News / Asia

Burma's President Tells VOA He Will Open Schools for Rohingya

Burmese President Thein Sein says his government will open schools to improve the education of minority Rohingya Muslims who accuse the majority Buddhist state of persecuting them.

In an exclusive interview with VOA Burmese Service chief Than Lwin Htun in Naypyidaw, Thein Sein called education an important tool to help different communities live in harmony and respect human rights.

He said Bengalis - his term for the Rohingya - have only religious schools and lack what he called "proper education."

"So we will open schools for them and give them modern education," he said. "And once they become educated, they will be more thoughtful and can decide what is right and what is wrong."

Rohingya Muslims who fled Myanmar to Bangladesh to escape religious violence, sit in a boat after being intercepted crossing the Naf River by Bangladeshi border authorities in Taknaf, Bangladesh, June 13, 2012.Rohingya Muslims who fled Myanmar to Bangladesh to escape religious violence, sit in a boat after being intercepted crossing the Naf River by Bangladeshi border authorities in Taknaf, Bangladesh, June 13, 2012.
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Rohingya Muslims who fled Myanmar to Bangladesh to escape religious violence, sit in a boat after being intercepted crossing the Naf River by Bangladeshi border authorities in Taknaf, Bangladesh, June 13, 2012.
Rohingya Muslims who fled Myanmar to Bangladesh to escape religious violence, sit in a boat after being intercepted crossing the Naf River by Bangladeshi border authorities in Taknaf, Bangladesh, June 13, 2012.
The Burmese government refuses to recognize the country's estimated 800,000 Rohingya Muslims as an ethnic group and denies them citizenship. Many Burmese consider the Rohingya to be illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

Mabrur Ahmed, the cofounder and director of Restless Beings, a British-based rights group following the Rohingya situation, welcomed the Burmese president’s school pledge but warned of segregation.

“I don’t think it’s productive for a community where there’s going to be two ethnicities living side by side and they have separate schools for each set of children. But at the same time, at the moment, the Rohingya children are not receiving any education, or very limited education up to age seven, so to have access to more education is obviously a good thing,” he said.

Related video report by Daniel Schearf

Burma’s President: Discrimination Not Cause of Rohingya Unresti
|| 0:00:00
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Daniel Schearf
August 24, 2012 8:30 PM
Sectarian tensions are simmering in Burma’s west, after violence between Buddhist Rakhine and Muslim Rohingya left 88 people dead and thousands homeless. The Rohingya, one of the world’s most persecuted minorities, have few rights in Burma. But in an exclusive interview with VOA, Burma’s President, Thein Sein, insisted discrimination is not to blame for the tensions. VOA’s Daniel Schearf reports from Bangkok.]]
Ahmed also said the Rohingya should be granted citizenship. He said without this, the Muslim group and other unrecognized ethnic minorities are not able to own land, get married or have children without state permission.

“Generally, the whole law needs to be overlooked [reviewed] where everyone has equal rights and there isn’t this separation of ‘pure breed’ Burmese and ethnic minority Burmese and hereditary Burmese,” he said.

Ahmed said Burma’s transition from a military-led to a semi-democratic civilian-led government is a “good, positive” step, and the president’s interview is a further sign of change.

Monday's interview is the first to be granted to VOA by a Burmese head of state. Burma's previous military-led administration, in which Mr. Thein Sein served as prime minister, banned VOA and accused it of spreading lies.

He also reiterated Burma's opposition to any foreign investigation of recent deadly sectarian violence between Rohingya Muslims and Buddhists in the western state of Rakhine. The Saudi-based Organization for Islamic Cooperation has called for such an investigation of the violence, which its members view as a case of religious persecution against the Rohingya.

President Thein Sein said the government is giving assistance to the victims and has asked an "independent" Burmese Human Rights Commission to investigate the unrest, which erupted in May and killed 77 people from the Rohingya and Buddhist communities. He said there is "no need" for a foreign commission to investigate the violence as an international issue.
Additional reporting by Kate Woodsome.

Editors Note: An earlier version of this story in English had President Thein Sein saying it is necessary to modify Burma's 1982 Citizenship Law. In a review of the Burmese translation of his remarks, he actually said the law should be re-implemented. VOA regrets the error.

Michael Lipin

Michael covers international news for VOA on the web, radio and TV, specializing in the Middle East and East Asia Pacific. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_Lipin

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Comments page of 2
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by: Ali from: India
August 15, 2012 11:16 AM
How you can return back the lives of killed innocent Muslims? Is it sin to be Muslim in your country Burma??. Pls provide all the rights to Muslims too and stop discrimination and killing to Muslims.

In Response

by: Mandyswe from: Califronia
August 18, 2012 1:50 AM
Mr. Tripura, in the case of Arakan, all the victims are the real Rakhines (not the Mogh aka bamar) and Rohingyas. The Rakhines Buddhists are racially a lot closer to Rohingyas (as both have Indo-Arayan blood) unlike Mogh who are Tibetan-Burmans.

In Response

by: Mr Tripura from: India
August 16, 2012 1:40 PM
Please help your Muslims safe in Bodo land, Assam state of India first. Understand and respect your host country's people and their culture. Occupying the land from local tribes and creating the communal conflicts in Assam of India is one of the negative image of your people. Please don't think too much about Myanamar.Finally all the victims are local tribes from Assam and Rakhine from Myanmar.


by: Ali from: India
August 15, 2012 11:12 AM
How you can return back the lives of killed innocent Muslim? Is it sin to be Muslim in your country Burma??

