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Myanmar government panel recommends security boost

YANGON, Myanmar – A Myanmar government commission investigating sectarian violence in the country’s west last year has issued proposals to ease tensions – including doubling the number of security forces in the volatile region and introducing family planning programs to stem population growth among minority Muslims.

An executive summary of the report, obtained by The Associated Press on Monday, said concerns by Buddhists over the rising population of Muslims they see as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh have “undermined peaceful coexistence” between the two communities. It said family planning education should be voluntary, but “would go some way to mitigating” toward ameliorating the crisis.

Two outbreaks of unrest between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims left nearly 200 people dead and forced more than 125,000, mostly Muslims, from their homes. The violence appeared to have begun spontaneously in June, but by October it had morphed into anti-Muslim pogroms across western Rakhine state, human rights groups say.

The segregation of Buddhists and Muslims has since become a de facto reality across the state, and the report said that was a temporary solution but one that must be enforced for now. It also called for a crackdown on hate speech and stepped-up aid for the displaced ahead of monsoon rains expected in May.

“While keeping the two communities apart is not a long-term solution, it must be enforced at least until the overt emotions subside,” the report said.

President Thein Sein appointed a 27-member panel last year to investigate the causes of the conflict and recommend measures to prevent further violence. Its findings had been delayed several times.

The report did not use the word Rohingya, instead conforming to the government practice of calling the Rohingya “Bengalis,” a reference to their South Asian roots.

Predominantly Buddhist Myanmar does not include Rohingya as one of 135 recognized ethnicities.

The panel’s report also called on the government to determine the citizenship status of all those living in Rakhine state. Most Rohingya are effectively stateless despite the fact that some have lived in Myanmar for generations.

Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch, said the report “fails to address the need for accountability for ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity that happened in last June and October.”

“By failing to hold responsible the individuals who committed these grievous crimes, the government will miss deterring precisely those extremists who are prepared to use more violence in the future to achieve their aims,” Robertson said.

He also said that doubling the number of security forces “without first ensuring implementation of reforms to end those forces’ impunity is a potential disaster.”

Last week, Human Rights Watch issued the most comprehensive and detailed account yet of what happened in Rakhine state last year. The group’s report accused authorities – including Buddhist monks, local politicians and government officials, and state security forces – of fomenting an organized campaign of “ethnic cleansing” against the Rohingya.