Deep shame on Myan­mar

The Sun (Malaysia) - - SPEAK UP - BY ERIC S. MARGOLIS

FEW peo­ple have ever heard of Myan­mar’s Ro­hingya. Not many more could find Myan­mar on a map – par­tic­u­larly af­ter its name was changed some years ago from Burma to Myan­mar.

The ex­cep­tion is Burma’s sainted leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, who be­came a world­wide celebrity and No­bel prize win­ner. The me­dia loved her, a sort of Burmese Joan of Arc ver­sus its bru­tal mil­i­tary junta.

But now, trag­i­cally, the Ro­hingya are headline news thanks to Myan­mar’s bru­tal eth­nic cleans­ing of one of the world’s most abused, down­trod­den peo­ple.

Al­most as re­volt­ing is the world’s fail­ure to take any ac­tion to res­cue the Ro­hingya from murder, rape, ar­son and eth­nic ter­ror­ism. In re­cent weeks, over 270,000 peo­ple have been driven from their homes in Rakhine State in west­ern Myan­mar and now cower in makeshift refugee camps just across the bor­der in Bangladesh in the midst of mon­soon sea­son.

Ro­hingya have lived for cen­turies in Myan­mar. Some of their an­ces­tors may have been brought as coolies or in­den­tured labour­ers from neigh­bour­ing East Bengal (to­day Bangladesh) by the Bri­tish rulers of the re­gion. Once again, the Bri­tish Em­pire was be­hind yet an­other world prob­lem.

Myan­mar is a hodge­podge of peo­ples and eth­nic­i­ties. The largest, about 60%, are Bud­dhist Bur­mans, but there are many other im­por­tant groups like Karen, Kachin, Chin, Mon and Shan. About two mil­lion Burmese are Ro­hingya from Arakan state. They have been sav­agely per­se­cuted, de­nied ed­u­ca­tion, health care and even food. Ro­hingya women are rou­tinely raped. Those who fled to wretched Bangladesh – surely the last place on Earth one would want to seek refuge – have been starved, herded into camps and fall victim to hu­man traf­fick­ers or be­come state­less boat peo­ple.

Myan­mar de­nies that its two mil­lion Ro­hingyas are Burmese cit­i­zens. Bangladesh also de­nies them cit­i­zen­ship. The Ro­hingya are the world’s most un­wanted peo­ple – and through no fault of their own.

Myan­mar wants an eth­ni­cally pure state, though its bor­der re­gions are filled with re­bel­lious Thai and eth­nic Chi­nese mi­nori­ties.

I cov­ered some of the wars waged by the cen­tral govern­ment against re­gional sep­a­ratists that have flared on and off since 1945. To me, Myan­mar is a sort of Asian Yu­goslavia, filled with in­im­i­cal peo­ples seek­ing in­de­pen­dence.

What about the sainted Aung San Suu Kyi? She, shame­fully, has mutely watched the eth­nic cleans­ing and atroc­i­ties. This so­called cham­pion of hu­man rights has not made a peep be­cause she shares power with the pow­er­ful army which is con­duct­ing the pogroms. And she fears los­ing pop­u­lar­ity with ma­jor­ity Bur­mans.

The of­fi­cial Myan­mar line is that the cur­rent vi­o­lence was caused by Ro­hingya at­tack­ing army posts. This is a lie. Myan­mar has been per­se­cut­ing and try­ing to ex­pel Ro­hingya for decades. Few saw and none cared.

Par­tic­u­larly not the three na­tions that could pro­vide sig­nif­i­cant help: China, Pak­istan and Saudi Ara­bia. China is try­ing to crush Mus­lim peo­ples in its west­ern re­gions and is thus in no mood to help. Pak­istan can’t mount a long-range op­er­a­tion. Saudi Ara­bia is too busy mas­sacring Ye­meni civil­ians with US and Bri­tish help to give a hoot about the Ro­hingya.

They could pro­vide food, money, shel­ter, and even sol­diers to help pro­tect the Ro­hingya. Two im­por­tant Mus­lim ma­jor­ity states, Turkey and Malaysia, have spo­ken out and warned Myan­mar to halt its per­se­cu­tion. Turkey’s mighty armed forces could do much to stop the at­tacks. Pres­i­dent Re­cep Er­do­gan of Turkey is clearly out of pa­tience with Myan­mar’s govern­ment.

Suu Kyi should have her No­bel prize re­voked. The world must de­mand that Myan­mar’s mil­i­tary and po­lice im­me­di­ately stop the killing.

The crimes be­ing com­mit­ted in Myan­mar, a beau­ti­ful coun­try to which I am very at­tached, are an af­front to the en­tire world and a mas­sive crime with­out any pos­si­ble jus­ti­fi­ca­tion.

Madame Suu Kyi, I once risked prison in Yangon to go visit you. I wish I hadn’t. Go hide your head in shame.

Eric S. Margolis is an award-win­ning, syn­di­cated colum­nist. Com­ments: let­ters@ the­sundaily.com

AFPPIX

A child sleeps af­ter cross­ing the bor­der from Myan­mar, near the Bangladeshi town of Tek­naf on Sun­day.

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