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General says Rohingya crisis is under control

UN rights envoy reaches area hit by ethnic violence

General says Rohingya crisis is under control
A mother seeks medical attention for her baby at a makeshift camp in Rakhine (photo by Daniel Wynn)
Daniel Wynn, Yangon

July 31, 2012

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General Thein Htay, Minister for Border Security, has claimed that the recent violence between Rohingya Muslims and Buddhists has been curbed and is now under control.

He gave an official death toll of at least 77 people with 60,000 left homeless and thousands of houses burned down since clashes erupted between Muslims and Buddhists in the west of the country in June.

Speaking at a press conference in Yangon, as UN human rights envoy Thomas Ojea Quintana arrived in the area for the first time, the general told gathered diplomats that “we have a full security arrangement in Rakhine State.” Provisions include a night-time curfew in the affected areas.

The general attributed the conflict to a recent rapid rise in the local Muslim population. In Buthidaung and Maungdaw, the two main Rohingya townships in the area - which Quintana is due to visit on his tour -  General Thein Htay said Muslims now make up 94 percent of the local population and Rakhine Buddhists only 4 percent.

Rohingyas have been claiming persecution for years, including the denial of citizenship and restricted access to food and aid. The UN describes them as one of the world's most persecuted ethnic minorities.

Hla Maung, a Muslim man living in a relief camp in the state capital Sittwe, said:  “we want to live normally,” he said. “But the authorities said we still can’t go back home because of security conditions.”

During interviews over the weekend, both Buddhist and Muslims in Rakhine state said they feared that bloody riots could restart at any time, once the security presence is stepped down. Many added that true reconciliation would be a long time coming.

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