The Myanmar government on Monday insisted that the Rohingya minority group, the target of communal violence last month, have no claim to Myanmar citizenship.
“They are not included among our more than 130 ethnic races,” said Myanmar Immigration Minister Thein Htay .
Since 1982, the government has classified an estimated 750,000 Rohingyas living in its western Rakhine State as stateless Bengali Muslims from neighbouring Bangladesh, leaving them vulnerable to persecution, discrimination and abuse.
Last month, a mob of ethnic Rakhine Buddhists killed 10 of the Rohigyas in revenge for the alleged rape and murder of a Rakhine woman by three Rohigyas.
The incident sparked a wave of communal clashes that left up to 80 dead and hundreds of houses burned.
Myanmar authorities arrested three UNHCR staff during the unrest.
“The government has sound evidence that the three UN employees were involved in the Rakhine riots,” said Mr Thein Htay who is also the Border Affair Minister, in the first official explanation of the arrests.
“We haven’t had any access to them,” UNHCR spokeswoman Vivian Tan said in Bangkok. “We are still unaware of what they’ve been charged with.” she added.
UN human rights expert Tomas Ojea Quintana arrived in Myanmar over the weekend to investigate the Rakhine violence.
Although Myanmar, which was ruled by a junta between 1988 and 2010, is now under nominal civilian rule there is no indication that the new regime has changed its attitude towards the Rohingyas, many of whom have lived in Myanmar for generations.
“It is totally impossible to accept illegal Rohingyas,” President Thein Sein told visiting UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Antonio Guterres earlier this month. He suggested the UNHRC seek resettlement for the Rohinyas abroad, or set up refugee camps for them.
There are an estimated 30,000 Rohingyas already living in UNHCR camps in neighbouring Bangladesh, fleeing persecution in Myanmar.