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Rakhine authorities conducting Rohingya census: AP

Burmese authorities in Rakhine State have initiated a survey to determine how many Rohingya families in the restive region have temporary national registration cards and which are considered illegal immigrants, according to a report by The Associated Press (AP) on Friday, November 30.

“Guarded by rifle-toting police, immigration authorities in western Myanmar have launched a major operation aimed at settling an explosive question at the heart of the biggest crisis the government has faced since beginning its nascent transition to democracy last year,” wrote AP’s Todd Pitman. “It's a question that has helped fuel two bloody spasms of sectarian unrest between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims since June, and it comes down to one simple thing: Who has the right to be a citizen of Myanmar, and who does not?”

AP reporters said that most of those Muslim Rohingyas they interviewed possessed temporary national registration cards that were issued by authorities ahead of elections in 2010 in an apparent effort to secure their support. The cards granted the Rohingya the right to vote, but they were stamped with a major caveat that read: "Not proof of citizenship."

“There was one question, though, that the [immigration] officers did not ask—the one that mattered above all the rest,” the report said. “It was represented on the forms by a blank line beside the entry: ‘Race/Nationality’. After each interview, the officers filled in the empty space with the words: ‘Bengali’ or ‘Bengali/Islam’.”

Many Burmese and Rakhine Buddhists reject the Rohingya community’s claim that they too deserve Burmese citizenship and that many have lived in Burma for generations. Many Buddhists, in fact, reject the history of the word, “Rohingya” and insist that the people in question are simply illegal Muslim immigrants from Bangladesh.

“The operation began quietly with no public announcement in the township of Pauktaw on November 8,” AP wrote. “It will eventually be carried out across all of Rakhine State, the coastal territory where nearly 200 people have died in the last five months, and 110,000 more, mostly Muslims, have fled.

Thailand-based advocacy group, the Arakan Project, is quoted in the report as warning that “the results could be used to definitively rule out citizenship for the Rohingya.”

But AP quoted Rakhine State spokesman Win Myaing as saying, that, so far, more than 2,000 Muslim families have gone through the process, but no "illegal settlers have been found.”

For more background:

Last Updated ( Friday, 30 November 2012 16:47 )  

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