International pressure has been growing on Buddhist-majority Burma to end the violence in the western state of Rakhine that began on Aug. 25 when Rohingya militants attacked about 30 police posts and an army camp.
Burma’s national leader Aung San Suu Kyi, facing outrage over ethnic violence that has forced about 370,000 Rohingya Muslims to flee to Bangladesh, will not attend the upcoming UN General Assembly because of the crisis, her office said on Wednesday.
The exodus of refugees, sparked by security forces’ fierce response to a series of Rohingya militant attacks, is the biggest problem Suu Kyi has faced since becoming Burma’s leader last year. Critics have called for her to be stripped of her Nobel peace prize for failing to do more to halt the strife.
In her first address to the UN General Assembly as national leader in September last year, Suu Kyi defended her government’s efforts to resolve the crisis over treatment of the Muslim minority.
This year, her office said she would not be attending because of the security threats posed by the insurgents and her efforts to restore peace and stability.
Human rights groups slam UN
Two leading human rights groups on Tuesday slammed the UN Security Council for inaction over the crisis.
Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International deplored the council’s failure to speak out and demand an end to the violence in western Rakhine state as the top UN body prepared to hold a closed-door session on Wednesday.
Britain and Sweden requested the meeting on Burma yesterday, two weeks after the council met, also behind closed doors. No formal statement was issued following that meeting on August 30.
“This is ethnic cleansing on a large scale, it seems, and the Security Council cannot open its doors and stand in front of the cameras? It’s appalling frankly,” HRW’s UN director Louis Charbonneau told reporters.
On Wednesday, a senior UN official said aid agencies have to step up operations “massively” in response to the arrival of the refugees in Bangladesh, and the amount of money needed to help them has risen sharply.
“We will all have to ramp up our response massively, from food to shelter,” George William Okoth-Obbo, assistant high commissioner for operations at the UN refugee agency, told Reuters.
Accounts of atrocities
The exodus from Rakine state began after Rohingya militants attacked police posts on August 25, prompting a military backlash that has sent a third of the Muslim minority population fleeing for their lives.
'A textbook example of ethnic cleansing' says UNHCR chief
Exhausted Rohingya refugees crossing into Bangladesh have given accounts of atrocities at the hands of soldiers and Buddhist mobs who burned their villages to the ground.
“Without some sort of public proclamation by Security Council members, the message you are sending to the Bumese government is deadly, and they will continue to do it,” said Sherine Tadros, head of Amnesty International’s UN office.
Other than condemning the violence, the council could adopt a resolution threatening sanctions against those responsible for the repression, said Human Rights Watch.
China is expected to support Yangon
At the meeting on Wednesday, China is expected to push back against appeals for UN involvement and declare its support for the Yangon government, which maintains its military operation is aimed at countering an insurgency.
Last week, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres took the rare step of writing a letter to the council urging members to send a message to Burma authorities to end the security operation.
Guterres spoke to Burma’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi last week and is expected to once again make an appeal to end the crisis during a press conference at UN headquarters on Wednesday, his spokesman said.
The United Nations set up a fact-finding mission in March to investigate allegations of atrocities in Rakhine state, but the investigators have not been allowed into the country.
Burma’s second vice president, Henry van Thio, will attend next week’s gathering of world leaders at the United Nations and is due to deliver his address at the General Assembly on September 20.
US cans planned military ties
In the United States, the Republican chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee is canning plans to expand U.S. military ties with Burma because of its persecution of minority Rohingya Muslims.
Sen. John McCain said in a statement Tuesday that he had hoped for greater US engagement with Burma after it transitioned to civilian government last year, ending decades of military rule in the Southeast Asian nation.
But he says circumstances have changed and described them as a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”
McCain says the international community has called upon civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi to stop the violence and hold human rights abusers accountable, “but there has been no action to-date.”
Bangladesh’s leader on Tuesday demanded that Burma allow the return of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims who fled recent violence in the Buddhist-majority nation - a crisis she said left her speechless.
Camps sheltering Rohingya 'stretched to the limit' in Bangladesh
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said Bangladesh would offer the refugees temporary shelter and aid, but that Burma should soon “take their nationals back.”
“We will not tolerate injustice,” she said Tuesday at the Kutupalong refugee camp, near the border town of Ukhiya in Cox’s Bazar district.
Despite worries that a humanitarian crisis is unfolding, Burma has rejected a ceasefire declared by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army insurgents to enable the delivery of aid there, saying it did not negotiate with terrorists.
The Trump administration has called for protection of civilians, and Bangladesh says all of the refugees will have to go home and it has called for safe zones in Burma to enable them to do so.
But China, which competes with the United States for influence in the Southeast Asian nation, said on Tuesday it backed Burma’s efforts to safeguard “development and stability”.
The military is in full control of security
The military, which ruled with an iron fist for almost 50 years until it began a transition to democracy in 2011, retains important political powers and is in full control of security.
While Suu Kyi and her civilian government have no say over security, critics say she could speak out against the violence and demand respect for the rule of law.
But anti-Rohingya sentiment is common in Burma, where Buddhist nationalism has surged since the end of military rule.
Suu Kyi, who the military blocked from becoming president and who says Burma is at the beginning of the road to democracy, could risk being denounced as unpatriotic if she were seen to be criticising a military operation that enjoys widespread public support.
The UN Security Council is to meet on Wednesday behind closed doors for the second time since the latest crisis erupted. British UN Ambassador Matthew Rycroft said he hoped there would be a public statement agreed by the council.
However, rights groups denounced the 15-member council for not holding a public meeting. Diplomats have said China and Russia would likely object to such a move and protect Burma if there was any push for council action to try and end the crisis.
Meanwhile by Wednesday, an online petition on the site Change.org calling for Aung San Suu Kyi to be stripped of her 1991 Nobel peace prize had gathered over 418,000 signatures.
(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS, AP)
Date created : 2017-09-13