There needs to be more “interfaith contact and dialogue” between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims, U.N. special adviser to the secretary-general for Myanmar, Vijay Nambiar, told Al Arabiya on Wednesday.
“There is now a need, a strong need, and I think that is being recognized by the government and in fact by some elements even of Buddhist community that there needs to more interfaith contact and dialogue,” Nambiar said.
Last year in Rakhine state, nearly 200 people were killed and tens of thousands were forced from their homes after clashes between often the majority Buddhist Rakhine and the sizable minority Rohingya Muslims.
Rohingya Muslims, who are not recognized as citizens, live largely segregated from Buddhists in Rakhine after the deadly violence, with many of them living in tents or temporary camps.
The conflict has spread to other places in the country.
In March, at least 43 people - mostly Muslims – were killed in violence that erupted after an argument at a Muslim-owned shop in Meiktila, a town in central Myanmar.
While Myanmar classifies Rohignya Muslims as “immigrants,” Nambiar said their status “is not in question,” as “they have been there for generations if not centuries.”
Instead, he said the deadly backlash was over “some of the political issues relating to Rakhine, which also got extended there.”
He added: “the outbreak of violence, which was actually in a sense a normal law and order problem, became a major problem of communal tensions and was aggravated by a whole series of factors, including what was the old existing factor of the status of the Rohingya community in Rakhine.”
The special advisor, who was in Myanmar early September, said: “I was able to get together with the help of government- the government also supported this - a meeting of Buddhist, Muslim leaders as well as those from the Catholic Christian community.”
He said that they agreed on the need to “take pro-active action to prevent [conflict].”
According to Nambiar, Myanmar has realized that the sectarian tension is “affecting both its national prestige” and its current reform program.
He cautioned that within the Muslim communities there is “a strong sense of vulnerability” and added that “a sense of accountability” is sorely needed.
“People who have actually perpetrated acts have to be punished, that has to happen, only then will there be a sense of assuagement of the sense of insecurity and a sense of justice.”