Myanmar reaffirms two-child rule for Rohingya: official

YANGON - Authorities in Myanmar's strife-torn Rakhine state said Sunday they had reaffirmed a longstanding ban on Rohingya Muslims having more than two children, in a rare acknowledgement of the controversial rule.

The junta-era policy, described by activists as "abhorrent", has been reaffirmed in two townships, according to Win Myaing, spokesperson for the Rakhine government, in the wake of deadly religious unrest last year.

"Because the birth rate is so high in that area, a district order was imposed a long time ago to enforce monogamy and not to have more than two children. It was approved again (last week)," he told AFP.

He said the policy had previously been put on hold because of fears over "conflicts among communities" in the state, where up to 140,000 people - mainly Rohingya Muslims - were displaced in two waves of sectarian unrest between Buddhists and Muslims last year.

Human Rights Watch has accused the authorities of being a party to ethnic cleansing over the violence, which killed some 200 people and saw mobs torch whole villages.

An official commission's report in April into the unrest suggested voluntary family planning to stem a high birthrate among the Rohingya that it said stoked tensions, as well as the short-term continuation of ethnic segregation in the state.

Win Myaing said authorities in the Muslim-majority districts were now "trying to implement" the two-child policy "because the investigating commission has suggested" birth control, without describing how the policy would be put into effect.

Local authorities have previously been accused of trying to restrict birthrates among the Rohingya by refusing to acknowledge any more than two children per married couple - thereby denying them legal rights and access to services.

Human Rights Watch said local authorities, which mainly represent the Buddhist ethnic Rakhine, appeared to be using the official report to give credibility to a policy it described as "abhorrent, inhumane" and "completely contrary to human rights."

"The state government is trying to use the Rakhine investigation recommendation, which is outrageous, to justify a policy of limiting births of Rohingya," said its Asia deputy director Phil Robertson.

He said it was hard to think of other examples where "a government on the behalf of one ethnic group is trying to impose by regulation the number of births of another ethnic group."

"It is extremely abusive, it's going completely in the wrong direction," he added.

Myanmar views its population of roughly 800,000 Rohingya as illegal Bangladeshi immigrants and denies them citizenship.

They are considered by the United Nations to be one of the world's most persecuted minorities.

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