Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslim population is indigenous to the land despite being classified as illegal migrants, an activist tells Press TV.

More than 100 Rohingya Muslims have been killed in a recent wave of sectarian violence in Myanmar’s western state of Rakhine.

The deadly violence peaked on Tuesday night, but people have been killed every day this week, said Hla Thein, the vice chairman of the National Democratic Party for Development (NDPD).

The violence led the United Nations to warn on Friday that Myanmar’s “reforms and opening up process being currently pursued by the government is likely to be jeopardized” if the communal unrest was not stopped.

Myanmar army forces allegedly provided the Buddhists with containers of petrol to set ablaze the houses of Muslim villagers and force them out of their homes.

The Buddhist-majority government of Myanmar refuses to recognize Rohingyas and has classified them as illegal migrants, even though the Rohingyas are said to be Muslim descendants of Persian, Turkish, Bengali, and Pathan origins, who migrated to Myanmar as early as the 8th century.

Press TV has conducted an interview with Sarnata Reynolds, Statelessness-Refugees International, from Washington, to further discuss the issue.

She is joined by three additional guests: Kamran Bokhari, Mideast and South Asia director, Stratfor, from London; Nurul Islam, Arakan Rohingya National Organization, from London; and James Jennings, president of Conscience International, from Atlanta. The following is a rough transcription of the interview.

Press TV: Since you have been to Myanmar in September, you talked about what has occurred there. What is interesting and something that I’d like for you to point out is the fact that these are large-scale, state sponsored violence against these people, as you mentioned. If you could also elaborate on that and, of course, what you saw.

Reynolds: Yes. We moved there, we were in Bangladesh and Myanmar for most of September, and what we saw were a lot of people displaced, both Rohingya and Rakhine.

In the capital of Rakhine State, we saw between 75 and 90 thousand displaced Rohingya who were segregated outside of town. They had been moved outside of town to an area that was not prepared to receive them.

Their conditions were terrible. Modern sanitation wasn’t enough. To the extent that there was water and sanitation, there wasn’t a situation where it could be kept clean. The nutrition situation was terrible, and there were children who were acutely malnourished – very shocking.

Of course, the whole issue of segregation itself was of great concern. The original movement, we were told, was for security reasons to separate the Rakhine and Rohingya populations.

We are almost five months into the situation now with no indication that things are going to change, and certainly no articulation from the government of how reintegration would happen between both populations.

Press TV: Since, again, based on your visit there, if we can expand more on how you think the government is dealing with this. You talked about the state sponsorship and, of course, the different reports indicating that it is as such.

But looking at the government of Myanmar, [a majority] refuses to recognize the rights of these Rohingyas. They actually classify them as illegal migrants even though they’re descendents there.

How can the Rohingya Muslims have anyone come and basically stand up for their rights when you have the government there that is against them? It seems like somewhat a bleak situation for them there.

Reynolds: I think bleak is the right word to use. It’s a very difficult situation for them. As you said and as I said yesterday, there’s no question that there was local and state participation to acquiesce the violence, the burnings and the displacement of the Rohingya.

It’s not as clear that the military or the national security was involved.

And as I said before…they would feel safer if national security was there. That is something that is completely missing right now and is a huge issue. The cities outside of Sittwe where, as you’ve discussed, there are new burnings, new displacement and killings taking place without the present national security.

It’s absolutely the government’s responsibility to put national security there. There is no excuse for not doing so, stating that they’re an illegal migrant population which, of course, is not true.

Even if it was true, there is a slaughter taking place. There is a displacement of thousands taking place, and that government has a responsibility to protect the people who are harmed.

Press TV: I have to hold my breath when I just heard our [previous guest speaker] Nurul Islam. Tell us your reaction to that.

Please tell us, you know, the US and the West have opened up trade routes in terms of opening up opportunities there, but they have set a precondition for the government in terms of holding up human rights. They surely can do something. They surely can exercise on the UN their influence. Why aren’t they doing that, especially after hearing our guest Nurul Islam?

Reynolds: I’d like to answer that question but I also just wanted to clarify a comment that was made before, the idea that the Rohingya are somehow a migrant population that are moving back and forth between Bangladesh and Burma[Myanmar]. That’s just not the case.

    The Rohingya are recognized citizens of Burma [Myanmar] until the 1970s. There were conflicts and tensions prior to that, but it was at that point that they actually had their nationality stripped away.

What we’re actually talking about here is a population that’s nationality has been stripped from them, and the reinforcement or enforcement of their right to nationality. That’s what we’re talking about here. This is not a foreign population.

I also wanted to say about Bangladesh, it does talk about this as a security concern and that’s fine. It’s not registering the people that are entering the country.

    If Bangladesh is serious about this being a security concern, then Bangladesh should be registering people and giving them the opportunity to seek humanitarian assistance from organizations that are there who are more than willing to do so, instead of actually telling them to leave the country.

In terms of what my co-panelist said, it is shocking and it’s terrible. We receive reports everyday from people in Rakhine State that are telling us the same sorts of stories.

One of the biggest problems, one of the reasons that the international community is not rallying and is not providing the type of support to the people and assistance is because of this issue of segregation, that there has been a decision to segregate the Rohingya from their hometown, from Sittwe town, and there’s a concern about funding it. They don’t want to fund what basically could become a ghetto and a form of segregation.

I know there are strong discussions taking place. I’m aware of some of the diplomatic overtures that are taking place, but at the same time you brought the issue of sanctions and the lifting of sanctions. I agree that’s a problem.

If the political form that’s taking place in Burma [Myanmar] is real, and I hope so, then lifting the sanctions at this point when they haven’t demonstrated a commitment to human rights – not only in Rakhine State but also in Kachin and Chin state – there are still huge human rights violations taking place…

It certainly takes something out of the US ability to support human rights there.

In fact, to make one other comment and I’m going back to something that was said before, I just wanted to clarify, that the underlying issue here although, of course, there is a pervasive dislike of the Rohingya population throughout Burma [Myanmar] and it’s sort of striking how [they] are given the human rights violations that everyone has suffered, most people have suffered over the last few decades.

It’s happening now partly because of the political and economic reform that’s happened in Burma [Myanmar]. The president hasn’t ruled out the idea that Rohingya will be provided with a nationality. That is causing great concern in the Rakhine community because if they are allowed to be counted in the census which is supposed to be in 2014 in preparation for the elections in 2015, they are recognized as nationals, they would have the right to vote.


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