BANGKOK (AP) — A spokesman for Myanmar’s military-installed government said Friday that COVID-19 vaccines will be given to members of the country’s persecuted Rohingya ethnic group.
The Muslim minority was the target of a fierce counter-insurgency campaign in 2017 that some critics charged amounted to ethnic cleansing or genocide. The Rohingya face widespread discrimination and most are denied citizenship and other basic rights.
Government spokesman Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tun made the announcement at a news conference in the capital Naypyitaw, where he also said the authorities are trying to vaccinate 50% of the country’s population this year.
Myanmar, whose poor public health system was weakened further by the political turmoil caused by the army’s February takeover from the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi, has been facing a devastating outbreak of the coronavirus, although in the past month the daily number of reported new cases and deaths has been falling.
Health authorities on Thursday reported 2,635 more COVID-19 cases, bringing the total to 383,514 since the pandemic began. Another 113 deaths brought the total to 14,850. About 8.2% of the country’s 54 million people have received at least one dose of vaccine, according to the website “Our World in Data,” which compiles global statistics..
More than 700,000 Rohingya fled to neighboring Bangladesh after security forces in Buddhist-majority Myanmar in August 2017 began their harsh crackdown following an attack by insurgents. The crackdown included rapes, killings and the torching of thousands of homes.
An estimated 600,000 Rohingya remain in Myanmar but more than 100,000 of them live in squalid and crowded displacement camps.
Zaw Min Tun said “Bengalis” living in the western state of Rakhine, including the population townships of Maungdaw and Buthidaung, will be vaccinated. The government uses the term Bengali for members of the Rohingya minority, which it doesn’t recognize as an official minority group native to Myanmar. Many members of other ethnic groups consider them to be illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
International courts are seeking to determine whether genocide was committed by the government forces in 2017. A U.N.-established investigation has recommended the prosecution of Myanmar’s top military commanders on charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.