Visit to Myanmar made OIC head cry

Visit to Myanmar made OIC head cry

YANGON, Myanmar - The Associated Press
Visit to Myanmar made OIC head cry

İhsanoğlu says he and other members of the OIC met by crowds with emotion. AP photo

The secretary general of the world’s largest bloc of Islamic countries said emotional visits with members of the long-persecuted Rohingya Muslim community, chased from their homes Buddhist mobs and arsonists, brought him to tears.

“I’ve never had such a feeling,” said Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu, as he and other delegates from the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) wrapped up a four-day tour to Myanmar that included talks with the president, ministers, interfaith groups and U.N. agencies.

But it was the huge, emotional crowds living in trash-strewn camps outside the Rakhine state capital, Sittwe that made the biggest impression, he said: “I was crying.” Myanmar, a predominantly Buddhist nation of 60 million, emerged from a half-century of military rule in 2011, but it’s transition to democracy has been marred by sectarian violence that has left more than 240 people dead and sent another 240,000 fleeing their homes.

Most of the victims have been Rohingya. Though many of their families arrived generations ago, all have been denied citizenship by the government. İhsanoğlu said, when visiting the Sittwe camps, he and other members of the OIC delegation were met by crowds of 5,000, swelling with emotion, but due to the language barrier, unable to communicate. 

‘Very moving’

“They were desperate. They were afraid. They were happy we were there, but it was a happiness expressed in crying,” he said, adding that he was eventually able to offer the Islamic greeting, “Assalam Alaikum,” or “May God grant protection and security,” and the crowd responded in kind. “I can’t explain the feeling I had,” he said. “It was very moving.” The OIC visit to Myanmar was marred by frequent demonstrations, thousands turning out to meet the delegates when they landed in Yangon and then Sittwe. Still, İhsanoğlu called it a success - mostly because it came at the invitation of a government that has largely remained silent about the repeated attacks on minority Muslims. He said he received assurances the government was seeking to resolve issues of citizenship for its 800,000 Rohingya, but gave no details.

 “If this issue is not solved it will be a big problem,” he said. Rohingya, excluded from the country’s 135 recognized ethnic groups, have for decades endured systematic discriminatory and exclusionary policies, restricting movement, access to education and jobs. Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi - who has said little in defense of the religious minority - declined to meet with the OIC delegation.