US Denies ‘Ethnic Cleansing’ in Burma

By Lalit K Jha 9 August 2012

The United States remains “deeply concerned” over increasing sectarian tensions in western Burma and reiterated calls for restraint by all parties, but refused to back allegations of “ethnic cleansing” made by the Organization of Islamic Countries (OIC).

“We have obviously expressed our concern over the tension there,” a senior State Department official said on Wednesday regarding the situation in Arakan State before denying that the Burmese security forces were trying to decimate the Rohingya population. It is understood that US officials accompanied UN human rights envoy Tomas Ojea Quintana on his visit to the affected area last week.

The US remarks came hours after the OIC Secretary General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu expressed disappointment at the inaction of the international community to stop the “massacres, violations, injustice and ethnic cleansing” perpetrated by the Burmese government against Rohingya Muslims.

He suggested that the UN Islamic Group in Geneva should send an urgent request to the body’s Human Rights Council to dispatch a fact-finding mission to delve into the alleged atrocities.

In addition, Ihsanoglu proposed setting up an Islamic investigation committee on the events and that a report should be submitted to the next foreign ministerial conference. An Islamic ministerial contact group should also be established to find a radical solution by contacting all relevant parties, including the Burmese government, as well as international and regional organizations, he added.

Earlier in the day, a US State Department spokesman said it was monitoring developments in the strife-prone areas of Burma. “We continue to monitor … sectarian tensions in Burma, in Rakhine [Arakan] State in particular,” State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell told reporters.

“And as we said before, we continue to urge all parties to exercise restraint, to refrain from further violence, and to uphold principles of nondiscrimination, tolerance and religious freedom. We obviously have some concerns about making sure that [the displaced] get humanitarian aid.”

Meanwhile, the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) announced on Wednesday that it will hold a new session on the plight of Rohingya Muslims at its four-day national convention in Washington set to begin on Aug. 31.

The ISNA said it is increasingly concerned about the desperate condition of the minority Rohingya community which has long experienced great hardship and oppression in their home country of Burma.

“Rohingya Muslims require government permission to marry, are forbidden from having more than two children per family, and are subjected to modern-day slavery through forced labor,” it said. “A recent wave of violence and brutal force from the Burmese military and law enforcement officials necessitates a closer look at this tragic situation.”

The Council on Foreign Relations, a prestigious Washington-based think-tank, released a background paper on Wednesday that said many people are now hopeful that recent reforms have heralded a new era of democracy and fresh possibilities for the beleaguered Southeast Asian nation.

Experts said that increased foreign investment and the lifting of international sanctions will allow Burma to progress even further, but a combination of increasing sectarian violence and disproportionate economic growth could still handicap the country.