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Published on November 2nd, 2012 | by Zaynab Lulat
Image © [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="566"] © by digital.democracy; Refugee Camp in for Rohingya in Bangladesh[/caption]   In recent years Myanmar, formerly known as Burma has celebrated the slow opening up of the country, from Aung San Suu Kyi, being released from house arrest to the beginnings of a new democracy, however the violence between the Muslim Rohingya and the Buddhist population is threatening to destabilise the country. The issue was raised in the media some months ago, however never became a major news bulletin. Recently new satellite images revealed the extent of the damage caused by ethnic violence, forcing Burma's president, Thein Sein to admit that this is an unprecedented level of violence towards Burma’s Muslim population. Burma has a majority Buddhist population; however the Rohingya population estimated at 80,000 are not considered citizens of the country. Bangladesh have also rejected the status of the Rohingya and have closed their boarder to those trying to escape, leaving them in a vulnerable state, due to their lack of citizenship or affiliation with any state. The violence began when a young Buddhist woman was raped in May, this sparked the initial wave of ethnic violence between Burma’s Buddhist population and the Rohingya population. The initial violence led to the death of 90 people. In June a group of 10 Muslim men were then killed, since then the violence has escalated leading to a state of emergency allowing for martial law to be put into place. The satellite images acquired by the Human Rights Watch demonstrate the extent of the damage. Over 22,000 people have been displaced by the violence, over 800 buildings and boats belonging to the Rohingya have been burned down, according to reports in one area which had a population of 3000 the only things standing are burnt out poles. Violence has been committed by both the Muslim and Buddhist populations; however it is now the Rohingya Muslims who are being forced to flee from the country with little intervention from government or international bodies.  According to reports many have died on the boats, most recently 130 refugees trying to escape drowned a capsized fishing boat. Many have been forced to stay, because of the dangers of leaving by boat and others have been rejected by neighbouring countries- leaving them with little option but to stay in the face of escalating violence. The government has been strongly criticised by The Human Rights Watch and by the Rohingya for not responding to the needs of the people on both sides of the violence. Where the violence was first directed at the Rohingya as a group, it is now being viewed as directly aimed at the Muslim population. Where the clashes first begun with the rape and then settled for a short while it is clear that both sides are unwilling to make concessions, and let the issues be resolved peacefully. Another pressing matter is the restraint of Aung San Suu Kyi, who is championed as a human rights and freedom advocate, to comment on the sectarian violence. She has been careful to remain neutral, this has been heavily criticised by some commentators saying she has left behind her moral grounds, for personal political gain. This is an important time for Burma, which only recently began to open up its boarders to the international community. The new civilian government is now under pressure to act, and their failure to do so- so far may speak volumes to the UN visitors who inspected the crisis ridden area.  The conflict continues threatening to throw Burma off its course for transparency and freedom. What began as inter communal fights, is now a much more sinister form of violence targeting one group. The way the conflict plays out may have a long lasting effect not only on Burma but among the international community and the way they respond to such atrocities. As ASEAN Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan said “They are now under tremendous pressure, pain and suffering. If the international community, including ASEAN, are not able to relieve that pressure and pain, conceivably, [the 1.5 million of Rohingyas] could become radicalised and the entire region could be destabilized" this is worrying prospect for Burma and the surrounding nations, and creates an uncertain future for those caught in the middle in the violence.

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Which route in the face of violence: Burma

© by digital.democracy; Refugee Camp in for Rohingya in Bangladesh

 

In recent years Myanmar, formerly known as Burma has celebrated the slow opening up of the country, from Aung San Suu Kyi, being released from house arrest to the beginnings of a new democracy, however the violence between the Muslim Rohingya and the Buddhist population is threatening to destabilise the country. The issue was raised in the media some months ago, however never became a major news bulletin. Recently new satellite images revealed the extent of the damage caused by ethnic violence, forcing Burma‘s president, Thein Sein to admit that this is an unprecedented level of violence towards Burma’s Muslim population.

Burma has a majority Buddhist population; however the Rohingya population estimated at 80,000 are not considered citizens of the country. Bangladesh have also rejected the status of the Rohingya and have closed their boarder to those trying to escape, leaving them in a vulnerable state, due to their lack of citizenship or affiliation with any state. The violence began when a young Buddhist woman was raped in May, this sparked the initial wave of ethnic violence between Burma’s Buddhist population and the Rohingya population. The initial violence led to the death of 90 people. In June a group of 10 Muslim men were then killed, since then the violence has escalated leading to a state of emergency allowing for martial law to be put into place.

The satellite images acquired by the Human Rights Watch demonstrate the extent of the damage. Over 22,000 people have been displaced by the violence, over 800 buildings and boats belonging to the Rohingya have been burned down, according to reports in one area which had a population of 3000 the only things standing are burnt out poles. Violence has been committed by both the Muslim and Buddhist populations; however it is now the Rohingya Muslims who are being forced to flee from the country with little intervention from government or international bodies.  According to reports many have died on the boats, most recently 130 refugees trying to escape drowned a capsized fishing boat. Many have been forced to stay, because of the dangers of leaving by boat and others have been rejected by neighbouring countries- leaving them with little option but to stay in the face of escalating violence.

The government has been strongly criticised by The Human Rights Watch and by the Rohingya for not responding to the needs of the people on both sides of the violence. Where the violence was first directed at the Rohingya as a group, it is now being viewed as directly aimed at the Muslim population. Where the clashes first begun with the rape and then settled for a short while it is clear that both sides are unwilling to make concessions, and let the issues be resolved peacefully. Another pressing matter is the restraint of Aung San Suu Kyi, who is championed as a human rights and freedom advocate, to comment on the sectarian violence. She has been careful to remain neutral, this has been heavily criticised by some commentators saying she has left behind her moral grounds, for personal political gain.

This is an important time for Burma, which only recently began to open up its boarders to the international community. The new civilian government is now under pressure to act, and their failure to do so- so far may speak volumes to the UN visitors who inspected the crisis ridden area.  The conflict continues threatening to throw Burma off its course for transparency and freedom. What began as inter communal fights, is now a much more sinister form of violence targeting one group. The way the conflict plays out may have a long lasting effect not only on Burma but among the international community and the way they respond to such atrocities. As ASEAN Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan said “They are now under tremendous pressure, pain and suffering. If the international community, including ASEAN, are not able to relieve that pressure and pain, conceivably, [the 1.5 million of Rohingyas] could become radicalised and the entire region could be destabilized” this is worrying prospect for Burma and the surrounding nations, and creates an uncertain future for those caught in the middle in the violence.

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About the Author

Zaynab Lulat

Zaynab graduated in 2010 with a BA Politics from the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. Her degree focused on international politics with a focus on the Middle East and South Asia. Her final year projects were based on identity politics and terrorism. Since graduating she has taken an interest in UK Politics, her writing varies from national to international politics and culture. She is a keen traveller, having backpacked solo around Asia and Central America. She also volunteered with an NGO working on disaster relief in India. She believes that social media gives young people a better platform for expressing opinions and understanding new ideas, and helps more people become involved with the world around them.



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