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Bid to expel Muslims from their homes fails

Mandalay (UCAN): A Buddhist group in Myanmar’s religiously divided Rakhine state in the Union of Myanmar has failed in its bid to pressure local authorities to expel Muslims from Sittwe.

Soe Naing, from the Rakhine National Network, a civil society organisation based in Sittwe, said that a petition with around 400 signatures was sent to the state’s chief minister in mid-May demanding that Muslims be expelled from the city’s Aung Mingalar quarter.

“We are concerned that the number of Muslims in the quarter has grown and some have been living there illegally, so we raised it with the state government,” Soe Naing said.

“And we don’t want a conflict between the two communities so we want them to be expelled and relocated outside of the city,” Soe Naing continued.

An estimated 4,500 Muslims live in the city’s Aung Mingalar quarter in what has been described as ghetto-like conditions.

With security forces guarding the area, the local Muslims have had severely limited freedom of movement since violence occurred between Buddhists and Muslims in 2012.

Many Muslim residents in Rakhine were confined to camps for internally displaced people in 2012, but the residents of Aung Mingalar were allowed to remain in their homes.

Most people in the quarter identify themselves as Rohingya, while local Rakhines and others across Myanmar refer to them as Bengalis, implying they are interlopers from neighbouring Bangladesh.

Soe Naing added that elderly monks and some Buddhist laypeople met with the Rakhine chief minister, who responded that it is not possible to expel Muslims from the quarter.

Local officials would instead check the Muslim population on May 21.

“We will closely monitor the process of identity checks by local officials as it remains unclear how the government will handle things if they find some Muslims who have lived there illegally,” Soe Naing said.

Shwe Hla, a Muslim leader from Aung Mingalar, said that he and two other representatives from the community were called into a meeting with local officials on May 12 to discuss the identity checking process.

“The number of people here has not increased, but this is an accusation from local Rakhine people so we will collaborate with local officials for the checking process,” he said.

Aung Mingalar had been under temporary lockdown since May 14 after a small group of protesters gathered in front of police barricades.

A twice-weekly run to a market for those living in a camp for internally displaced people situated just outside Sittwe has also been limited according to the Myanmar Times.

The United Nations, as well as rights groups, has called on the Myanmese government to lift restrictions imposed on the around 1.1 million Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine state.

The new government, led by Aung San Suu Kyi, has not publicly stated its policy on how it will deal with the religious divisions in Rakhine.

However, Suu Kyi has heightened tensions by saying that the people are not to be referred to as Rohingya, which they say is a denial of their identity.

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