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FACTBOX - Myanmar's Rohingya - who are they?
BANGKOK (Reuters) - Myanmar's junta stepped into the deepening Rohingya crisis on Friday, denying any of the Muslim boat people washing up in Thailand, India and Indonesia were from its soil, but promising to take unspecified "measures".
Following are some facts about the Rohingya people, 550 of whom are feared to have drowned in the last two months after being towed out to sea by the Thai military and set adrift in rickety wooden boats:
-- The Rohingya are a Muslim minority in predominantly Buddhist Myanmar, formerly Burma. The military government does not recognise them as one of the country's around 130 ethnic minorities.
-- Most Rohingya come from Rakhine State, also known as Arakan State, in northwest Myanmar, abutting the border with Bangladesh.
In a 2004 report, Amnesty International said there were between 700,000 and 1.5 million Muslims in Rakine, most of them Rohingya.
-- Their roots are disputed and unclear, although Rohingya groups in exile trace their ancestry back as far as 9th century Arab merchants and settlers.
Such groups deny a prevailing Burmese version of history which suggests they descend from Bengali-speaking Muslim labourers brought in by Britain after it annexed the region as a province of British India in the 1820s.
-- When Burma won independence in 1948, the Bengali-speaking Muslim population near the border exceeded that of the Buddhists, leading to secessionist and political tensions.
This translated into harassment following the 1962 coup that has led to nearly five decades of military rule by the ethnic Burman majority. Thousands fled to Bangladesh to escape a 1978 military census of the Rohingya called "Operation Dragon".
-- In 1991, another wave of Rohingya fled to Bangladesh, where the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) says more than 200,000 now live a perilous, stateless existence.
The Bangladeshi government runs two camps funded by the UNHCR, but only 28,000 people are officially recognised.
-- Rohingya in northwest Myanmar are restricted from travelling inside the country, and those in Bangladesh have little prospect of ever returning home.
As a result, thousands have fled to try to start new lives, chancing their luck at sea in wooden boats.
Many are aiming for Malaysia, home to 14,300 officially registered Rohingya. Saudi Arabia also has a sizeable Rohingya population.
-- The Rohingya have seldom hit the headlines. One exception was in April 2004, when a group armed with axes and knives burst into the Myanmar embassy in Kuala Lumpur, attacked embassy officials and set fire to the building.
(Sources: Reuters News, Arakan Rohingya National Organisation, Amnesty International, UNHCR)
(Additional reporting by Aung Hla Tun in Yangon; Writing by Ed Cropley; Editing by Darren Schuettler)
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