Amid change, Rohingya remain Myanmar's 'elephant in the room'
In a country that seems finally on the right track, the religious roots of the violence directed at the minority group in Rakhine state remain a taboo topic, among activists and politicians alike
Approaching the second half of his four-year term, President Thein Sein has seemingly managed to steer the country forward on the path to democratisation and reconciliation, and shown good faith in resolving several bitter issues. Early last week, his announcement in London of his government's intention to release all political prisoners and achieve reconciliation with all ethnic groups was welcomed internationally and at home. Hundreds of exiles who fled the country in separate waves since 1988 have returned to check out the new air of optimism on the ground. Problematic issues impeding the civilian parliamentarian system have been open for debate and some have been partially addressed.
However, one major issue remains not only unaddressed, it's officially taboo in many circles - the explosive sectarian divide between majority Buddhists and minority Muslims, particularly Rohingya, in Rakhine state. Members of the minority are viewed by the government as immigrants from Bengal, now divided between India and Bangladesh. The issue has tarnished the image of Myanmar activists and politicians of all stripes, as both groups have been largely silent about the verbal and physical attacks carried out by a a radical Buddhist element against the Rohingya.
The safety and civil liberties of Rohingya have been overlooked in a country still reeling from the excesses of a repressive and often brutal military junta. The communal conflicts in western Rakhine state which began early last year have shown religion and race to be the most sensitive issues in the post-military era.
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