Pls provide all the rights to Muslims too and stop discrimination and killing to Muslims.


by: Junaid from: Dhaka
August 15, 2012 5:30 AM
Finally Thein Sein admitted Rohingya were not allowed for higher education system!!


by: ashokj from: india
August 15, 2012 5:20 AM
oh ...oh..he first allows to kill people and then now opening school...he proves it tat he is politician..

In Response

by: md irfan khan from: delhi
August 15, 2012 5:41 PM
Why Bangladesh return all alive muslim to back in burma...
in my opinion Bangladesh should have help them.. new they were killed because of not getting support by any one... Bangladesh Muslim is not a Muslim if they were then off curse they should help them what shame on you all Muslim who can't help them....


by: Me
August 14, 2012 9:19 PM
Don't be fooled by his rubbish. He's committing genocide on innocent rohingya people just because they are Muslims and to the outside world he's talking about schools and education?! First he should stop the massacre of the rohingya's, rebuild their villages( that Buddhists burnt down) and let them go home and leave in peace. He said in another interview that he wants a outside country to take in the rohingya because they are not welcome in Myanmar, now he's saying he will educate them! He is hitler reincarnated. Evil evil poor excuse of a man!

In Response

by: Hasan Allah from: Bangladesh
August 15, 2012 12:59 PM
We are also so much fundamental and extremists. We, people should live with other religion buddhists, Chritians, Hindus etc. In Bodo land of Assam also, our M- image is so bad. Rohingyas, our Muslims as Muslims from other countries should show what our religion is peaceful. In this case, not only Buddhists, but also our people must have peaceful mind.


by: sunny from: Myanmar
August 14, 2012 9:13 PM
Who can give the right solution? You can give just aids and noise?
And your humanitarian or religious comments build a fire between two communities. When they are fighting, you make more noise, when there are more noise, two communities are fighting more.Stupid!


by: Robert from: Australia
August 14, 2012 8:39 PM
You should translate full version of his interview with VOA into English. By this way, everyone over the world might listen his idea and real face.

In Response

by: mandyswe from: US
August 19, 2012 6:39 PM
His initial idea stemmed from his racist mindset was to see whether other nations would take the Rohingyas. Now that OIC is getting involved and Indonesians are protesting in front of Burmese Embassy and Mahatir Mohammad of Malaysia has made statements, he is acting benevolent about opening schools but not without insult as if Rohingyas are the ones who committed the crimes because they didn't know what's right and what's wrong. He kept calling these people Bengalis. And he is college-educated.


by: USA from: USA
August 14, 2012 3:27 PM
I thought Bhudist's were peaceful but from their actions they seem more like savages. Uneducated people are the worst of mankind. This is but a plain example.

In Response

by: Peter from: USA
August 16, 2012 12:54 PM
Why you have so much interest to have empathy to Rohingyas? Are you a terrorist M----who want to destroy the USA again? Do you know why US is helping in Middle east and all over the world to have democracy by cleansing M. people. Myanmar is just a poor country and she doesnot have any interest to influence and just recover from sickness.


by: Myochit from: Myanmar
August 14, 2012 1:26 PM
Dear hounorable President! You should have full courage to keep in your side. You have already told to UNHCR head to deport the Rohingyas and to keep them in refugee camp. Why you are changing your decisions? We, our ethnicities are behind you to fight the people who want to interfere our national concern/secuity. Are you scared to OIC and some M-countries? If you didn't listen to local Myanmar ethnic voice, I think that you will lose in future.

In Response

by: phoondrei from: india
August 14, 2012 10:10 PM
Myanmar's Thei Sein says about Rohingyas "And once they become educated, they will be more thoughtful and can decide what is right and what is wrong."
He does not understand that it is the educated Burmese like him who cannot decide what is right and what is wrong; which is seen by his discrimination against minorities like Rohingya.
What Myanmar needs is capacity building of its leaders so that they are able to think in terms of multi-ethnic democratic states, rather then mono-ethnic rule and ethnic cleansing.

In Response

by: Terry from: London
August 14, 2012 5:45 PM
We are happy to send financial support to the oppressed people of minority Rohingya Muslims.


by: Godwin from: Nigeria
August 14, 2012 12:47 PM
Maybe the president is right. These people are raw and lack tolerance due to seclusion which their religion causes them to be in. How can they learn anything when all their religion teaches them is how to hate their neighbors and kill those who do not see things in the same perspective as themselves. Yet they are the most inferior people on earth, lacking education and often acting from that complex. Well, the education program should include reformatory measures to make them human because educating them while still remain barbaric in the religion will mean long time before any results will be achieved.

In Response

by: mandyswe from: US
August 19, 2012 6:54 PM
If Rohingyas are the most inferior people on earth, why are you people so jealous. The fact is that there are many educated people among Rohingyas and they are industrious and hence you want to oppress them out of jealousy. Even the college educated president of Burma cannot hide his bias toward the Muslims and hence showed in his conversation with VOA to implyu that the Rohingyas were the ones who committed the crimes. Fortunately for him, he is saying this in burmese, not in English and hence he'd get away with it.

In Response

by: Aung Kyaw Phyo from: Myanmar
August 17, 2012 9:47 AM
you are objective ! great!

In Response

by: Abdhrur Rahman from: Bangladesh
August 15, 2012 1:08 PM
You are absolutely right! I agreed with your points.

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