Burma asked to address citizenship issue for Rohingya while Foreign Minister says the Government fears violence will spread

Burma foreign minister Wunna Maung Lwin speaking to The Irrawaddy at the ASEM 9 summit today (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

VIENTIANE—In a meeting with President Thein Sein on Tuesday at the sidelines of the Asia-Europe Summit in Laos, UK Foreign Secretary William Hague urged “all political parties in Burma to do what they can to end the violence and address the issue of Rohingya citizenship.”

Hague and Thein Sein are attending the ninth ASEM summit in the Laotian capital, along with leaders of European and Asian countries.

Burmese Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday afternoon that the Arakan (Rakhine) strife was “not the fault of the government or the people of Myanmar” while admitting that action was being taken to avoid the spread of violence.

“There was an unfortunate incident that happened in the last week of May and that created anger among the native people. This led to communal violence between two communities,” he said.

“Because of this anger there were revenge incidents that spread to other parts of Rakhine State. The government has been handling with great caution and care so this cannot spread to other places and affect peace and stability in the country.”

Thein Sein would not comment on the summit when approached by The Irrawaddy while leaving a lunchtime meeting on Tuesday.

Hague’s comments were echoed by Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natelagawa, who told The Irrawaddy that “one core issue in resolving the conflict is citizenship, and this is a matter the Myanmar government must address in the future.”

However, the recent violence in Arakan State and the plight of Burma’s Rohingya minority was not discussed at the summit, Natalagawa added. “There has not been any more specific discussion of the issue of Rakhine State and the Rohingya,” he said.

Expressing hope that Indonesia’s example in resolving sectarian strife could be emulated in Burma, Natalagawa said that the Arakan violence “is not a conflict of religion, but is a communal conflict, a horizontal one.”

Burma President Thein Sein pictured at ASEM 9 summit (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

Discussing their Tuesday meeting in Vientiane, William Hague said that, “I was pleased to meet President Thein Sein to follow up our meeting in Burma in January. I congratulated him on the progress Burma has made so far on vital political and economic reforms.”

The British government hopes that Thein Sein will visit the UK next year, with Hague adding that, “I encouraged continued cooperation between the UK and Burmese governments to promote responsible trade with and investment in Burma. And I expressed my hope that the president would be able to visit the UK early next year.”

Meanwhile, a spokesman for Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak expressed unease for the plight of Muslims in western Burma. “Malaysia remains extremely concerned about ongoing tensions between Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims in the Rakhine State of Myanmar,” he said.

“We urge all parties to exercise restraint and avoid provoking further hostilities and hope that authorities, including the government and religious leaders, can work towards a peaceful resolution. Malaysia stands ready to lend assistance, so that further displacement and loss of life can be prevented.”

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