Updated: 08/30/2014 15:10 | By Agence France-Presse

Myanmar census shows population 9 mn fewer than estimated

Myanmar's first census in three decades shows the country has a population of 51 million people, authorities said Saturday, around nine million fewer than an earlier estimate.

Myanmar census shows population 9 mn fewer than estimated

Buddhist devotees visit Myanmar's Shwedagon pagoda on the first day of Buddhist lent in Yangon on July 11, 2014 - by Soe Than Win

The former junta-ruled nation's last survey was conducted in 1983 and in more recent estimates the government had put the population at around 60 million.

The census, which triggered international concern after authorities refused to allow minority Muslims to register their ethnicity as Rohingya, was conducted in March and April.

"The provisional result of the population in Myanmar is 51,419,420. The female population is 1.7 million more than the male population," immigration minister Khin Yi said at a press conference Saturday.

The full results, including breakdowns by religion and ethnicity, will be released in May next year.

Around 1.2 million people were missed out of the census in parts of western Rakhine state and conflict-torn Kachin and Karen states, according to Khine Khine Soe, an immigration ministry director.

She said the 60 million population estimate was based on the 1983 census and an earlier population growth rate, adding that a declining birth rate may help explain the lower count from the census.

Animosity between Buddhists and Muslims in Rakhine erupted into bloodshed in 2012, leaving dozens dead in clashes and around 140,000 people displaced -- mostly Rohingya.

"We left these areas so as not to harm stability... Even 30 years ago, not all regions and villages were included in the census because of conflicts," Khin Yi said.

Myanmar views the Rohingya as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, despite many being able to trace their family back for generations in Myanmar.

Critics had warned the United Nations and donors in the run-up to the census that the tally had the potential to spark unrest, pointing out controversy over questions of ethnicity and religion in the survey.

An eruption of violence just days before the census began forced humanitarian workers to flee Rakhine, leaving tens of thousands of displaced people without adequate healthcare, food and water.

The riots also left one 11-year-old girl dead. She was killed by a stray bullet after police fired warning shots to disperse angry crowds in Sittwe.

Local Buddhist nationalists accuse the international aid community of favouring Muslims. 

The census was largely carried out by an army of teachers and its 41 questions were designed to give policymakers a full picture of the country as it emerges from decades of direct military rule, which ended in 2011.

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