YANGON, Myanmar — Myanmar must urgently address the plight of Muslims displaced by sectarian bloodshed in western Rakhine State and double the number of security forces to control the still-volatile region, an independent commission said Monday.
Its long-awaited report recommended a mixed bag of humanitarian and security responses to violence last June and October that killed at least 192 people and left 140,000 homeless, mostly stateless Rohingya Muslims in an area dominated by ethnic Rakhine Buddhists.
The recommendations follow an April 22 report from Human Rights Watch that accused security forces of complicity in "ethnic cleansing" in Rakhine State last year.
The commission called for meetings between Buddhist and Muslim leaders to foster religious and ethnic tolerance, but also said segregation of the two communities "must be enforced at least until the overt emotions subside."
Rakhine State is home to an estimated 800,000 Rohingya, regarded by the authorities as illegal immigrants from neighbouring Bangladesh.
The report, which calls them "Bengalis," urged the government to assess their citizenship, but under a 1982 law that Rohingya activists said was drafted by the former junta to exclude them.
The commission said Rakhine Buddhists felt threatened by "the rapid population growth of the Bengali population."
It recommended that if the government went ahead with a proposed family planning program, it should "refrain from implementing non-voluntary measures which may be seen as discriminatory or that would be inconsistent with human rights standards."
The commission also urged the government and international organizations to improve food security and living conditions in overcrowded camps before the annual monsoon. Failure to meet the needs of "non-citizens" could lead to further unrest, it warned.
"They will be able to live and coexist with the other citizens only when they themselves become citizens," the commission said in its recommendations, but it refrained from recommending a change in the law.
"When reviewing the cases of Bengalis who are eligible to become citizens, the government should screen for their ability to fully integrate into society by testing their knowledge of the country, local customs and language," it recommended.
The commission added that the government should "make available educational resources that will provide information about the country's culture, traditional dress, and practices" to those seeking citizenship.
The commission also urged that the government improve living conditions for the Rohingya minority, including providing humanitarian aid and rebuilding homes.
In a report on Monday, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said at least 140,000 people remained displaced, but that the number was probably much higher.
The United Nations called for immediate assistance to provide adequate shelter for 69,000 people living in flood-prone areas and tents that would not withstand the monsoon rains. It also urged the government to take action against people "intimidating" aid workers who provide services to Rohingya.
© 2013 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.