US raises concerns to Myanmar over proposed restrictions on interfaith marriage

WASHINGTON (AFP) - The United States has voiced concerns to Myanmar on proposed restrictions on interfaith marriage amid growing worries about actions that target minority Muslims.

The State Department said it raised concerns "at the highest levels" of Myanmar's government, which is considering a ban on marriages across religious lines amid a surge of Buddhist nationalism since the country launched democratic reforms.

"The United States opposes any measure that would criminalize interfaith marriages. Such a step would be inconsistent with the government's efforts to promote tolerance and respect for human rights," State Department spokesman Jen Psaki said in a statement late Wednesday in response to reporters' questions.

The authorities in Myanmar have proposed a variety of restrictive measures seen as targeting the Rohingya, a mostly Muslim minority who are not considered citizens by the government. Anti-Muslim violence has left around 250 people dead in the last two years.

The United Nations considers the Rohingya one of the world's most persecuted minorities. Myanmar's western Rakhine state has barred the Rohingya from having more than two children and Myanmar's Parliament is also considering a proposal to restrict religious conversions.

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom, which advises the US government on policy, said that the anti-conversion law "has no place in the 21st century".

"This draft law, and the three others that may follow, risk stoking continuing violence and discrimination against Muslims and other religious minorities, including Christians," said the commission's chairman Robert George.

US President Barack Obama raised concerns about treatment of minorities on a landmark visit to Myanmar in 2012 but he has also hailed the government for undertaking democratic reforms and removed most economic sanctions.

Myanmar, earlier known as Burma, has freed political prisoners, eased censorship, reconciled with Western nations and allowed long-detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi to enter Parliament.