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Myanmar releases census data, but excludes Rohingya minority

By Timothy Mclaughlin
May 29, 2015

Yangon -- Myanmar released the final results of its first nationwide census in 30 years on Friday, but the count excluded the country's Muslim Rohingya minority, as well as sensitive data on ethnicity and the religious beliefs of its 51.5 million people.

Most of Myanmar's 1.1 million Rohingya are stateless and live in apartheid-like conditions in the western state of Rakhine. Almost 140,000 were displaced in deadly clashes with majority Buddhists in Rakhine in 2012. They are denied citizenship and have long complained of state-sanctioned discrimination.

Delegates from Southeast Asian countries were gathered in the Thai capital on Friday for talks on the "boat people" crisis, which involves thousands of migrants - many of them Rohingya - floating on ships abandoned by traffickers after a recent crackdown in Thailand. Myanmar said it could not be held responsible.

The Myanmar government had promised international sponsors the Rohingya would be free to identify themselves as such in the census, conducted in March-April 2014, but backtracked a day before it started and said the use of the term would not be allowed.

"In northern Rakhine state, a considerable segment of thepopulation was left out of the exercise amid ongoing communal tensions and the demand of many local people to self-identify as Rohingya, a demand not conceded by the authorities," said Vijay Nambiar, Special Adviser to the U.N. Secretary-General on Myanmar.

The count has also been criticized after its organizers based it on a list of 135 ethnic groups, which activists and critics say is outdated and inaccurate.

The biggest surprise of the preliminary results from the count released in August was data showing Myanmar's population stood at 51.4 million, some 9 million less than estimates. The full census broadly confirmed it, putting it at 51.5 million.

The results of the census also showed a literacy rate of adults at almost 90 percent. But other data reflected economic mismanagement under the 49 years of military rule, which plummeted the country into poverty, before reforms in 2011.

Only a third of Myanmar's households have electric lights, the infant mortality rate is at 62 per 100,000 live births, and life expectancy stands at just 66.8 years compared to neighboring Thailand's 74 years, according World Bank data.

The data on ethnicity and religion, as well as figures onoccupation and maternal mortality, will be released next year after the country's general election scheduled for November.

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