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Buddhist-Muslim Tensions Aggravate in Rakhine State of Myanmar.

.Paper No. 5263                                        Dated 25-Oct-2012               

By B.Raman

The Myanmar Government headed by President Thein Sein is rushing Army reinforcements to the Rakhine State following  a fresh outbreak of clashes between Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims in different townships of the Rakhine State since October 21,2012.

2.So far, two Rohingya Muslims and one Buddhist have been killed in the clashes and about 1000 houses, mostly belonging to Rohingya Muslims, have allegedly been burnt down, thereby forcing the Muslim residents of these houses to shift to boats.

3. The fresh anti-Muslim campaign has assumed new disturbing features. Buddhist monks have revived their opposition to the Government accepting humanitarian assistance for the Rohingya Muslim displaced persons from the OIC member-countries. Following bitter opposition from the monks, the Government of Thein Sein has reversed its decision to allow the OIC to set up a branch in Yangon. It has now stated that it will allow the OIC to have only a temporary set-up in Yangon to supervise the distribution of humanitarian relief to the internally displaced Muslims and Buddhists in the Rakhine State. The monks are opposing even this and have been insisting there is no need for any humanitarian assistance from the OIC countries.

4.Buddhist students, who took out a procession ( 800) in Sittwe, the capital of the Rakhine State, on October 24,2012, have demanded the introduction  of an anti-Muslim apartheid policy in the local educational institutions. They have been saying that they will not sit in the same classes and stay in the same hostels as Rohingya Muslim students and have been demanding separate classes and separate hostels for the Rohingya Muslims. The Buddhist students, who participated in the procession, denounced the Rohingya Muslims as Bengali terrorists.

5. The Commission set up by the Government to enquire into the causes for the violence since May has not made much headway in its enquiries due to non-cooperation from both the communities.

6. The anti-Government anger of the Muslims of the Rakhine State has started affecting Muslims of sub-continental origin living in Yangon and other cities of Myanmar outside the Rakhine State. Apart from expressing solidarity with the Rohingya Muslims of the Rakhine State, they have been accusing the Government of Thein Sein of failing to give assurances regarding the security of the Muslims living in other parts of Myanmar during the Eid festival on October 26,2012. Muslim groups in Yangon have called for the non-observance of Eid on the ground that the Government has failed to give satisfactory guarantees for their security during the festival.

7. The Government of President Thein Sein is finding itself in a dilemma. It is under growing pressure from the OIC as well as the Western countries to pay attention to the human rights and security of the Rohingya Muslims. At the same time, the anti-Rohingya  demands of the monks and the Buddhist students have public support, even among Buddhist soldiers of the Army.

8. Till now, the Buddhist soldiers of the security forces have remained disciplined and have been complying with the orders of the Government to enforce law and order and to protect the Rohingya Muslims. But will they continue to do so? That is a question that has been troubling the Government.

9. Unfortunately, there is no political leader ---not even Aung San Suu Kyi---- with any influence over the Buddhist monks and students of the Rakhine State who can persuade them to tone down their anti-Rohingya rhetoric and refrain from acts that could further exacerbate the situation. Aung San Suu Kyi continues to maintain a discreet silence on the plight of the Rohingya Muslims lest she lose the support of the Buddhists.

10. The unabated anti-Buddhist anger among the Rohingya Muslims could add to the radicalisation of the Muslim community in the affected region with unpredictable fall-out on the regional  law and order situation.

(The  writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail:  Twitter @SORBONNE75)