UNITED NATIONS — The U.N. chief on Wednesday warned Myanmar that it must end Buddhist attacks on minority Muslims in the Southeast Asian country if it wants to be seen as a credible nation.
Sectarian violence against Rohingya Muslims in the predominantly Buddhist nation has killed hundreds in the past year, and uprooted about 140,000, in what some say presents a threat to Myanmar's political reforms because it could encourage security forces to re-assert control.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Wednesday: "It is important for the Myanmar authorities to take necessary steps to address the legitimate grievances of minority communities, including the citizenship demands of the Muslim/Rohingya."
He says failing to do so could risk "undermining the reform process and triggering negative regional repercussions."
In 1982, Myanmar passed a citizenship law recognizing eight races and 130 minority groups – but omitted the nation's 800,000 Rohingyas, among Myanmar's 60 million people. Many Myanmar Buddhists view the Rohingyas as interlopers brought in by the British colonialists when the nation was known as Burma.
Earlier this year, Myanmar passed a law limiting Rohingyas in two townships in the western state of Rakhine, bordering Bangladesh, to having two children, a law that does not apply to Buddhists. Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi criticized the law, and was widely denounced by Buddhists in Myanmar. Seen as likely to be elected president of Myanmar, she has had little else to say about Rohingya rights.
Myanmar had been ostracized by most of the world for 50 years after a coup that instituted military rule. But in recent years the country has been cautiously welcomed after it freed many political prisoners and ended the house arrest of Syu Kyi and instituted reforms. President Barack Obama visited the country last year on an Asian tour, as a hallmark of Myanmar's rehabilitation.
Muslim ambassadors on Wednesday said Myanmar cannot rejoin the community of democratic nations if it doesn't protect minority rights.
"It is not enough to just have elections, you have to end the killings and persecutions," Saudi Arabian U.N. Ambassador Abdallah Yahya al-Mouallemi told reporters. He said the Rohingya are barred from citizenship, work, travel, religious practice, and even the proper burial of their dead.
Djibouti's U.N. Ambassador Roble Olhaye, representing the Organization of the Islamic Conference, said that the Rohingya live in "permanent segregation in what amounts to ethnic cleansing."
A call to the Myanmar U.N. Mission went unanswered on Wednesday evening.
Ban spoke at a meeting of ambassadors from the "Group of Friends on Myanmar," consisting of Australia, China, France, India, Indonesia, Japan, Norway, Russia, Singapore, Thailand, Britain, the United States, Vietnam, and the country holding the presidency of the European Union, currently Lithuania.