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Burma Rejects Allegations of Oppressive Rohingya Policies

Burma, also known as Myanmar, is rejecting allegations by a rights group that the government is committing crimes against humanity by enforcing discriminatory policies against Rohingya Muslims, tens of thousands of whom have fled the Southeast Asian country.

Government spokesman Ye Htut Tuesday accused the group, called Fortify Rights, of lobbying on behalf of the Rohingya, which the Burmese government calls Bengali.

"The facts in this report have no validity and the allegations are one-sided so we totally reject them. We have allowed international fact-finding missions, including from the U.N., to visit certain areas in Burma , including the Rakhine State. None of them have accused us of committing such crimes. So, a Thai-based rights group believing the facts provided to them by the Bengalis and publishing a report , is considered a laughing matter."

Fortify Rights says a series of leaked government documents reveal severe human rights violations against Rohingya in western Rakhine state, including restrictions on freedom of movement, marriage, and childbirth.

Matthew Smith, executive director of Fortify Rights, tells VOA the leaked documents and a review of public records show the government's "active role" in both planning and implementing these abuses.

"What we're saying essentially is that we've got enough evidence to make an allegation that state and central government authorities are implicated in the crime against humanity of persecution. The Rohingya have been singled out because they are Rohingya. We've documented how these abuses are both widespread and systematic, and we've also demonstrated a certain level of knowledge, which is required under the Rome Statute which lays out the element of crimes against humanity."

Buddhist-Muslim violence erupted in Rakhine state in 2012 and has since spread to other parts of the country. The sectarian fighting has killed at least 240 people and displaced 140,000 others, mainly Rohingya. Many Rohingya have since fled the country.

Fortify Rights says the government's policies "appear to be designed to make life so intolerable for Rohingya that they will leave the country." In a report released Tuesday, it described how aspects of everyday life are restricted.

The group said it obtained a regional order that lays the foundation for a policy that "in practice translates to a strict two-child policy" for Rohingya in Maungdaw and Buthidaung townships.

The policy reflects a concern among some majority Buddhists who say birthrates among Muslims, who make up just four percent of the population, and "dangerous" Islamic religious ideals threaten their way of life.

Smith calls such fears "deeply unreasonable," and says they are spreading in part because of the statements of top government officials.

"In the documents we've uncovered, we realized these views have been shared with senior government officials since the 1990s. They've been saying the same thing about an 'explosive' population growth of Muslims that they need to control. And they've been making these allegations without any empirical footing whatsoever."

Rohingya freedom to move within the country also is tightly restricted. Fortify Rights says Rohingya in Rakhine are barred from traveling between townships without authorization and are only allowed to travel outside the state in rare cases.

The group said those who break the rules are subject to several years in prison or fines.

Western governments, including the United States, have begun relaxing sanctions against and re-engaging with Burmese leaders since 2011, when the military handed power to a nominally civilian government.

The new military-dominated government has since overseen a series of political and economic reforms, but many say the country's ethnic minorities have yet to reap the benefits.

(This report was produced in collaboration with the VOA Burmese service.)

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