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US Expresses Concern Over Myanmar Religious Bills

FILE - Myanmar Muslims, who identify themselves as long-persecuted “Rohingya” Muslims, sit on the ground at Da Paing camp for Muslim refugees in north of Sittwe, Rakhine State.

The United States has expressed concern over four proposed religious bills in Myanmar, which critics say could be used against religious minorities.

Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken "raised concerns regarding the four draft bills" during a meeting in Washington Monday with the speaker of Myanmar's parliament, Shwe Mann, according to State Department spokesperson Jeff Rathke.

The Myanmar government last year submitted four bills covering marriage, religious conversions, monogamy, and population controls based on religon. Activists and human rights groups have condemned the proposals, saying they would violate international standards on freedom of religion and women's rights.

Blinken on Monday also stressed the importance of implementing durable solutions to human rights challenges in Myanmar and asked for a transparent and independent investigation into the use of force against protesters.

As recent as March, at least eight protestors were hurt and 127 were arrested when Myanmar police broke up protests calling for academic freedom in Yangon.

Deputy National Security Advisor Benjamin Rhodes also attended the meeting in Washington. In a statement, National Security Council spokesperson Bernadette Meehan said, “Mr. Rhodes expressed hope that political dialogue would lead to equitable and durable peace in the country.”

However, Rhodes also highlighted the urgent need for the Burmese government to fulfill their commitments to improve the lives and livelihoods of those affected by the humanitarian crisis in Rakhine State.

Violence between Myanmar's Buddhist majority and Muslim minority has killed more than 240 people and forced about 140,000 out of their homes since 2012.

The meeting in Washington followed a visit to Yangon by David Saperstein, the U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom. During that trip, he told VOA that Myanmar's religious minorities face serious obstacles not encountered by the country's Buddhist majority.

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