Burma ‘eth­nic cleans­ing’ risks re­li­gious con­flict in Asia

The New Zealand Herald - - EDITORIAL & LETTERS -

The head of the United Na­tions has rightly called Burma’s ruth­less per­se­cu­tion of the mi­nor­ity Ro­hingya peo­ple eth­nic cleans­ing. In just the past three weeks, tens of thou­sands of Ro­hingya have fled to refugee camps in Bangladesh, leav­ing be­hind razed vil­lages and what few pos­ses­sions they owned.

The catas­tro­phe has un­folded rapidly and left Asia fac­ing its most acute hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis since the dev­as­tat­ing Box­ing Day tsunami in 2004.

Ro­hingya Mus­lims have lived in Burma, also known as Myan­mar, for cen­turies. Burma re­fuses to ac­cept them as cit­i­zens.

Their sta­tus means they have lim­ited ac­cess to health­care and ed­u­ca­tion. Many ex­ist in squalid set­tle­ments in the western state of Rakhine.

Ten­sions be­tween Bud­dhists and the Ro­hingya have been high for at least a decade but boiled over a year ago when Mus­lim mil­i­tants at­tacked bor­der posts. Re­tal­i­a­tion was sav­age, with Burmese se­cu­rity forces ac­cused of sys­tem­atic slaugh­ter and wide­spread gang-rape.

Sim­i­lar al­le­ga­tions were lev­elled at po­lice and the army last month af­ter the in­sur­gent Arakan Ro­hingya Sal­va­tion Army hit a mil­i­tary base.

Se­cu­rity ex­perts say the mil­i­tants are di­rected from Mecca by hard­ened emi­gres, rais­ing the dis­turb­ing prospect that Burma’s bru­tal crack­down could turn in­creas­ing numbers of Ro­hingya to­wards mil­i­tant re­sis­tance. Ran­goon claims the mil­i­tants want to cre­ate an Is­lamist state in Rakhine.

Such an out­come holds grave implications for the re­gion. The cri­sis has deep­ened di­vi­sions be­tween Bud­dhists and Mus­lims in Asia, with protests erupt­ing in Pak­istan, In­dia and In­done­sia.

The re­sponse of Burma’s de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, has dis­ap­pointed many who be­lieved the No­bel Peace Prize lau­re­ate would take a stand against the blood­shed. But her civil­ian Gov­ern­ment does not con­trol the mil­i­tary and she has seemed im­po­tent to stop the deep­en­ing tragedy.

The UN has fared lit­tle bet­ter. The SecretaryGeneral, Antonio Guterres, has urged the Se­cu­rity Coun­cil to help end the mil­i­tary crack­down. The best the coun­cil has of­fered so far is to call for im­me­di­ate steps to end the vi­o­lence.

New Zealand is among the coun­tries urg­ing an end to the blood­shed and has given $1.5 mil­lion to help the Red Cross’ aid work in the camps.

For­eign Min­is­ter Gerry Brown­lee said: “Whilst ac­knowl­edg­ing the need to re­store law and or­der, we urge the Myan­mar Gov­ern­ment to take all nec­es­sary steps to pro­tect civil­ians and en­able hu­man­i­tar­ian sup­port to be de­liv­ered to all af­fected com­mu­ni­ties.”

Burma is not with­out friends. It has asked China and Rus­sia to block any Se­cu­rity Coun­cil cen­sure.

Ul­ti­mately, the cri­sis is one for the re­gion to solve. The re­al­ity is the Ro­hingya have lived in Burma for many, many years. They have nowhere else to go. If they are pre­vented from mak­ing a home in the land they know, and con­tinue to be sub­jected to what Guterres says are “hor­ri­ble numbers of peo­ple dy­ing and suf­fer­ing”, the coun­tries which ne­glect to help re­solve the tragic cri­sis could come to deeply re­gret their fail­ure.

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