Boat capsizes in bay: 60 feared drowned
Number of Rohingya seeking refuge in Bangladesh now exceeds half a million UN secretary-general considering invitation from Myanmar govt to visit country
More than 60 Rohingya refugees from Myanmar are feared to have drowned after their boat capsized, with 20 confirmed dead, Bangladesh police said on Friday, as a new surge in the numbers fleeing a Myanmar military campaign took the total to more than half a million.
The refugees drowned in heavy seas off Bangladesh late on Thursday while, in New York, United States Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley called on countries to suspend providing weapons to Myanmar over violence against Rohingya. It was the first time the US had called for punishment of Myanmar’s military, but she stopped short of threatening to reimpose US sanctions that were suspended under the Obama administration. Buddhist-majority Myanmar rejects accusations of ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.
Refugees arriving in Myanmar have told of attacks and arson by the military and Buddhist vigilantes aimed at driving Rohingya out.
Bangladeshi border officials said more refugees had arrived over the past day or two after the number seemed to be tailing off. Aid groups said 502,000 refugees had arrived since late August.
“It stopped for a while but they have started coming again,” Colonel Anisul Haque, head of the Bangladeshi border guards in the town of Teknaf, told Reuters, adding that about 1,000 people had landed at the main arrival point on the coast on Thursday.
The refugee boat that capsized went over in driving wind and rain and high seas. Police said 20 bodies had been recovered, 12 of them children, while 27 people survived and more than 50 were missing.
Survivor, Abdul Kalam, 55, said at least 100 people had been on board. His wife, two daughters and a grandson were among the dead, he said.
Kalam said armed Buddhists had come to his village about a week ago and taken away livestock and food. He said villagers had been summoned to a military office and told there were no such people as Rohingya in Myanmar. After that his family decided to leave and head to the coast.
Haley echoed UN accusations that the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people in Rakhine was ethnic cleansing.
“We cannot be afraid to call the actions of the Burmese authorities what they appear to be — a brutal, sustained campaign to cleanse the country of an ethnic minority,” Haley told the UN Security Council.
The military campaign against the Rohingya insurgents is well supported inside Myanmar, where Buddhist nationalism has surged over the past few years.
Haley said the military must respect human rights and fundamental freedoms.
“Those who have been accused of committing abuses should be removed from command responsibilities immediately and prosecuted for wrongdoing,” she said.
“And any country that is currently providing weapons to the Burmese military should suspend these activities until sufficient accountability measures are in place,” Haley said.
Myanmar national security adviser Thaung Tun said at the UN there was no ethnic cleansing or genocide in Myanmar.
He told the Security Council that Myanmar had invited Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to visit. A UN official said the secretary-general would consider visiting under the right conditions.
China and Russia both expressed support for the Myanmar government. Myanmar said this month it was negotiating with China and Russia, which have veto powers in the Security Council, to protect it from any possible action by the council.
Unspeakable grief: Lalu Miya cries over the bodies of his wife and three of his children, who died after a boat overloaded with Rohingya refugees capsized while fleeing Myanmar, before their funeral near Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, on Friday. Two other of his children remain missing.