Rohingya Muslims flee Myanmar as tensions rise

Rohingya Muslims flee Myanmar as tensions rise
Buddhist monks in Myanmar last week protesting against a visit by a high-level delegation from the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation.

Fresh fears of violence are sending more of Myanmar's mainly Muslim Rohingya people fleeing in rickety and overladen boats on a dangerous voyage to Malaysia.

Tensions were heightened on Wednesday with the arrest by Myanmar police of three Buddhist men for plotting to bomb mosques in the western state of Rakhine. Unrest there last year left scores dead and some 140,000, mainly Rohingya Muslims, displaced.

More than 7,000 Rohingya have already set sail in recent weeks, according to activists. Many have to sell possessions and borrow money to afford the price of up to 70,000 baht (S$2,750) for a place in a boat to Malaysia. The risky voyage can take up to two weeks.

Around 1,700 are already being held in detention centres in Thailand, where in recent months there have been two breakouts in which scores fled.

Conditions in Rakhine remain dire for the Rohingya, a Muslim minority regarded by the United Nations as one of the most persecuted in the world.

Tension is rising, with security forces accused of favouring the Buddhist Rakhine majority and under pressure to be even-handed.

The Myanmar government sees the Rohingya as illegal immigrants from neighbouring Bangladesh, though many families have been in the country for generations.

In New York on Tuesday, the UN General Assembly's human rights committee, in a resolution, called on Myanmar to grant the Rohingya citizenship, and to crack down on violence against Muslims.

According to reports, the general assembly will automatically pass the resolution later this year.

There was no immediate official reaction from the Myanmar government.

But a "verification" process for Rohingya is under way, though it has itself sparked conflict over officials' insistence that they register as Bengalis, not Rohingya.

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