Myanmar bars Rakhine documentary from film festival

Yangon (AFP) - Myanmar's censors have barred a documentary on festering religious tensions between Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine state, a film festival organiser said Thursday, highlighting deep sensitivity over a conflict that has bedevilled Myanmar's new civilian government.

The 18-minute documentary, titled "Sittwe" after Rakhine's state capital, follows Buddhist and Muslim teenagers affected by the unrest that rippled through the region in 2012, displacing more than 100,000 people, mostly stateless Rohingya.

Northern Rakhine become a hotbed of violence again in October 2016 when the military launched a bloody crackdown on Rohingya to a crush a small uprising.

"They said this film could not be screened in public because of cultural and religious issues," Min Htin, the founder of the Human Rights Human Dignity International Film Festival, told AFP.

"But I have watched the film and I don't see how it could make any conflict between religions," he added.

Myanmar's new civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi has faced global pressure to investigate accusations of rights abuses by the army and carve out a solution for the Rohingya, who are denied citizenship.

But she has shied from discussing the subject publicly and rejected a UN probe of allegations that soldiers raped, tortured and murdered Rohingya during their recent crackdown.

The festival, which was founded in 2013 as the country was just emerging from decades of brutal junta rule, will kick off on June 14.

The ruling was issued by a 15-member review board in Myanmar's Information Ministry and is likely to disappoint the country's budding film community, who had hoped for a new era of artistic freedom under Suu Kyi.

Limits on free speech have lingered under her administration, with the army still controlling much of the bureaucracy.

The Rohingya, a group reviled by many Buddhist nationalists, remain an especially volatile subject.

"I understand the subject of Rakhine state is highly sensitive," said Jeanne Hallacy, the American director of the banned documentary.

"But it's actually a film about peace building," she told AFP. "It was meant to create discussion."