Northern Burma sees upsurge in ethnic violence

By November 1, 2012

Burma (MNN) — Government officials say at least 56 people have been killed in the Rakhine state and hundreds of homes torched in recent days. A United Nations expert is calling Burma’s government to action.

“Buddhist and Muslim communities continue to suffer from the violence in Rakhine state,” said UN Special Rapporteur Tomas Ojea Quintana, “so it is imperative that the government pursues a policy of integration and long-term reconciliation between the two communities.”

Fighting between Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims has been ongoing, says Andy Pasma with Partners Relief and Development. Government intervention probably wouldn’t work out favorably for the minority Rohingya.

“Historically, the Burmese government, the regime that is now in power, has used differences like this…to justify them stepping in with very drastic measures,” Pasma explains. “The result would be–and it’s been proven already–that they would be very hard on the Rohingya.”

But something needs to be done. According to Pasma, there are about 95,000 IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons) in refugee camps with no help on the horizon.

“The government will not provide any assistance; nobody can get in to help them, and so they’re starving to death,” he explained. “It’s very easy for humanitarian organizations to help the Rakhine because that’s the dominant ethnic group.

“It’s virtually impossible to get any assistance to the Rohingya.”

And they’ve definitely tried. Pasma said Partners had teams on the ground in the past, trying to see how they could help both people groups.

“It became very clear to us that we could help the Rakhine people, and that was fine,” said Pasma. “But any effort to help the Rohingya resulted in threats. It became a very dangerous place for our people to be if they tried to help the Rohingya.”

Despite the danger, Partners is still seeking ways to send aid to the Rohingya. Click here to support their efforts.

Tensions between the two groups came to a head this summer. Three Rohingya men were arrested in May and later accused of raping and killing a Rakhine woman. Two of the men have reportedly been sentenced to death, and the third committed suicide while in detention. In June, hundreds of people attacked a bus, killing 10 Rohingya.

“There’s a real hatred between the Rakhine people and the Rohingya,” said Pasma. “And there’s hatred from the Burmese against the Rohingya.”

He explained that Burma’s new constitution stripped the Rohingya of all citizenship.

“They are a people without a country, a people without any civil rights at all, and no country will take them,” he states. “The Burmese government has said, ‘These people are free to go, if anyone will take them’.”

Pray that Burma’s government would revise its policies to treat ethnic minorities in a more humane way. Pray that doors would open up for relief organizations to get access to the people in need.

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