UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned on Saturday that Muslim-Buddhist unrest in Myanmar’s Rakhine state could hit the country’s landmark reforms and spill across borders, a UN spokesman said.
Muslim leaders have made prominent calls at the UN General Assembly for action over the deadly unrest which Ban raised in talks with Burmese President Thein Sein and the head of the 57-nation Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).
Thein Sein, who has embarked on fast-paced reforms in Myanmar, promised Ban he would tackle fallout from the unrest, UN spokesman Martin Nesirky said.
However, Ban later told OIC secretary-general Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu the Rakhine troubles must be “treated carefully because of the potential wider implications of the Rakhine issue on the overall reform process in Myanmar as well as on other countries.”
Fighting between Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine erupted in June. According to an official toll, about 90 people have been killed, but rights groups say the figure is probably much higher.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) accused Burmese forces of opening fire on Rohingya Muslims, an accusation denied by the government.
Myanmar’s government considers the estimated 800,000 Rohingyas to be foreigners while many ordinary Burmese say they are illegal immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh.
However, Bangladesh has stopped Rohingyas from crossing the border and prevented aid groups from helping more than 200,000 Rohingyas in the country, according to HRW. The New York-based rights group says this is to send the message to the Rohingyas that they should stay in Myanmar.
Ban and Thein Sein discussed the Rakhine fighting “and the immediate and long-term perspectives to promote intercommunal harmony and address the root causes of the tension there,” Nesirky said.
“The president confirmed the country would address the long-term ramifications of this question,” he added.
The Burmese leader vowed before the UN General Assembly that he would seek to tackle the problems in Rakhine state.
Ban also called for “concerted efforts” to end the government’s war with ethnic rebels in Kachin in the north of the country where the Thein Sein has led reform efforts over the past two years.
Thein Sein has been in New York at the same time as opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, and in a landmark speech to th e General Assembly praised her efforts for “democracy.”
Ban organized a ministerial meeting of the Friends of Myanmar group on Friday with representatives from the US, EU, China, Japan and other states.
Ban’s special adviser on Myanmar, Vijay Nambiar, said ministers hoped progress made in Myanmar over the past year “will continue and result in the strengthening of democratic institutions and forging peace with all ethnic and religious groups in the country.”