MYANMAR - The effort to implement a citizenship screening process in Rakhine State has been temporarily suspended because members of the Kaman ethnic minority in Sittwe district's Myebon Township are refusing to participate in it, officials said.
Phe Nyunt, a town elder in Myebon and a member of the citizenship inspection panel, said inspectors had uncovered "suspicious" citizenship cards that identified their holders as ethnic Kaman, a Muslim minority recognised as one of the country's 135 official minorities.
"Ethnic Kamin people are refusing to be investigated for citizenship," he said, adding that they refused to participate in the process after learning that some Bengali residents of the state had fake citizenship cards identifying themselves as Kaman citizens.
Bengalis, who are referred to as Rohingya internationally, are not recognised as one of the country's official ethnic groups. They can, however, apply for citizenship based on the 1982 Citizenship Law but only if they identify as Bengalis. They are ineligible for citizenship if they identify as Rohingya because that ethnic group is not legally recognised in Myanmar.
General Maung Maung Ohn, the state's chief minister, last month said that the application process was proceeding smoothly in Myebon. The township includes tens of thousands of internally displaced persons (IDPs) who have been living in IDP camps following deadly outbreaks of communal violence in 2012 between ethnic Rakhine and Bengali residents of the state.
Phe Nyunt said the process would resume after immigration officials from the Union government arrive" "We are waiting for immigration directors from Nay Pyi Taw before we continue the process."
Phe Nyunt said the fault lied with the Union government's immigration department. He accused officials from the department of violating the law by giving citizenship cards to Bengali residents of state that identified them as Kaman.
The number of Kaman residents of the state had increased as a result and it was now necessary to investigate Kaman citizens to weed out the Bengali residents who had illegally obtained citizenship cards identifying them as Kaman, Phe Nyunt said.
The citizenship screening process began on March 5 in the township. So far, 702 people have been examined. Of these, inspectors say only 98 are citizens. The vast majority, 590, are "associate citizens", while 14 have been told not to bother to apply for citizenship, state officials said. The 1982 Citizenship law recognises three types of citizens: Citizens, associate citizens and naturalised citizen. All three categories are eligible to vote.
So-called "white cards" are also compounding the problem of determining citizenship in Rakhine State. These cards were issued ahead of the 2010 election as voting identification. Ethnic Rakhine people say the cards were given to Bengali residents of the state in order to help the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development party compete against the ethnic Rakhine political parties, which are calling for greater autonomy for the state. Although rich in resources, Rakhine remains the second poorest state in Myanmar.