According to vice chairman of the Muslim National Democratic Party for Development (NDPD) Hla Thein, more than 100 Rohingya Muslims have been killed in a recent wave of sectarian violence against Muslims in Myanmar’s western state of Rakhine.
Myanmar army forces have allegedly provided the Buddhists with containers of petrol to set ablaze the houses of Muslim villagers and force them out of their houses.
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 James Jennings, president of the Conscience International from Atlanta to shed more light on the issue of Rohingya Muslims plight in Myanmar.
He is joined by three additional guests on the News Analysis program: Kamran Bokhari, the London-based Middle East and South Asia director of Stratfor [intelligence company].
What follows is an approximate transcription of the interview.
Press TV: To set the landscape, this is what Rohingya.org stated in terms of what is occurring there, ‘you have had thousands of houses that have been burned down, hundreds of Rohingya Muslims killed and of course the injuries and them being evicted.’
Tell us your reaction to the depth of violence that is being exercised against these Muslims.
Jennings: Actually I just returned from Myanmar last week and the fact is that the violence is continuing even yesterday and today and a number of people were killed.
I think the most striking thing is that both in July and also in this month [October] there have been 2000 houses in each event that were burnt which means that the people are dispersed and already there are sixty to seventy thousand people from the original number of a hundred thousand that were driven out of their homes; they are still in the camps and so it is going to be more camps added to that.
I think that there are underlying problems and I was there with my organization, ‘Conscience International’ doing community development projects but we were not in Rakhine province.
I did interview with one of the members of the government’s commission which is investigating the situation. He was not very willing to talk about it because they have to make another visit and examine this situation.
I think that two things are really at issue here, one is the issue of citizenship. In a world in which nations are organized along national lines it is impossible, it is unconscionable that any people should be denied citizenship and yet these people of the 1.7 million Muslims in Myanmar, about four percent of the population, these people in Rakhine province are a lot fewer than that, maybe 800,000 but Bangladesh does not want them and Myanmar does not want them and there is agitation by the Buddhist majority and some of the Muslim-hating Buddhist monks are leading protests even today.
So the citizenship issue should be solved and I think that the other issue is the fledgling democracy that Myanmar is engaged in building and actually the Prime Minister Thein Sein has, I think, come to a very reasonable idea; at first he was saying that they [Rohingyas] should be sent to Myanmar, then he said they should be put in camps; now he is saying that they can be given citizenship if they can prove their parentage and it goes back two generations.
It would be difficult to do but at least it is a right start on the problem and that idea would be a good one to pursue.
But the danger is that this will militarize the situation in such a way that the entire 50 million people in Myanmar will be threatened of the loss of their democratic rights.
Press TV: Tell us, on October 15th the Myanmar government, actually, prevented the OIC [Organization of the Islamic Cooperation] from opening its office for the Rohingya Muslims.
Why did the president do that? And interesting when he said: “this is not in accordance with the people’s desire” which puts into question why is it that the Rohingya Muslims are hated so much by the general public there?
Jennings: …To figure that out but essentially there has been agitation going on for some time. 1978-1991 almost a quarter million Rohingyas were forced out into Bangladesh. In July the Prime Minister of Bangladesh Sheikh Hasina said that she did not want any of those Rohingyas coming there because Bangladesh was already overpopulated; they already have 300,000 Rohingyas in camps and they cannot deal with them but I think there has been agitation from some of the Buddhist leaders because they see their national identities being threatened.
I am shocked by the fact that in the US we have a similar problem but it has not reached the same level of violence but even members of the US Congress are in favor of expelling any of those Latinos or Hispanics who have come to America and do not have passports and so this problem is more than in one place in the world.
However this is a crucial issue because of the citizenship that these people deserve, who have been there for such a long time.
I just read a book from 1835 and they were describing the conflict that was going on there in that Rakhine province because of the strong cultural identity and history that the Buddhists of that province have.
So it is an ongoing issue and as I said the citizenship issue is appalling, it is not being addressed, it must be addressed and the other thing is that the fledgling democracy…, if there is any hope for a solution, that is not a military solution, the fledgling democracy in Myanmar must be protected.