Myanmar leader says communal unrest dents image

Report
from Agence France-Presse
Published on 17 Nov 2012

11/17/2012 09:35 GMT

YANGON, Nov 16, 2012 (AFP) - Myanmar's leader said Saturday deadly communal unrest is hampering his nation's reforms and causing it "to lose face" on the world stage, in unusually sharp comments ahead of a visit by US President Barack Obama.

Condemning violence between Muslim Rohingya and local Buddhists that has left scores of people dead, President Thein Sein said it was "impossible to hide" events in Rakhine State from the gaze of the international community.

The bloodshed has brought "a halt to Myanmar's development and lost face on the international stage", he was quoted as saying by state mouthpiece the New Light of Myanmar.

His comments echo those made in a letter Friday to UN leader Ban Ki-moon pledging to address issues at the heart of hostility to the Rohingya, "ranging from resettlement of displaced populations to granting of citizenship".

The Rohingya, considered by the United Nations to be one of the most persecuted minorities on the planet, are seen by the government and many Burmese as illegal immigrants from neighbouring Bangladesh.

Thein Sein said his government would also look at "issues of birth registration, work permits and permits for movement across the country for all," the letter, which was released in New York, said.

However he refrained from making any promises on the incendiary issue of citizenship for the Rohingya, which experts say would be certain to stoke widespread outrage in Myanmar.

Rakhine State remains febrile after being convulsed by two major outbreaks of fighting involving Buddhist and Muslim communities since June that have left 180 dead and more than 110,000, mainly Rohingya, crammed into makeshift camps.

More than 1000 people have been arrested for breaking "the law and basic human rights" since the outbreak of violence in the summer, state media reported, without saying whether they were Rakhine or Rohingya.

Obama is due to arrive in Yangon on Monday morning for a short, but hugely symbolic, visit to the former junta-ruled nation.

Nearly a fortnight after he was re-elected, Obama will become the first sitting US president to visit the formerly isolated state, hoping to spur greater reform and to highlight a rare success for his policy of engaging pariah regimes.

Washington is concerned that unrest in Rakhine, and other festering ethnic conflicts in Shan and Kachin states, risk undermining Myanmar's reform process and Obama's remarks on the Rohingyas will be closely watched.

Obama will meet Thein Sein and also fellow Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, whose failure to speak up for the embattled Rohingya has prompted criticism from rights groups and the Islamic world.

In an open letter signed by a dozen Rohingya organisations Saturday, Obama was urged to press Thein Sein to end "discrimination" and "human rights abuses" in Rakhine and to help the displaced return to their homes.

Separately, the US Friday scrapped a nearly decade-old ban on most imports from the long-isolated nation, with the exception of gems, a sector seen as a major driver of corruption and violence.

This year Washington began dismantling some of the raft of sanctions it has imposed on the former army-ruled country.

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