JEDDAH – A global Muslim body appealed to Myanmar’s pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi on Thursday, July 5, to help end the plight of the Muslim minority in the south-east Asian country.
"As a Nobel Peace Laureate, we are confident that the first step of your journey towards ensuring peace in the world would start from your own doorstep," Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, the head of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), said in a letter to Suu Kyi cited by Agence France-Presse (AFP).
He said the pan-Muslim body was confident Suu Kyi "would play a positive role in bringing an end to the violence that has afflicted Arakan (Rakhine) state".
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Sectarian violence plagued the western Rakhine state last month after the killing of 10 Muslims in an attack by Buddhist vigilantes on their bus.
The attack followed the rape and murder of a woman in the state, which borders Bangladesh, with Buddhists blaming Muslims for that.
The violence has left dozens of people dead and tens of thousands homeless.
A state of emergency is still in place after the outbreak of violence, which prompted reformist President Thein Sein to warn it could damage the country's emergence from decades of military rule.
Muslims make up nearly five percent of Myanmar's more than 53 million population.
The largest group of Myanmar’s Muslims is the ethnic-Bengali minority, generally known as the Rohingyas, who mainly live in the western state of Rakhine.
Rohingya Muslims have been denied citizenship rights since an amendment to the citizenship laws in 1982 and are treated as illegal immigrants in their own home.
Myanmar’s government as well as the Buddhist majority refuse to recognize the term "Rohingya", referring to them as "Bengalis".
When asked during her recent visit to Europe, where she was feted as heroine of democracy, whether Muslim Rohingyas are citizens of Myanmar, Suu Kyi said she did not know.
"When you talk about the Rohingya, we are not quite sure whom you are talking about," she said.
"There's some who say those people who claim to be Rohingyas are not the ones who are actually native to Burma but have just come over recently from Bangladesh."
The head of the 57-member pan-Muslim body urged the pro-democracy icon to convince Myanmar’s government to accept "an international inquiry into the recent violence.”
He also called for granting free access to humanitarian aid groups and international media in the western Myanmar state that saw deadly clashes last month.
Ihsanoglu also called for the quick "return of the victims to their respective properties", expressing his "deep concern about the unabated and continuous violation of Rohingya rights in Myanmar".
Described by the UN as one of the world's most persecuted minorities, Rohingyas are not allowed to own land in Myanmar.
Rohingyas say they are deprived of free movement, education and employment in their homeland.
They are not recognized as an ethnic minority by Myanmar and say they suffer human rights abuses at the hands of government officials.To escape their plight, thousands of Muslim Rohingyas flee Myanmar every year in wooden boats, embarking on a hazardous journey to Thailand or Malaysia in search of a better life.
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