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Muslims in Myanmar decided not to celebrate Eid Al Adha this year as violence in the western Rakhine state soared, sparking widespread concern. Human Rights Watch (HRW) yesterday released satellite photographs of the part of Burma where a large number of Muslims including Rohingyas are known to stay. The photos showed swathes of land showing flattened habitation and stubs of charred trees. It was clear that densely inahibited areas with thousands of homes had been affected and dwellings brought down across vast tracts, affecting thousands of people.
The Rohingyas issue has become a thorn in Myanmar’s side as the government tries to come to terms with a newly burnished administration which is seen to be carrying out reforms in a country earlier known for thwarting democracy. President Thein Sein yesterday acknowledged that there has been major destruction in the west of the country. The government pledged to tighten security by sending more troops and coming down hard on any one trying to create trouble.
Tensions between the local Buddhist population and Muslims have been on the rise since June this year after a young Buddhist woman was raped and murdered. This set off a chain of clashes which have claimed more than 170 lives since June. In the latest flare up some 82 people have died and 129 injured. According to the United Nations, the Rohingyas are a persecuted religious and linguistic minority of western Myanmar. The Myanmarese government maintains that they are recent migrants from the Indian subcontinent. A large number of Rohingyas have recently migrated to neighbouring Bangladesh which often deports hundreds of them. They speak a dialect similar to Bangla and the Buddhists in Myanmar call them ‘Bengalis’.
In the latest standoff, Bangladesh has intensified patrolling along its maritime borders with Myanmar to stop any migration of Rohingyas into the country. Undoubtedly, Myanmar has a crucial role to play in sheltering the Rohingyas from harm and providing them the right to a dignified life. Bangladesh has no less a role to play in the standoff as the problem has become a contiguous one between the two neighbours.
Interestingly, Bangladesh have had a similar problem with its giant neighbour India. A large number of Bangladeshis cross the border illegally in search for a better life and more opportunities. New Delhi has often accused Dhaka of ignoring the problem which has led to thousands of Bangladeshis spreading in the east and northeast of India without valid papers. This often creates political and social resentment among the population in Indian states like Assam, Tripura,and West Bengal. The Rohingyas are at fault if being a religious and linguistic minority is one. But someone has to come up to solve the issue. And it is none other than the governments of Myanmar and Bangladesh who have to sit at the talks table and hammer out a solution.
This should be done before more lives are lost and another festival is abandoned by a persecuted people.