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Myanmar authorities block anti-Rohingya seminar

December 31, 2015

Senior Yangon official says seminar could have sparked anger; underlines president already views minority as ‘illegal Bengali immigrants’

YANGON, Myanmar -- Myanmar authorities have denied an application for a planned seminar on the ethnic identity of Rohingya Muslims – not officially recognized by the state -- living in the troubled western state of Rakhine, according to an official Thursday.

Rohingya -- whom the United Nations consider to be the world’s most persecuted ethnic minority -- have been fleeing Myanmar in droves since 2012, in fear of violence that some human rights groups consider to be state sponsored.

An invitation for the seminar planned for Friday said, “internationally claimed historical and cultural evidence is to be presented and discuss to reaffirm that the so-called Rohingyas have never been a part of Rakhine in terms of religion or culture.”

A senior official confirmed to Anadolu Agency on Thursday that Yangon’s regional government had decided Wednesday to block the seminar, expressing concern that it could have sparked anger among the public.

“According to the decision of the cabinet meeting yesterday, we informed the organizers today that [they] were was not permitted to hold the seminar,” the official said on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to speak with media.

“The seminar is not necessary at this time as even the President doesn’t accept the ‘Rohingya’ word, and already said these so-called Rohingyas are illegal Bengali immigrants from the neighboring country,” he added. “It will only make people angry again.”

Anadolu Agency was unable to reach organizers and participants of the “Consideration on the Ethnic Identity of So-called Rohingya” event for comment.

More than one million Rohingya Muslims – who the government refers to as “Bengali” to imply they are interlopers from Bangladesh -- live in Rakhine, which has witnessed a series of violent outbreaks between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and minority Muslims since mid-2012.

According to the Arakan Project, a group monitoring rights violations and migration across the Bay of Bengal, the conflict has left hundreds dead and more than 140,000 – mostly Rohingya -- confined to internal displacement camps.

Following a human trafficking crisis in Southeast Asia earlier this year, Myanmar’s neighbors had called on the country to resolve its Muslim Rohingya issue -- which human rights groups have claimed is the source of the trafficking problem.

Myanmar has responded to any criticism of its internal problems by accusing outsiders of interfering in its affairs.

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