As Myanmar’s Rakhine Buddhists gain strength, so does anti-Muslim apartheid
A campaign to isolate Muslims living under apartheid-like conditions is gathering steam in western Myanmar, driven by Buddhist activists emboldened by the country’s transition from military rule.
Religious violence since 2012 has killed hundreds of Rohingya Muslims and displaced more than 140,000 in Rakhine State. Survivors live as virtual prisoners in camps or in segregated villages, subject to restrictions on travel, and, in some areas, marriage and the number of babies they can have.
In recent months, Buddhist Rakhine activists and politicians have spearheaded a campaign to restrict healthcare and other aid for many of the estimated one million Rohingya living in the state, aid workers say.
At the forefront of the movement are the Rakhine Social Network (RSN), an umbrella grouping of activist organisations, and the newly-formed Arakan National Party (ANP).
“We are worried that this country will not remain Buddhist,” Nyo Aye, the chairwoman of the Rakhine Women’s Network, which is part of RSN, told Reuters.
“We Rakhines are strongly guarding Myanmar’s western door,” she added, referring to the widely accepted belief that the Rohingya are illegal Muslim immigrants from neighbouring Bangladesh.
The step up of the campaign against the Rohingya comes as Rakhine leaders use Myanmar’s democratic reforms to seize greater local autonomy and a slice of billions of dollars in infrastructure development and oil and gas revenue.
Such bigotry is proving a stumbling block to Myanmar’s opening to the world after nearly 50 years of military rule. Last month, U.S. President Barack Obama cited abuses in Rakhine State as one reason for extending some economic sanctions against Myanmar.