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US highlights rights abuses in Myanmar

June 25, 2015

Washington - The United States on Thursday voiced concern about "significant human rights problems" in Myanmar, shining a light notably on persistent abuses against the minority Rohingya Muslims.

"Human rights abuses in Rakhine State remained a severely troubling counterpoint to the broader trend of progress since 2011, including the 2012 release of political prisoners, efforts to improve prison conditions, and continuing negotiations to pursue a durable ceasefire," the State Department said in an annual frank assessment of progress on human rights around the world.

The plight of the Rohingya, who live mostly in Rakhine, has been thrust to the fore in recent weeks after thousands of desperate migrants had to be rescued from rickety boats in waters off Myanmar's coast.

"The government did not establish a fair process for granting access to full citizenship rights on an equal, non-discriminatory basis to stateless Rohingya," the report said.

It added that authorities in Rakhine State "made no meaningful efforts to help Rohingya and other Muslim minority persons displaced by violence to return to their homes and continued to enforce draconian restrictions on their movement."

More than 140,000 people displaced by violence remained "interned in camps which further entrenched the segregation of the Rohingya and Rakhine communities" leaving them "vulnerable to abuse and extortion."

Rakhine, one of Myanmar's poorest states, is a tinderbox of tension between its Buddhist majority and the persecuted Rohingya Muslim minority.

Tens of thousands of Rohingya have fled Rakhine in recent years, joined increasingly by economic migrants from neighboring Bangladesh, mainly headed for Malaysia and Indonesia.

The 2014 report -- which does not include the recent wave of migrants -- alleged government forces were acting with impunity and were to blame for a catalog of extrajudicial killings as well as torture and arbitrary detentions.

The report also denounced the harsh conditions in Myanmar's prisons, and said that even though conditions in labor camps had generally improved, in some places the situation was "potentially life threatening."

In recent years the US has supported a gradual opening up in Myanmar, with the country ushering in reforms since it shed the military junta in 2011.

But many observers say those reforms have now stalled and on Thursday parliament shot down a draft amendment to the junta-era constitution that would have loosened the military's continued political stranglehold.

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