SITTWE: Hundreds of hardline Buddhists in a Myanmar state wracked by religious violence protested on Sunday against the government’s plan to give citizenship to some members of the persecuted Rohingya Muslim minority community.

Rakhine state’s dominant Arakan National Party led the protest in Sittwe, the state capital, where many Rohingya lived before an outbreak of inter-communal violence in 2012 forced them to flee their homes.

“We are protesting to tell the government to rightfully follow the 1982 citizenship law and we cannot allow the government giving citizenship cards to these illegal migrants,” said Aung Htay, a protest organiser.

The Rohingya face severe discrimination in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, with many in Rakhine and elsewhere considering them to be illegal migrants from neighbouring Bangladesh, even though Rohingya have been in Myanmar for generations. The 2012 violence killed hundreds and drove about 140,000 people predominantly Rohingya from their homes to camps for the internally displaced, where most remain.

Rakhine, one of the poorest states in Myanmar, is home to more than one million stateless Rohingya.

Sunday’s protest took place three days after the Rakhine Advisory Commission, led by former UN chief Kofi Annan, urged Myanmar’s government to reconsider a failed programme to verify Rohingya for Myanmar citizenship and to remove restrictions on freedom of movement.

“We also look at the question of citizenship, and we also call for all those who have been recognised as citizens to have all the rights attached to that citizenship,” Ghassan Salame, a member of the commission, said last week.

Myanmar’s new civilian government, led by Aung San Suu Kyi, welcomed the commission’s proposal. Suu Kyi’s office said that most of the commission’s recommendations would be “implemented promptly.” The government withdrew the Rohingya’s so-called white cards two years ago as part of a plan to expel them from the country and cancel their citizenship under the 1982 law.

Published in Dawn, March 20th, 2017

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