UN plea for ‘massive’ aid for Rohingya
DHAKA/YANGON: The United Nations appealed yesterday for massive help for nearly 400,000 Muslims from Myanmar who have fled to Bangladesh, with concern growing that the number could keep rising, unless Myanmar ends what critics denounce as ‘‘ethnic cleansing’’.
The Rohingya are fleeing from a Myanmar military offensive in the western state of Rakhine that began after a series of guerrilla attacks on August 25 on security posts and an army camp in which about a dozen people were killed.
‘‘We urge the international community to step up humanitarian support and come up with help,’’ Mohammed Abdiker, director of operations and emergencies for the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), told a news conference in the Bangladeshi capital. The need was ‘‘massive’’, he said.
The Government has accused some aid groups of helping the insurgents with food supplies.
The aid group Medecins Sans Frontieres said yesterday it had reports that its clinics in Rakhine had been burnt down and it called for ‘‘unfettered access to people in desperate need’’.
The United Nations has also called for access to the conflict zone in Rakhine state.
Myanmar insisted yesterday it was not barring aid workers from Rakhine, but said authorities on the ground might restrict access for security reasons.
The violence in Rakhine and the exodus of refugees is the most pressing problem Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi has faced since becoming national leader last year.
UN Secretarygeneral Antonio Guterres and the UN Security Council on Wednesday urged Myanmar to end the violence, which he said was best described as ethnic cleansing.
The Government of Buddhistmajority Myanmar rejects such accusations, saying it is targeting ‘‘terrorists’’.
Numerous Rohingya villages in the north of Rakhine have been torched but authorities have denied that security forces or Buddhist civilians set the fires. They blame the insurgents, and say 30,000 nonMuslim villagers were also displaced.
Smoke was rising from at least five places on the Myanmar side of the border yesterday, a Reuters reporter in Bangladesh said. It was not clear what was burning or who set the fires.
‘‘Ethnic cleansing’’ is not recognised as an independent crime under international law, the UN Office on Genocide Prevention says, but it has been used in UN resolutions and acknowledged in judgements and indictments of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.
The crisis has raised questions about Suu Kyi’s commitment to human rights, and could strain relations with Western backers supporting her leadership of Myanmar’s transition from decades of strict military rule and economic isolation.
Critics have called for her to be stripped of her Nobel prize for failing to do more to halt the strife, though national security remains firmly in the hands of the military.
Suu Kyi is due to address the nation on Tuesday.
US Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said yesterday he had spoken to Suu Kyi and she said she was working to get aid to areas affected by violence.
US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Patrick Murphy had what one US official called a ‘‘tough conversation’’ with Myanmar’s ambassador to the US on Wednesday ahead of Murphy’s trip to Yangon this weekend.
Murphy will be meeting with Myanmar government officials next week to voice concern about the state of the Rohingya people and to press for greater access for humanitarian workers and reporters, the State Department said.
China, which competes with
the US for influence in Myanmar, endorses the offensive against the insurgents and deemed it an ‘‘internal affair’’, Myanmar state media said.
‘‘The counterattacks of Myanmar security forces against extremist terrorists and the government’s undertakings to provide assistance to the people are strongly welcomed,’’ the Global
New Light of Myanmar newspaper quoted China’s ambassador, Hong Liang, as telling government officials.
But at the UN in New York, China set a different tone, joining a Security Council expression of concern about reports of violence and urging steps to end it.
This week, the Trump administration called for protection of civilians.
Bangladesh says the refugees will have to go home and has called for safe zones in Myanmar. Myanmar says safe zones are unacceptable.
The IOM’s Abdiker declined to say how many refugees he thought might end up in Bangladesh.
‘‘The number may rise to 600,000, 700,000, even one million if the situation in Myanmar does not improve,’’ he said.
The most important thing was that the refugees be able to go home safely, George William OkothObbo, assistant high commissioner for operations at the UN refugee agency, said. — Reuters
Escape . . . Rohingya refugees continue to make perilous journeys into Bangladesh to escape a military crackdown on their villages in the western state of Rakhine in Myanmar.