Ethnic cleansing continues in Myanmar
Roughly 150,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled Myanmar over the past two weeks, as state security forces continue to carry out ethnic cleansing operations in the country’s Rakhine province. This wave of violence began August 25 after an attack by Rohingya militants against government forces, and is nominal ly aimed at stamping out terrorist activity in the region. However, it appears that civilians are being targeted on a massive scale. The international press has largely been barred from the region, but the refugees who continue to pour into neighbouring Bangladesh have reported massacres and the destruction of entire villages. While Myanmar’s government has claimed that only 400 people have been killed in Rakhine province so far, the U.N. estimates the actual death toll to be at leas t 1000.
For decades, the R ohingya have faced intense systemic discrimination in the Buddhist-majority Myanmar, where they are denied citizenship and access to many basic amenities. They are widely known as “the world’ s most persecuted minority .” The current ethnic cleansing campaign is not without precedent; a year ago, over 80,000 Rohingya fled the country after nine police officers w ere killed by alleged Muslim militants, prompting another violent crackdown in the Rakhine province.
While not unprecedented, this latest outbreak of violence seems to be drawing significantly more criticism from the international community than previous conflicts. In particular, Aung San Suu Kyi, the country’s de facto leader, has been sharply criticized for her refusal to condemn the violence and take steps to end the persecution of the Rohingya. In recent weeks, many around the world have argued that her Nobel Peace Prize, awarded in 1991 for upholding non- violence and human rights, should be revoked.
Bangladesh, the biggest country of origin for refugees seeking safety in Europe, has struggled with the recent wave of refugees from Myanmar. In some regions, border controls have been tightened, leaving many Rohingya stranded with nowhere to run, while those who make it into the country face desperately overcrowded refugee camps. On September 6, the Bangladesh i government accused Myanmar of laying land mines along the border between the two countries, further exacerbating the plight of the Rohingya. Officials from Myanmar have denied these allegations, though several injuries from landmines have been reported in recent days.