her triumph in a parliamentary by-election that the president had convinced her to take part in after winning her trust.

The world’s major powers honored the shift in Myanmar, suspending long-standing sanctions to encourage a full move to democracy and to share Suu Kyi’s cautious optimism.

Editing by Diana Abdallah

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