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Buddha Would Have Helped the Rohingya Muslims, Dalai Lama Says

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Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims have fled violence in Myanmar over the last month, seeking refuge in neighboring Bangladesh. And while the government of Myanmar and its de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, have refused to intervene in the conflict or condemn the violence, the Dalai Lama has taken notice.

According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, in the last two weeks, more than 250,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled the state of Rakhine. The state is the major site of violence in Myanmar, where military forces are carrying out “counter-terrorism operations,” which refugees and human rights groups have criticized as an excuse to systematically kill and rape Rohingya people.

The country’s 1.1 million Rohingya Muslims have suffered persecution in predominantly Buddhist Myanmar for several decades. And on Friday, the Dalai Lama spoke out against the violence for the first time.

"Those people who are sort of harassing some Muslims, they should remember Buddha," he told journalists. "He would definitely give help to those poor Muslims. So still I feel that. So very sad.”

As a top leader in the Buddhist religion, his comments are of particular note given that the violence in Rakhine has arisen out of ethnic and religious tensions.

The conflict between Burmese Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims in the country stems from both religious and ethnic tensions. Although many Rohingya families have lived in Myanmar for generations, many Burmese consider the stateless Rohingya to be illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, according to BBC.

Rohingya Muslims are denied Burmese citizenship, and tens of thousands are confined to camps in Rakhine.

In 2014, Human Rights Watch criticized the government of Myanmar for its “discriminatory and abusive” policies that forced the resettlements of Rohingya people into camps, which have been likened to concentration camps. Phil Robertson, the organization’s deputy Asia director, said that the policies were “nothing less than a blueprint for permanent segregation and statelessness … designed to strip the Rohingya of hope and force them to flee the country.” And they have been fleeing in masses recently.

Despite her reputation as a human rights activity and champion of democracy, Suu Kyi has refused to acknowledge the extent of the problem and the government’s role in perpetuating the discrimination. Instead, she has insisted that the government’s military operations against the “Bengalis,” as she refers to the Rohingya, are based on the “rule of law,” according to the New York Times.

In an interview with the BBC earlier this year Suu Kyi said she believes “ethnic cleansing is too strong an expression to use” to describe the situation in Rakhine; however, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid bin Ra’ad al-Hussein has called the violence against the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”

Over the past few weeks, some have called for the revocation of Suu Kyi’s Nobel Peace Prize because of her failure to recognize the severity of the conflict and take action. In light of these calls, the comments of the Dalai Lama, also Nobel Peace Prize winner, are even more poignant.