PM’s party enticing Muslims

Burma’s minority Muslim population will be issued with identification cards and allowed to freely travel the country if they make the right vote in elections, the party headed by Burma’s prime minster has reportedly said.

The Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) has been campaigning in the country’s western Arakan state and appears to be targeting Muslims for votes. One man in Sandwoy town said that local authorities were urging them to join the party.

“It is likely that [the USDP] has no chance in recruiting Buddhist residents after the [September 2007] monk-led protests so they are now targeting Muslims, promising them ID cards and travel permission,” he told DVB.

Muslims are widely persecuted by the Buddhist ruling junta in Burma; the ethnic Rohingya minority in particular is denied any sort of legal status and thousands have now fled to Bangladesh. The government claims that four percent of Burmese are practising Muslims, but the US state department claims the figure could be as high as 30 percent.

He said that Muslims tired of the restrictions placed on them by the government “very much agreed to join the party”. A USDP leader and former government transport minister, Thein Swe, arrived in Sandwoy earlier this month and “summoned Muslim leaders [to talk about] the ID cards and the travel permission”.

“He assured these things will be OK because [Burmese junta chief] Than Shwe has also given his approval. He said a minister-level discussion was underway and told [Muslims] to wait one or two months and the travel issues will be OK.”

But a number of Buddhists in the town have reportedly spoken of their disappointment at the number of Muslims joining the party, which is widely tipped to win the elections later this year. The Sandwoy man said that the issue could trigger tension between the two religious groups.

“Burma has a majority Buddhist populaton but even [Buddhists] are being oppressed so it will be impossible for Muslims to get more privileges than [Buddhists],” he said.

Earlier this week the USDP was asked by an election candidate to ensure it had severed ties with the ruling junta prior to the polls. Phyo Min Thein, head of the Union Democratic Party (UDP), said the lines between the USDP and the government were blurred.

Other hopefuls for Burma’s first elections in two decades have complained that preferential treatment given to the USDP has hindered the chances of other parties running for office. The USDP’s social wing, the Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA), allegedly began canvassing voters some weeks ago, while reports of coercion of civilians by the USDA have already surfaced.

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