Myanmar’s bitterly-divided Rakhine State saw mass protests Sunday as thousands of Buddhists, including monks, demonstrated in a show of opposition to a government edict referring to Muslim communities in the restive province, organisers told AFP. Anti-Muslim rhetoric has spiked across Myanmar recently, with two mosques torched by Buddhist mobs in just over a week in a country where sectarian violence has left scores dead since 2012.
Home to around one million stateless Rohingya Muslims, Rakhine State has been hardest hit by religious violence that has left tens of thousands of the persecuted minority in fetid displacement camps. The Rohingya are reviled by Rakhine Buddhists who refuse to recognise any shared rights to the province and instead call them “Bengalis” — or illegal immigrants from nearby Bangladesh.
Aung San Suu Kyi’s new government has sought to defuse the row over the term Rohingya instead ordering officials to refer to “Muslim communities in Rakhine”. But protesters on Sunday said that too was unacceptable as it hands Muslims recognition in a Buddhist state. After a 12-day visit to Rakhine and other conflict sites in Myanmar, a UN rights investigator warned Friday that “tensions along religious lines remain pervasive across Myanmar society”. Yanghee Lee urged the country’s new civilian government to make “ending institutionalised discrimination against the Muslim communities in Rakhine State… an urgent priority”.( AFP)