As Myanmar’s Rakhine Buddhists gain strength, so does anti-Muslim apartheid

By Reuters Staff
June 19, 2014
(Displaced Rohingya woman Norbagoun carries her severely malnourished 25-day-old twins in her lap in their house at the Dar Paing camp for internally displaced people in Sittwe, Rakhine state, April 24, 2014. Restrictions on international aid have exacerbated a growing health crisis among stateless Muslim Rohingya in west Myanmar. In February, Myanmar's government expelled the main aid group providing health to more than half a million Rohingya, Medecins Sans Frontieres-Holland (MSF-H), after the organisation said it had treated people believed to have been victims of violence in southern Maungdaw township in January. The United Nations says at least 40 Rohingya were killed there by Buddhist Rakhine villagers. The government denies any killings occurred. An attack in March on NGO and U.N. offices by a Rakhine mob led to the withdrawal of other groups providing healthcare and other essential aid to another 140,000 Rohingya living in camps. Picture taken April 24, 2014. REUTERS/Minzayar)

(Displaced Rohingya woman Norbagoun carries her severely malnourished 25-day-old twins in her lap in their house at the Dar Paing camp for internally displaced people in Sittwe, Rakhine state, April 24, 2014. REUTERS/Minzayar)

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.

Read the full story by Aubrey Belford here.

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