UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on Myanmar’s president Thursday to address citizenship concerns for members of the long-persecuted Rohingya Muslim community.
He also emphasised the need for improved humanitarian access and better cooperation with the United Nations as it tries to help.
The chief minister of Rakhine state, where most Rohingya live, rebuked Ban for referring to members of the religious minority by their name, Rohingya. Maung Maung Ohn said the word inflames tensions feeding sectarian violence.
Although many Rohingya families arrived in Myanmar generations ago, the government says all are migrants from neighboring Bangladesh and insists they be called “Bengali.” The United Nations and human rights organisations say the Rohingya have the right to self-identify.
Myanmar, a predominantly Buddhist nation of 50 million, found itself on the defensive this week as world leaders flocked to capital, Naypyitaw for a series of regional summits.
Although the deteriorating condition for Rohingya was not brought up during the official talks, Ban and others expressed serious concerns in private with President Thein Sein.
The country’s 1.3 million Rohingya have been described by the United Nations as one of the world’s most persecuted minorities. They have been denied citizenship by the national government, and in the last two years have been hunted down by Buddhist extremists and chased from their homes. More than 140,000 live in crowded, unsanitary camps, unable to pass police checkpoints to leave without paying hefty bribes.
Their main medical lifeline, the Nobel prize-winning Doctors Without Borders, was kicked of the state eight months ago. The government indicated – as they have several times in the past – that the group would be allowed to return “soon,” possibly this week. But there were no immediate signs Thursday that was happening.
The operations of other aid groups have been severely curtailed by threats of violence at the hands of Buddhist extremists.