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.
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

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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Comment Sorting
Comments page of 2
by: Libya from: Libya
August 14, 2012 12:44 PM
Burma is hidding a herrific crime committed agaist tousands of armless peaceful muslims.
What a shame on Muslim countries.
If you do not hide anything let International inverstigation take place.
Shame on Muslim countries
In Response

by: Sultan from: Bangladesh
September 05, 2012 3:41 AM
President Thein Sein is democratically hiding crimes committed against to the thousands of Rohingya Muslims. On the other hand, His regional law (mainly Arakan State authority) instructs the concerned officials to finish Rohingya from Arakan State. But Allah will never finish Rohingya by the human pressure is for sure. The local officials always make a negative report and send to the upper level and foreign countries mentioning that the Rohingya people are culprit. The Rohingya people cannot respond anything that they are innocent because they have no right to write and no Rohingya in any government department.

It is good plan that President Thein Sein will open schools for Rohingya Muslims but it is extremely needed to appoint Rohingya teachers too. If no Rohingya teacher enough, he may invite those Rohingya teachers who are in abroad for the time being. A Rohingya led Education Department should also be needed to set as separate from Rakhine one.

In Response

by: Iftikhar Ahmad from: London
August 15, 2012 11:06 AM
Minority Muslim children need state funded Muslim schools with bilingual Muslim teachers as role models during their developmental periods. There is no place for a non-Muslim child or a teacher in a Muslim school.

The right to education in one’s own comfort zone is a fundamental and inalienable human right that should be available to all people irrespective of their ethnicity or religious background. Schools do not belong to state, they belong to parents. It is the parents’ choice to have faith schools for their children. Migrant Muslims are not economic slaves. They are part and parcel of British society with their own cultures, languages and faith. Migrant Muslims need to preserve and transmit their cultural, linguistic and spiritual identities; otherwise, they will be lost in the western jungle. Learning Arabic, Urdu and other community languages do not deter people from integrating. It helps them integrate. British schooling is at war with Migrant Muslims learning Arabic, Urdu and other community languages. Multilingualism should be celebrated because it is an asset but British education regards it as a proble

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