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UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Myanmar's foreign minister promised Monday his country is working to end violence between Buddhists and Muslims in Rakhine state and urged the world against "jumping to conclusions" about a situation that has drawn global condemnation.
Wunna Maung Lwin also insisted Myanmar has addressed "all major concerns related to human rights" since it emerged from a half-century of dictatorship with a 2010 election, and he said the Southeast Asian state should be removed from the U.N. Human Rights Council's agenda. He spoke to the U.N. General Assembly of world leaders.
Buddhist mob attacks against Rohingya and other Muslims have sparked fears that religious intolerance is undermining Myanmar's democratic reforms. More than 140,000 Rohingya have been trapped in crowded camps since extremist mobs began chasing them from their homes two years ago, killing up to 280 people.
Myanmar authorities view the Rohingya, estimated to number 1.3 million, as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, not one of the country's officially recognized ethnic groups. Discrimination against the Rohingya has intensified as Myanmar has emerged from military rule, and some see in the communal violence the warning signs of genocide.
The foreign minister said his government is working on an "action plan" to bring peace to Rakhine state, where the violence has been especially severe.
"The history, the diversity and the complexity of the issue must be fully understood before jumping to conclusions," the minister said. "In addressing the root cause, we are working for peace, stability, harmony and development of all people in Rakhine state."
He also announced that Myanmar's parliament has approved the country's accession to the Biological Weapons Convention, the 1972 treaty that banned the development, production and stockpiling of such weapons.
The announcement came two months after four reporters and the chief executive of the weekly Yangon-based Unity journal were sentenced to 10 years of hard prison labor for violating Myanmar's national security for stories about a weapons factory. The magazine published stories in January alleging the military had seized more than 3,000 acres (1,200 hectares) of farmland in central Magwe Region to construct a weapons factory. It reported allegations that the factory would produce chemical weapons.
After the arrests, Deputy Information Minister Ye Htut acknowledged that the factory belonged to the Defense Ministry, but told the Thailand-based online news site The Irrawaddy that claims it had anything to do with chemical weapons were "totally baseless."
Human rights groups said the arrests were signs that reporters still face intimidation and arrests, even as official censorship has been lifted.