Myanmar's hardliners, monks protest in Rakhine against Rohingya migrant rescues

Asia News, Jun 14, 2015

Yangon, Myanmar -- Burmese Buddhist extremist movements, backed by a group of nationalists monks, yesterday launched a new set of anti-Rohingya demonstrations in the western state of Rakhine, home to devastating sectarian violence.

Demonstrators protested against the aid offered by the Naypyidaw government to hundreds of migrants belonging to the Muslim minority, rescued after weeks adrift in the open sea. In recent weeks in Asia, and particularly in the Pacific region, a migrant emergency has exploded with thousands of modern boat people off the coast of the Bay of Bengal.

Thousands of people, mostly Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar, along with migrant workers from Bangladesh, have been rescued in the Andaman Sea and off the coast of Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand. A drama heightened by the crackdown imposed by Bangkok the real trafficking crossroads - on the trade in human lives, after the discovery of a mass grave near the border with Malaysia where dozens of Rohingya were buried.

The situation was worsened by the push-back policy adopted - and later repudiated, after a meeting between foreign ministers - from Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur.

Yesterday in Sittwe, capital of Rakhine State, at least 500 people gathered led by dozens of monks, who braved the incessant rain chanting slogans and anti-Rohingya songs. The minority is marginalized and deprived of the right of citizenship in Myanmar. Local sources said that the demonstration ended after about two hours and there were no incidents or violence.

Similar demonstrations were held in other 10 towns of the state west of Myanmar, bordering Bangladesh. Htay Aung, one of the leaders of the protest in Sittwe, said that "we are demonstrating against the Bengali [name that identifies the Rohingya in Myanmar, even those living in the region for generations, ed] that were shipped into Rakhine State".

In Maungdaw, the town closest to the point where Rohingya migrants (at least 900) were recovered and hosted pending a final location, Tin Maung Than, leader of the protest, spoke to the more than 200 people who took to the streets to demonstrate. "Let us gather the people together," he said, to "protest against the Bengali boat people ".

A manifesto issued during demonstrations invites people to "protect the future" of Rakhine State and refers to migrants as "Kalar" a racist epithet used by the majority Buddhist Burmese nationwide to describe Muslims.

In recent years an anti-Muslim sentiment has spread in Myanmar, fueled by a group of Buddhist monks who foment sectarian tension. In this context, neither the government nor the main opposition party, the National League for Democracy (NLD) led by Aung San Suu Kyi (also the subject of criticism) have intervened to calm tempers and defend the minority.

Tensions escalated in 2012 into real riots, which caused hundreds of deaths and the flight of tens of thousands of Rohingya from Rakhine State, in the direction of Malaysia and Indonesia, countries with a large Muslim majority. An exodus long ignored and one which, in recent months, has become a real regional emergency.