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Buddhist monks and Arakanese nationalists turned out in their hundreds in Sittwe on Sunday afternoon to demand that the local immigration chief be arrested for issuing national identification cards to members of the Rohingya community.
Regarded by many in Burma as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, up to one million Rohingyas are denied rights as Burmese nationals under the country’s 1982 Citizenship Law.
The protest in the Arakan state capital yesterday was joined by Arakanese monks and activists from Maungdaw, Rathedaung and Buthidaung townships, all of which are majority Rohingya. Simultaneous rallies were held in several other towns across western Burma.
Aung Htay, an organiser of the main rally in Sittwe, said that 53 “Bengalis” had been issued national identification cards by the immigration department under the new citizenship verification programme. He claimed that officials plan to award citizenship to 200 more unqualified members of the Muslim community.
“Immigration Department issued national ID cards to the Bengalis without thoroughly scrutinising them under the 1982 Citizenship Law,” he said. “Fifty-three of these people have already been granted citizenship since the end of last month according to an official announcement, and we have solid information that the officials are planning to issue 200 more.”
Speaking to DVB in Sittwe on Sunday, Aung Htay added: “This is totally uncalled for. That’s why we are here today, demonstrating.”
The protestors chanted their demands, which include: the prosecution of officials at the immigration department for allegedly violating the 1982 Citizenship Law; and the revoking of those 53 national ID cards already issued to Rohingyas.
Arakan National Party general-secretary Aung Than Wai said he has personally filed a legal complaint against regional immigration chief Win Lwin but the authorities were yet to look into the case.
“There is no transparency in the procedures concerning the issuing of ID cards,” he said. “Immigration chief U Win Lwin personally issued ID cards to Bengalis whose parents were not Burmese. That’s why I personally lodged a complaint against him.”
Tensions between the Rohingya Muslim community and Arakanese Buddhists have flared in recent months since a gang of Rohingya militants were accused of killing Burmese border guards in October. Burma’s security forces responded with a security operation that may have resulted in the murder of up to a thousand Rohingya civilians, according to agencies such as Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and the UN.