Rumours spread by extremists on both sides of the conflict in Rakhine State about the nature of the violence have harmed Myanmar’s image, President U Thein Sein told journalists in Phnom Penh this week.
Speaking at a briefing for Myanmar journalists on Wednesday, November 21 in Cambodia's capital, following the seventh East Asia Summit, the president told reporters that he had received “overwhelming” support from fellow ASEAN members and the international community when he explained the government’s actions in response to the violence in June and October.
Stressing that the violence had originally erupted as an expression of revulsion against “an ugly crime” – the rape and murder of a local woman – President U Thein Sein said the subsequent spread of violence, including killings and the burning of homes by both Buddhists and Muslims, had worsened because of “incitements”.
He blamed “some people in Myanmar who have strong emotions about their race and religion, and some people from abroad” who spread rumours.
“They uploaded photos of dead bodies, but actually these were pictures of the Tibet earthquake or other disasters. These photos had serious repercussions. There were incitements by some locals who have strong emotions on race and religion. The worst thing is that most Muslim countries doubted our country because of these rumours from abroad,” said President U Thein Sein.
“We need to help the victims by focusing first on their humanitarian needs. Then we need to boost education standards in these regions and encourage them to live together as a community,” he said, adding that job opportunities were also needed.
“There are more than 110,000 homeless because rioters set fire to each other’s houses. Our efforts to help them are costing US$1 million a month. We need at least $65 million to provide food and temporary accommodation and rehabilitation,” the president said.
Philanthropic organisations from countries like Malaysia, Indonesia and Turkey are also helping with the relief effort.
When asked about the government’s decision to backtrack on a pledge to allow the Organisation for Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to open an office in Myanmar, President U Thein Sein said: “We found that OIC want to make this conflict an international issue. We have invited OIC representatives to go to Rakhine State and see for themselves. But the OIC is trying to put this on the UN’s agenda as a human rights issue. So we have to solve this problem.”
Translated By Thiri Min Htun