Myanmar monks call for Rohingya expulsion

Oct. 26, 2012 at 6:30 AM
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YANGON, Myanmar, Oct. 26 (UPI) -- Buddhist monks in Myanmar have called for sympathizers of Rohingya people to be branded "national traitors," a report by a humanitarian group said.

The call comes as tensions mount in Rakhine state, formerly called Arakan state, where violence between Buddhist ethnic Rakhinese and Muslim Rohingya has claimed several hundred lives since the summer.

The BBC reported more than 1,000 homes have been burned since fighting broke out Sunday in Minbya and Mrauk U townships. The Myanmar government instituted a nighttime curfew in the towns in an attempt to quell the fighting.

The Myanmar media website, operated out of Norway, Democratic Voice of Burma -- the former name for Myanmar -- said it has seen a document produced by the All-Arakanese Monks' Solidarity Conference.

In it, monks call for the creation of security groups led by monks to enforce discipline throughout the state, and "to establish a magazine, covering all of Arakan state, to promote (Buddhist) religion."

The monks also called for Rohingya to be expelled from Myanmar, the DVB report said.

Expulsion would mean being sent to neighboring Bangladesh from where they are believed to have migrated over the past century into the Buddhist-majority Rakhine.

The latest violence stems from the rape and killing of a Buddhist woman allegedly by three Muslims in the region in May. Buddhists responded with an attack that killed 10 Muslims and more violence and burning of homes resulted on both sides.

In an attempt to calm the situation Myanmar President Thein Sein called for a state of emergency in several areas and said the confrontations have nothing to do with religious differences.

"The president has been very clear that the Arakan issue should not be seen as a religious one but if anyone is trying to establish it as a religious issue it's definitely the monks," said Chris Lewa, head of the monitoring group Arakan Project, based in Bangkok.

Lewa, who recently returned from the Rakhine capital Sittwe, told DVB that ethnic Rakhines are afraid to be seen helping foreigners traveling in the area.

"The Rakhines are mostly afraid of their own community if they do anything that can be seen to be helping or supporting the Muslim community," said Lewa, whose Arakan Project is a member of the Asia-Pacific Refugee Rights Network.

Thousand of Rohingya have fled to refugee camps in Bangladesh.

Last week, Thein Sein suspended plans for the Organization of Islamic Cooperation to open a humanitarian liaison office in Sittwe, supposedly after seeing monks across the country stage mass rallies against the OIC.

Tensions in Rakhine state flared over the past 50 years, since the military takeover in 1962 and when the junta declared Rohingya non-citizens in the 1980s.

Around 735,000 Rohingya live in northern Rakhine state, the Arakan Project estimates. They are related to the Chittagonian Bengali across the border but are distinct from the majority Buddhist population of Myanmar, who are of Southeast Asian origin.

Rohingya who flee Myanmar aren't greeted with open arms in Bangladesh, where thousands languish in poorly maintained refugee camps, effectively making them stateless.

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