Caption: Rohingya Muslims trying to cross the Naf River into Bangladesh to escape sectarian violence in Burma. Credit: AFP
Editor’s note: We’ve sent out questions to many Burmese on the ground to find out what the Rakhine-Rohingya conflict is about to them. In this article, we spoke to Bo Min Aung, an activist in Bangkok, and Phasu (not his real name), a journalist working for a major print journal in Yangon. These are their answers. Anyone else who has an opinion about the conflict are welcomed to email us at editor[at]seayouthsayso[dot]com.
1) Do you feel that the current situation is caused by religious tensions?
BMA: Yes, we can see that there is generally racial and religious tensions but there is also jealousy and hatred.
Phasu: No, it’s the conflict taking advantage on Religion as a cover to continue conflict.
2) What are your thoughts on the attitudes towards the Rohingya in Burma?
BMA: When Burmese people see any one with Indian features, doubt can appear in their heart. There are misconceptions , and this leads to people looking down on people with Indian appearances.
Phasu: Do you think that there is a place for the Rohingya in Burma today? Should they be allowed citizenship? We have no opinions on them being a citizen of Burma according to citizen law and rights, but we can’t grant them an ethnicity of Burma. They have already granted citizenship, have their own members of parliament. The problem is they are urging for their own state and ethnicity.
3) What do you think of the interchangeable use of “Bengali” and “Rohingya”?
BMA: How can you use those terms without any legal recognition of the people by Burmese law? I recommended the government set up a Truth Committee on the dispute and conflict that distinguishes Indigenous Muslims and Citizen Muslims. Arguments surrounding the dispute are related to race and citizenship.The Truth Committee has to recognize Rakhine-Muslims and Caman as indigenous, and the rest will be citizens as Indian descents or Bengali.
Phasu: Rohingya is a name Migrant Bengali has created to name themselves as an ethnic.
4) Do you think that there is a place for the Rohingya in Burma today? Should they be allowed citizenship?
BMA: It can be possible if the truth committee recognizes them. But it is also possible to separate Indigenous and Citizenship status according to Burmese citizenship law if the government wants to resolve the problem in the long run.
5) What part do you think the government has played in this conflict?
BMA: We need a Legal Third party that can be the most responsible actor.
Phasu: Government is in a critical situation dealing with UN, INGOs, Arakanese, Media coverage, many sectors…and they have to be careful solving the conflicts as it’s between two different groups of people.
6) What is your perception of the Burmese media’s reporting on the Rakhine-Rohingya conflict?
BMA: The Burmese media reports one-sided news without any consideration for the violence and hatred of Muslims in Rakhine state. Such news has given space for people to violate more fundamental human rights.
Phasu: Balance is the best policy. We are trying our best to be balance reporting. Eleven media is quite bias at the moment, publishing unconfirmed news. Some media see Bengali as migrants urging for their rights in Myanmar but I see it’s not a problem to let them stay here. Every media group have their own stand yet some media thinks they should stand for Arakanese that they have been reporting for Arakanese so far. As international media have been lobbied by Bengali since 1950s claiming themselves as one of the ethnic in Burma, as a result, foreign media have been shaping Bengali as an ethnic of Burma.
7) Have you been affected by the current situation? If yes, how so?
BMA: Yes, it has affected all Muslims and Rakhine badly, including Chinese and Hindus in Rakhine state. It has affected the security and economy of all families.
Phasu: Not really. I am trying my best to balance the reporting but psychologically, I felt much pressure working with foreign media while they don’t really understand what’s going on and the real situation here.
8 ) What do you think can be done to improve the situation, or resolve the tensions?
BMA: It is crucial to stop the violence first, the military must guarantee personal security for all people. The people must have equal rights to re-build or repair their houses. All organizations, including UNHCR, the government, and other NGO should assist all families regardless of race and religion.
Phasu: I have no solution to give as a journalist. We just have to balance ourselves reporting but we have to be careful while reporting, otherwise this kind of conflict can occur again.