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Myanmar minister warns off opportunists

Nov. 5, 2012 at 12:12 AM   |   Comments

YANGON, Myanmar, Nov. 5 (UPI) -- A senior Myanmar minister said the government will crack down on anyone taking advantage of the communal unrest in Rakhine state for their own ends.

But he also made an appeal for senior community leaders from all sides to cooperate to end the violence between Muslims and Buddhists that has claimed several hundred lives and forced thousands to flee their homes.

Union Minister for Border Affairs Lt. Gen. Thein Htay said the Internet ensures no country can hide their problems.

But he said there also needs to be sound analysis of the root causes of the Rakhine violence if solutions are to be found, a report by the state-run New Light of Myanmar newspaper said.

The outbreak of social problems is common when people live side by side in the same community but outbreaks of violence wouldn't be allowed, he said.

"Stern legal action" will be taken against people and organizations that manipulate the Rakhine incidents, said Thein Htay.

"Townselders are urged to cooperate in solving the conflicts between two societies by legal and peaceful means."

Myanmar, a Buddhist majority country, has its Muslim minority mostly in the northwestern Rakhine state, also is home to Rohingya, a Muslim group with close ties to neighboring Bangladesh.

Communal violence began in May after a Buddhist woman was raped and killed by three Muslims. A mob killed 10 Muslims in retaliation.

The government estimated that 77 people from both communities died in the initial ensuing riots, mostly in Sittway, Maungtaw and Buthidaung townships.

More than 100 people were injured and nearly 5,000 homes, 17 mosques, 15 monasteries and three schools were burned, the government said.

President Thein Sein was quick to go on national television after the riots to ask for calm and said the government would set up a commission to look into the violence.

A government statement at the time said the violence wasn't because of religious persecution but "due to mistrust and religious differences that had created hatred and vengeance against one another."

Thein Htay made his comments during a fact-finding tour to Rakhine state by the ambassadors of the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom.

The group toured the townships of Myebon, Yanbye and Kyaukpyu outside the Rakhine capital Sittway and the scene of some of the worst violence since the latest outbreaks started in June.

They toured refugee and relief camps for displaced people, met with local elders to get views on the violence and visited some of the damaged and fire-destroyed houses, the New Light report said.

The democratically elected but military-dominated government of former junta leaders has been treading carefully in Rakhine state. The situation is unlike that in the eastern states of Mon and Karen where security forces are fighting a bitter campaign against armed rebels.

In Rakhine, the security forces are being judged internally and internationally on their even-handedness toward both Muslim and Buddhist communities.

Questionable behavior of police and security authorities could undo months of political effort and diplomacy that has earned the government international good will for its move toward a more openly democratic society, including a business-friendly economy.

The New Light report also said the conflict in Rakhine state is putting the brakes on social and economic development.

The ambassadors' fact-finding tour comes as European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso offered more than $100 million in development aid to Myanmar.

The offer was made during his meeting with Thein Sein in Naypyitaw where they discussed steps to boost trade as economic sanctions are lifted following decades of isolation, the BBC reported.

Barroso also talked with opposition leader and Nobel Peace Prize recipient Aung San Suu Kyi.

In a brief broadcast interview with the BBC after her talks with Barroso, Suu Kyi said she wouldn't take sides regarding the violence in Rakhine and the general situation of the Rohingya in Myanmar's society.

Instead, she appealed for calm on all sides and urged a thorough investigation into the causes of the violence.

Barroso's visit to Myanmar was part of a Southeast Asian tour that includes Thailand and Indonesia and ending in Vientiane, Laos, where he will take part in this week's ninth Asia-Europe Meeting.

© 2012 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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