RAKHINE – US President Barack Obama has strongly condemned the decades-long persecution of Rohingya Muslims in Burma, warning that the ongoing oppression of the Muslim minority is risking the future of the southeast Asian country.
“You have a Muslim minority (in Myanmar) … that the broader population has historically looked down upon and whose rights are not being fully protected,” Obama told a townhall-style meeting of young leaders from across Southeast Asia, Reuters reported on Sunday, April 27.
“Myanmar [Burma] won't succeed if the Muslim population is oppressed.”
Obama’s comments came during his visit to Malaysia.
The US president warned that persecuting the Muslim minority could provoke ethnical conflict in the destabilized country.
Obama may visit the conflict-torn country by the end of 2014, where he is expected to restore sanctions that have been eased in 2011 after the end of military rule.
Described by the UN as one of the world's most persecuted minorities, Rohingya Muslims are facing a catalogue of discrimination in their homeland.
They have been denied citizenship rights since an amendment to the citizenship laws in 1982 and are treated as illegal immigrants in their own home.
The Burmese government as well as the Buddhist majority refuse to recognize the term “Rohingya”, referring to them as “Bengalis”.
Rights groups have accused the Burmese security forces of killing, raping and arresting Rohingyas following the sectarian violence last year.
Over the last two years, Buddhists mob attacks have left hundreds of Rohingya Muslims killed and evacuated more than 140,000 from their homes.
The violence has displaced nearly 29,000 people, more than 97 percent of whom are Rohingya Muslims, according to the United Nations.
Many now live in camps, adding to 75,000 mostly Rohingya displaced in June 2012, after a previous explosion of sectarian violence.
Obama’s calls come as the religious minority faces a striking health crisis after the expulsion of main aid groups last February that used to offer treatment to Rohingya Muslims.
“It was not ideal before March 27. NGOs were not providing five-star medical care. But they were filling a gap,” Liviu Vedrasco, a coordinator with the World Health Organization, told Reuters.
Over the past two months, severely malnourished children have been losing their lives in Rakhine state's “concentration camps”.
With no accurate records of deaths, at least 8 Rohingya Muslims, including six infants, have died since the departure of aid groups such as Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF).
Residents of the makeshift camps in Rakhine’s Sittwe couldn't save the lives of severely malnourished infants who die every day.
“I think my child would have made it if someone was here to help,” a mother of 3-month-old girl, Gorima, said as she cradled the girl's shrouded, almost weightless body in her arms.
Her daughter, Asoma Khatu, suffered from malnutrition and diarrhea amid desperate attempts to give her some of the last medicines in the camp.
Despite of the escalating health crisis at Rohingya Muslims camps, state officials are denying the misery.
“There is a group of people in one of these camps that shows the same sick children to anyone who visits. Even when the government arranges for treatment they refuse it,” said Win Myaing, a spokesman for the Rakhine State government.
To overcome the absence of aid groups, makeshift clinics have been established along the main street of the Thae Chaung camp outside Sittwe town.
“Week by week it's getting worse,” said Mohammad Elyas, a 30-year-old who sold medicine in Sittwe's market before he was driven out by marauding mobs in 2012, displays his laminated qualifications near the front, including a degree in geology and a certificate in traditional medicine.
“I'm just trying to save as many lives as possible. Even though I don't have the proper qualifications.
“If I don't do this work, people will die.”
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