THOUSANDS of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh to escape military operations that have left scores of people dead and as many as 30,000 displaced. A senior UN official accused Myanmar on Thursday of seeking to ethnically cleanse the country of its Muslim minority, as Bangladesh stepped up border patrols and summoned the Myanmar ambassador to complain about the exodus. “Despite our border guards’ sincere effort to prevent the influx, thousands of distressed Myanmar citizens including women, children and elderly people continue to cross the border,” the Bangladeshi foreign ministry said.
The Rohingya are a minority of about a million people who, despite living in the country for generations, are treated as illegal immigrants and denied citizenship. They have been persecuted for years by the government and nationalist Buddhists. On Tuesday, Bangladesh said it had sent 20 boats carrying Rohingya back to Myanmar. They said they were fleeing military sweeps, which were launched in response to a coordinated attack by armed men on 9 October who killed nine police officers.
Seven Rohingya were feared drowned after a boat sank during an attempt to cross a river while trying to escape. “There was a group of people from our village who crossed the river by boat to come here, but suddenly the boat sank,” Humayun Kabir told Reuters, adding that three of his children were missing. John McKissick, the head of the UN refugee agency’s office in the Bangladeshi coastal resort town of Cox’s Bazar, said the country should assist and protect them. “Difficult as it is for the Bangladesh government to absorb large numbers, it seems to me there is no other choice, because the only other choice is death and suffering,” he said.
In an interview on Thursday with the BBC, however, McKissick said keeping the border open “would further encourage the government of Myanmar to continue the atrocities and push them out until they have achieved their ultimate goal of ethnic cleansing of the Muslim minority in Myanmar.” The bloodshed is the most deadly since hundreds were killed in communal clashes in 2012. Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel peace prize winner and de facto leader of Myanmar, has been criticised for not doing more to stop military action in the area.
The army has deployed infantry and helicopters to fight what it says is an armed insurgency, but Rohingya say soldiers have raped and killed civilians. About 90 people have died. Human Rights Watch has released satellite images which it said show hundreds of razed homes in Rohingya villages. Myanmar denies reports of abuses, saying Rohingya were setting fire to their own homes to attract international attention. The presidential spokesman Zaw Htay said Myanmar was “releasing correct news immediately” to prevent the spread of misinformation. “International community misunderstood us because of Rohingya lobbyists who distributed fabricated news,” he said. “No one in world would accept attacks on security forces, killings and looting of weapons.” Reports cannot be independently verified because the government restricts access for journalists and aid workers. Aung San Suu Kyi has said a government-led investigation is under way. The UN has warned that more than 3,000 severely malnourished children may die without help. Food and medical aid to more than 150,000 people has been suspended for more than 40 days in the area, which is under military lockdown. Last year, thousands of Rohingya trying to flee Rakhine – the province that borders Bangladesh – were stranded at sea while trying to reach Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand. There are about 300,000 Rohingya living in Bangladesh.
The recent rise in violence has increased calls for Myanmar to recognise Rohingya’s rights and prevent inter-communal and state violence. US State Department spokeswoman Nicole Thompson expressed concern about “reports of ongoing violence and displacement in northern Rakhine state”. “We continue to urge the government to conduct a credible, independent investigation into events in Rakhine state, and renew our request for open media access.” — Courtesy: The Guardian