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Push to implement 'anti-Rohingya' law falls flat

A Rohingya Muslim woman prepares to cook in a small makeshift room in an internal displaced camp near Sittwe in April, 2014. ( photo by John Zaw)

By John Zaw
UCA News
May 27, 2016

Buddhist hard-liners want Myanmar government to strictly abide by controversial citizenship legislation

A hard-line Buddhist party's proposal for the Myanmar government to urgently enforce citizenship laws that target the Rohingya Muslim minority in Rakhine state has been voted down in the country's parliament.

The proposal raised by an Arakan National Party member calling for the authorities to urgently verify the citizenship status of people in the troubled state received 154 votes in favor and 228 against, with seven abstentions in the Lower House according to the Global New Light of Myanmar May 21.

The failed bid has been seen as a way to pressure the new National League for Democracy-led government to do more in enforcing the 1982 Burma Citizenship Law, a law that "effectively [denies] the Rohingya the possibility of acquiring a nationality," said the United Nations.

The 1982 law states that only ethnic nationalities, and others whose families entered the country before 1823, are entitled to Myanmar citizenship. Through the law the Rohingya's have been denied citizenship and accompanying rights.

The majority of lawmakers appeared to agree that parliament doesn't need to agree with the Arakan National Party's motion because the government is already planning to carry out a nationwide citizenship verification program. Called the "100 days plan," the government's initiative is set to target all so-called noncitizens residing in the country.

Pe Than, a Lower House Arakan National Party lawmaker, said that the citizenship verification process is an urgent national issue.

"We must stick to the 1982 law or we might have to accept all illegal immigrants if we amend it," he said.

Anti-Rohingya protesters take part in a demonstration in Mandalay on May 13. ( photo by John Zaw )

Hard-line Buddhist monks from the Committee of the Protection of Race and Religion, known as Ma Ba Tha, have been at the forefront of campaigns against the Rohingya.

U Parmaukkha, a prominent nationalist monk from Magwe monastery in Yangon, said that he supports citizenship verification under the 1982 law.

"We must protect our sovereignty through the law for the country may become Islamic if we amend it," said U Parmaukkha a Ma Ba Tha member.

Most Buddhists in Myanmar identify the Rohingya as being Bengali because they are considered illegal immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh.

Khin Mg Myint, a Rohingya from the Thetkaepyin internally displaced persons camp near Sittwe, said that he couldn't accept the use of the term Bengali.

"We are born here in Myanmar, we can speak the Burmese language and live with the traditions and culture of this country so we have a right to self-identify as Rohingya and be eligible for citizenship," he said.

Authorities halted a pilot project for citizenship verification for Muslims in Rakhine in February 2015 after facing resistance from the Rohingya community.

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