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Myanmar rejects UN call for Rohingya citizenship

Spokesman says country will not bow to pressure

  • AFP, Yangon
  • Myanmar
  • November 22, 2013
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Myanmar said on Thursday it will not grant citizenship to Muslims identifying themselves as Rohingya, despite renewed pressure by the United Nations which describes the stateless minority as among the world's most persecuted.

Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya are estimated to live in Myanmar, mostly in western Rakhine state, which has been rocked by several bouts of deadly sectarian violence.

Myanmar views the Rohingya in Rakhine as illegal Bangladeshi immigrants and denies them citizenship.

A resolution on Tuesday at the United Nations called on Myanmar’s government to give the Rohingya full access to citizenship and to end violence against them.

But a presidential spokesman said Myanmar would not be pressured into changing its stance over the citizenship issue.

"We cannot give citizenship rights to those who are not in accord with the law, whatever the pressure. That is our sovereign right," Ye Htut said in a post on his Facebook page, which he often uses to issue official remarks.

Violence in Rakhine state, which last year killed scores and displaced 140,000 people – mainly Rohingya – has prompted international concern and condemnation of the government's handling of the minority.

Many in Buddhist-majority Myanmar view the Rohingya with hostility, referring to them as "Bengalis" – an often pejorative term.

Ye Htut said the government "totally" refutes the use of the word Rohingya, adding that only "Bengalis in Rakhine state who are in accord with 1982 citizenship law will get citizenship".

That law stipulates that minorities must prove they lived in Myanmar prior to 1823 to obtain nationality – effectively denying the Rohingya the right to citizenship.

A population census – the first in three decades – slated for next year does not provide a box for "Rohingya", the Department of Immigration has said.

Rejection of the Rohingya extends outside Rakhine and even includes key figures in Myanmar’s democratic movement long courted by the international community.

"The Rohingya do not exist under Myanmar’s law," said Nyan Win, a spokesman for the National League for Democracy party of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, adding he was in "agreement" with the presidential spokesman on the point.

Unrest in Rakhine and the deprivations that have followed have prompted thousands of Muslims to flee Myanmar in rickety and overcrowded boats trying to reach Malaysia and further afield.

But scores have died or gone missing in choppy seas.

Anti-Muslim sentiment has been fuelled by radical Buddhist monks who see the presence of a Muslim population as a threat.

Violence against Muslims spread beyond Rakhine state this year, with several other outbreaks of religious conflict that have overshadowed the nation's widely praised reform drive. AFP

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