Myanmar has invited an influential Islamic body to visit a state rocked by sectarian violence, official media said Friday, in an effort to diffuse mounting outcry over the treatment of the Muslim Rohingya.
In a rare conciliatory move over the issue, President Thein Sein said he welcomed a visit by the Saudi-based Organization of Islamic Cooperation, the world’s largest Muslim grouping, which has urged a probe into violence between Buddhist Rakhine and Rohingya that left scores dead.
“The president said he hoped the OIC secretary could witness the reality (in Rakhine),” state mouthpiece the New Light of Myanmar said, adding tens of thousands of displaced people from both sides are being given food and shelter.
Thein Sein’s comments came as the visiting foreign minister of Muslim-majority Turkey offered aid to the strife-stricken Rakhine state.
He also urged “the Turkish minister to explain the realities in Myanmar” to the OIC, the report added.
OIC head Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu on Sunday proposed sending a mission to probe “massacres... oppression and ethnic cleansing” of Rohingya in Rakhine, adding weight to calls by Egypt and Saudi Arabia for an investigation into the unrest.
The initial outbreak of fighting in western Rakhine state killed some 80 people from both sides in June, official figures show.
Renewed violence between Buddhists and Muslim Rohingya left several people dead in Myanmar on Sunday, underscoring tensions in the area.
Human rights groups have alleged the number of dead could be much higher, but Friday’s report said “only 77 persons” from both sides died.
The bloodshed has cast a shadow over widely praised reforms by President Thein Sein, including the release of hundreds of political prisoners and the election of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi to parliament.
Myanmar’s government has rejected accusations of abuse by security forces in Rakhine, after the United Nations raised fears of a crackdown on Muslims.
The entire state has been under emergency rule since early June with a heavy army and police presence.
New York-based Human Rights Watch has accused Myanmar forces of opening fire on Rohingya, as well as committing rape and standing by as rival mobs attacked each other.
Decades of discrimination have left the Rohingya stateless, and they are viewed by the United Nations as one of the world’s most persecuted minorities.
Speaking a Bengali dialect similar to one in neighboring Bangladesh, the Rohingya are seen as illegal immigrants by the Myanmar government and many Burmese, and many have attempted to flee overseas in rickety boats.