Myan­mar says 40% of Ro­hingya vil­lages tar­geted by army are now empty

The Guardian Australia - - World News - Oliver Holmes, Katharine Mur­phy and Damien Gayle

Scores of vil­lages that were in­hab­ited by Myan­mar’s Mus­lim Ro­hingya mi­nor­ity are now com­pletely empty, a govern­ment spokesman has said.

Of 471 vil­lages tar­geted in “clear­ance op­er­a­tions” by the Burmese army since late Au­gust, 176 were now empty and at least 34 oth­ers par­tially aban­doned, Zaw Htay said.

The vi­o­lent crack­down, launched in re­sponse to at­tacks by mil­i­tants, has sent at least 370,000 Ro­hingya scram­bling across the bor­der to Bangladesh and prompted a bar­rage of crit­i­cism of Aung San Suu Kyi, Myan­mar’s de facto leader.

The No­bel lau­re­ate had been due to at­tend the UN gen­eral assem­bly next week, but Zaw Htay said she would now skip the event.

“The first rea­son is be­cause of the Rakhine ter­ror­ist at­tacks,” he said. “The sec­ond rea­son is there are peo­ple in­cit­ing ri­ots in some ar­eas … The third is that we are hear­ing that there will be ter­ror­ist at­tacks and we are try­ing to ad­dress this is­sue.”

The sec­ond vice-president, Henry Van Tio, in­stead will rep­re­sent Myan­mar at the UN.

Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been crit­i­cised for blam­ing “ter­ror­ists” for what she called “a huge ice­berg of mis­in­for­ma­tion” about the vi­o­lence in re­cent weeks, will give a tele­vised ad­dress in Myan­mar next week that will cover the same top­ics she would have ad­dressed at the UN.

Last year, in her first speech to the UN gen­eral assem­bly as Myan­mar’s leader, Aung San Suu Kyi won praise for pledg­ing to up­hold the rights of mi­nori­ties.

Five fel­low No­bel peace prize win­ners have added their voices to a cho­rus of in­ter­na­tional calls for Aung San Suu Kyi to de­fend the rights of the Ro­hingya peo­ple. Mairead Maguire, Jody Wil­liams, Shirin Ebadi, Leymah Gbowee and Tawakkol Kar­man signed a let­ter ask­ing her: “How many Ro­hingya have to die; how many Ro­hingya women will be raped; how many com­mu­ni­ties will be razed be­fore you raise your voice in de­fence of those who have no voice?”

Bangladesh has urged Myan­mar to take back the Ro­hingya who have fled in re­cent weeks, but on Wed­nes­day Zaw Htay sug­gested not all of them would be able to re­turn im­me­di­ately.

“We have to ver­ify them; we can only ac­cept them af­ter they are ver­i­fied,” he said. His com­ment was an ap­par­ent ref­er­ence to plans an­nounced on Tues­day to speed up progress on ver­i­fy­ing Ro­hingya un­der Myan­mar’s cit­i­zen­ship laws.

As crit­i­cism of Myan­mar mounts, a hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis is brew­ing on both sides of the bor­der. Bangladesh is strug­gling to pro­vide hu­man­i­tar­ian re­lief for the refugees, 60% of whom are chil­dren, while nearly 30,000 eth­nic Rakhine Bud­dhists as well as Hin­dus have been dis­placed in­side Myan­mar.

On Wed­nes­day the UN sec­re­tary gen­eral, An­tónio Guter­res, called on Myan­mar to sus­pend its mil­i­tary ac­tion, de­scrib­ing the hu­man­i­tar­ian sit­u­a­tion as “cat­a­strophic” and call­ing on all coun­tries to sup­ply aid. Ear­lier this week his col­league Zeid Ra’ad al-Hus­sein, the UN hu­man rights chief, ac­cused Myan­mar of wag­ing a “sys­tem­atic at­tack” on the Ro­hingya that ap­peared to amount to eth­nic cleans­ing.

Aung San Suu Kyi, Myan­mar’s first civil­ian leader in decades, does not con­trol the ac­tions of the mil­i­tary, which ran the coun­try for 50 years be­fore al­low­ing free elec­tions in 2015.

There is scant sym­pa­thy among Myan­mar’s Bud­dhist ma­jor­ity for the Ro­hingya, a state­less Mus­lim group branded “Ben­galis” – short­hand for il­le­gal im­mi­grants.

Refugees have given chill­ing ac­counts of sol­diers fir­ing on civil­ians and raz­ing vil­lages in north­ern Rakhine state with the help of Bud­dhist mobs.

The army de­nies the al­le­ga­tions and Aung San Suu Kyi has also played down claims of atroc­i­ties.

As­so­ci­ated Press re­porters on the Bangladesh side of the bor­der said they had seen an elderly woman with dev­as­tat­ing leg wounds, one half-blown off and the other also badly in­jured. Rel­a­tives said she had stepped on a land­mine.

Re­spond­ing to re­ports that Myan­mar’s mil­i­tary had planted land­mines in the path of Ro­hingya flee­ing vi­o­lence, Aus­tralia’s for­eign min­is­ter, Julie Bishop, said it would be a “gross vi­o­la­tion of in­ter­na­tional law” if con­firmed.

The White House is­sued a state­ment call­ing for “Burmese se­cu­rity au­thor­i­ties to re­spect the rule of law, stop the vi­o­lence and end the dis­place­ment of civil­ians from all com­mu­ni­ties”.

The US sen­a­tor John McCain said he would seek to “re­move mil­i­tary co­op­er­a­tion” with Myan­mar by chang­ing the lan­guage of an up­com­ing bill au­tho­ris­ing in­creased US de­fence spend­ing. Sen­a­tors are sched­uled to vote on the bill this week.

At the Euro­pean par­lia­ment, the Bri­tish MEP Am­jad Bashir called for in­ter­na­tional sanc­tions against Myan­mar and said he would present an ur­gent res­o­lu­tion to the par­lia­ment on Thurs­day.

“The world is wak­ing up to the hor­rors be­ing vis­ited upon the Ro­hingya. This is eth­nic cleans­ing in the 21st cen­tury,” Bashir said.

Pho­to­graph: Hein Htet/EPA

Aung San Suu Kyi, fac­ing an in­ter­na­tional out­cry, has can­celled a planned speech to the UN gen­eral assem­bly.

Pho­to­graph: Anadolu Agency/ Getty Im­ages

Ro­hingya Mus­lims flee from Myan­mar’s Rakhine state to Bangladesh by boat.

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