RANGOON—Amid media reports of “Rohingya genocide” and calls for better UN access to Arakan State, the Burmese government on Saturday defended its handling of violence between Rohingya Muslim and Arakan Buddhists, saying the communal strife was a consequence of “underdevelopment” and a lack of international aid.
At a press conference in Rangoon, Minister of Border Affairs Lt-Gen Thein Htay, Minister for Immigration and Manpower Khin Yi and Police Chief Maj-Gen Kyaw Kyaw Tun took turns to give their explanation of the inter-communal violence and the government’s response to it.
Thein Htay said chronic poverty and a lack of jobs had given rise to frustrations that were expressed through communal tensions. “At the root is underdevelopment in the region,’ he said, adding that these tensions “can be solved through ways of development.”
The minister went on to say that the lack of international development aid for the coastal region caused issues of poverty to go unaddressed, which ultimately contributed to the violence. “Even UN organizations … haven’t provided us with aid like normal [developing] countries, for more than 20 years. We need that kind of normal country program for the development of those states,” he said.
International development agencies were barred from working in Burma until recently because of international sanctions against the previous military regime.
Vice-President Dr. Sai Mauk Kham and Thein Htay toured conflict areas in Arakan and Kachin states with UN Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Valerie Amos and other international officials last week.
Amos called on government leaders, in particular Arakan politicians, to help improve UN access to camps for the displaced. Aid workers have previously complained of hostility from local Buddhist communities towards their work.
By some estimates, Rohingyas number about 800,000 people and they form a minority in Buddhist-dominated Arakan State. They are not recognized as an ethnic group and the government refuses to use the name Rohingya. The UN has said the group is “friendless” in the country.
On Friday, the government lashed out at Qatar-based broadcaster Al Jazeera over allegations in a documentary called “The Hidden Genocide”—due to be aired on Dec. 9-12—that government forces were complicit in or had carried out killings of Rohingya.
About 115,000 people—mostly Rohingya—have been displaced, while bloody clashes have killed at least 89 people, according to the UN. Together with the government, the UN has drafted a US $67 million emergency response plan that still need another $35 million in funding.
Minister Thein Htay said about 200 people have been killed in inter-communal violence and about 36,000 were displaced since June. He said communal harmony could be re-established in Arakan State, but added that international assistance was “vital” to resolving tensions.
Thein Htay stressed the government had no ulterior motives in its handling of the Arakan violence and called for trust from the international community. “We have nothing hiding. We just wish to have comprehensive assistance and encouragement to solve the issue,” he said.
Minister for Immigration and Manpower Khin Yi said the government would resolve the issue of citizenship for the Rohingya by awarding it those who could prove that their families had lived in Burma for two generations. “If they meet those requirements they are entitled to receive citizenship. I will stick to 1982 Immigration Law,” he said.
Police Maj-Gen Kyaw Kyaw Tun said investigations to determine who is to blame for the violence were still ongoing.