HUNDREDS of hardline Buddhists in Rakhine state took to the streets on Sunday in protest of government plans to give citizenship to members of the Rohingya Muslim minority community.
According to the Associated Press, via Bangkok Post, Rakhine state’s dominant Arakan National Party led the protest in the state capital, Sittwe, where religious violence broke out in 2012 forcing thousands of Rohingya to flee their home.
“We are protesting to tell the government to rightfully follow the 1982 citizenship law and we cannot allow the government giving citizenship cards to these illegal migrants,” protest organiser Aung Htay said.
Under the 1982 law, Burma does not recognise the ethnic minority as one of the national races.
The protest was in response to a suggestion by the Rakhine Advisory Commission, a group set up to propose solutions to the Rakhine state problems, for the Burmese government to reconsider a failed programme to verify Rohingya for citizenship.
The nine-member panel, led by former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan, also suggested the government immediately start letting the Rohingya return home and ultimately close rundown camps for the displaced in its western Rakhine state.
More than 120,000 people, mostly Rohingya, have been living in what were meant as temporary shelters for internally displaced persons (IDPs) since bouts of communal violence roiled the state in 2012.
“It’s really about time they close the camps and allow the people in the camps, particularly those who have gone through the (citizenship) verification process, access to freedom of movement and all rights of citizenship,” Annan told Reuters.
Burmese leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s commitment to improving the plight of the Rohingya community has been called into question by many abroad. Suu Kyi has often chosen to remain silent on the issue and has at times defended the actions of the military in their brutal crackdown.
On Thursday, however, Suu Kyi’s office issued a statement declaring the government’s support of the commission’s findings and stated most of the recommendations would be “implemented promptly.”
The statement, issued within hours of the recommendations being published, said the government “concurs with the recommendations and believes these will have a positive impact on the process of the national reconciliation and development”.
About 1.1 million Rohingya people are denied citizenship in Burma. This lack of full citizenship rights means they are subject to other abuses, including restrictions on their freedom of movement, discriminatory limitations on access to education, and arbitrary confiscation of property.
The government withdrew their so-called white cards two years ago as part of a plan to expel them from the country and cancel their citizenship under the 1982 law.
Many in the Buddhist-majority country view the Rohingya as unwanted immigrants from Bangladesh.
Additional reporting from Reuters