NEW YORK - UN human rights experts have called on Burma to protect Rohingya Muslims after days of deadly sectarian clashes with the Buddhist majority, warning the government against using the violence to remove the minority from the country.
"The Rohingya constitute a minority that must be protected according to international minority rights standards," Rita Izsak, UN independent expert on minority issues, was quoted as saying by Reuters.
"The Government must take steps to review relevant laws and procedures to provide equal access by the Rohingya community to citizenship and promote dialogue and reconciliation between communities."
At least 89 people have been killed in clashes between Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims in the western state of Rakhine in the past ten days.
Both Rohingyas and Buddhists say the attacks were initiated by Buddhist outsiders who torched homes one morning and killed three people, including an elderly woman who was unable to flee.
The violence forced nearly 29,000 people to flee their homes, more than 97 percent of homes are Rohingya Muslims, according to the UN.
Many now live in camps, joining 75,000 mostly Rohingya displaced in June after a previous explosion of sectarian violence in June that killed at least 80 people.
"The government has an obligation to protect all of those affected by recent violence, including the Muslim Rohingya community which is particularly vulnerable, to guarantee their safety and respond urgently to their needs, including shelter, food and medical care," Izsak said.
"It must act rapidly to ensure that this situation does not deteriorate leading to further loss of life and displacement of communities."
Human rights groups have accused Burmese police and troops of disproportionate use of force and arrests of Rohingyas in the wake of the riots.
Human Rights Watch has accused Burmese security forces of targeting Rohingya Muslims with killing, rape and arrest following the unrest.
The UN experts have warned the Burmese government against using the recent bout of violence as a pretext to remove the Rohingya Muslims from the country.
"This situation must not become an opportunity to permanently remove an unwelcome community," Tomas Ojea Quintana, UN special rapporteur on Burma, said.
He voiced deep concern about the assertion of the government and others that the Rohingya are illegal immigrants and stateless persons.
"If the country is to be successful in the process of democratic transition, it must be bold in addressing the human rights challenges that exist," Ojea Quintana said.
"In the case of Rakhine State, this involves addressing the long-standing endemic discrimination against the Rohingya community that exists within sections of local and national government as well as society at large."
Burma's Buddhist-majority government regards the estimated 800,000 Rohingyas in the country as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
They have been denied citizenship rights since an amendment to the citizenship laws in 1982 and are treated as illegal immigrants in their own home.
The United Nations calls Rohingya Muslims "virtually friendless in Burma".
Neighboring countries have also been hostile to Rohingya Muslims, including Bangladesh, which has refused to grant Rohingyas refugee status since 1992.
The UN refugee agency estimates that 6,000 people are stranded on boats or on islets along Burma's western coast.
"We are appealing to neighboring countries, Bangladesh being very much one of them, to keep borders open, UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards told a news briefing on Tuesday.It is clearly important that people do have access to safe haven.