06 September 2017

News Report: UN Chief Calls on Myanmar to End Violence in Rakhine State

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres voiced concern Tuesday about the potential for ethnic cleansing against the minority Rohingya in Myanmar's Rakhine state, as ongoing violence forces thousands to flee to neighboring Bangladesh.

"I think that we are facing a risk; I hope we don't get there," said Guterres, when asked whether the human rights situation in Rakhine constituted ethnic cleansing. The secretary-general also appealed to the civilian and military authorities in Myanmar to end the violence he said was creating a situation that could destabilize the region.

The United Nations estimates that nearly 125,000 minority Rohingya refugees have fled Rakhine state for Bangladesh in the last two weeks.

"They are scattered in local villages, refugee camps in makeshift sites in southeastern Bangladesh," Vivian Tan, UNHCR Asia regional press officer, told VOA Burmese. "Many of them are arriving in very bad condition. They say that they have walked for days. They have not eaten food since they left [their] homes. Many of them say they have been surviving on water they can find. They are in very bad physical condition."

Tan said that two official refugee camps in Bangladesh are stretched beyond their limits, with arrivals increasing every day.

"Basically, there is no physical space left to accept more [refugees]," Tan said.

Bangladesh's Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina urged the international community to mount pressure on Myanmar to stop pushing the Rohingya into Bangladesh and take back the refugees. Bangladesh's border guards have detained more than 2,600 Rohingya entering Bangladesh, and nearly 2,000 have been sent back to Myanmar this week, sources have told VOA Bangla.

Bangladeshi border guards and locals have confirmed reports by Rakhine state residents that explosions rocked areas near the border, accompanied by thick, black smoke and the sound of gunfire.

"Refugees who fled from south of Maungdaw told me that their villages were burned down and security forces threatened to kill them by launchers. That was why they dare not live there anymore and had to leave," Tin Soe, editor of the Bangladesh-based Kaladan news network, told VOA Burmese.

Other leaders in the international community have condemned the violence, calling on Myanmar's de facto leader, Aung Sun Suu Kyi, to condemn the trouble and act to address it.

The European Union Tuesday issued a statement calling on both sides to de-escalate tensions.

"Many Rohingya civilians are suffering greatly and are now fleeing the violence across the border into Bangladesh. They must not be turned back or deported. We greatly appreciate the hospitality extended by the government and people of Bangladesh for many decades," said Christos Stylianides, the EU commissioner for humanitarian aid and crisis management.

In a statement posted on her official Twitter account, activist Malala Yousafzai called on Suu Kyi, her fellow Nobel laureate, to condemn the violence against the Muslim Rohingya minority.

"If their home is not Myanmar, where they have lived for generations, then where is it?" she asked.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi began a two-day state visit to Myanmar on Tuesday on his way back from China, where he attended a summit with leaders of emerging economies. Modi, who is also trying to expand commercial and strategic ties in Myanmar, was expected to take up the issue of the Rohingya with Suu Kyi. India has said it wants to deport about 40,000 Rohingya who left Myanmar over the years.

Increased violence began a week ago, when a group called the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army launched attacks on police posts in Rakhine, which is home to most of the Rohingya minority group. The police responded with attacks on villages to hunt down the insurgents.

Buddhist-majority Myanmar considers the Rohingya to be migrants from Bangladesh, and not one of Myanmar's many ethnic minority groups. Rohingya are denied citizenship, even if they can show that their families have been in the country for generations.

Sectarian violence between Buddhists and Muslims has flared periodically for more than a decade. Until last month’s attacks, the worst violence was last October, when insurgents attacked several police posts, sparking a military crackdown that sent thousands fleeing to Bangladesh.

The Myanmar government has denied allegations of abuse against the Rohingya and has limited access to Rakhine to journalists and other outsiders. But the country’s ambassador to the United Nations says the government plans to implement the recommendations from a U.N. commission to improve conditions and end the violence.

This story first appeared on Voice of America & is reposted here with permission.