New satel­lite footage re­veals ‘scorched earth’ cam­paign against Ro­hingya

Bangladesh troops to de­liver aid for des­per­ate refugees


COX’s BAZAAR, Bangladesh: Bangladeshi troops will de­liver aid to des­per­ate Ro­hingya refugees massed in Cox’s Bazar, author­i­ties said on Fri­day, as fresh satel­lite im­ages lent weight to al­le­ga­tions of a “scorched earth” cam­paign by Myanmar’s army to drive out the Mus­lim mi­nor­ity.

The re­lief ef­fort for the es­ti­mated 391,000 Ro­hingya who have ar­rived at the bor­der town in the last three weeks has been ad hoc and plagued by dis­or­ga­ni­za­tion as lo­cal aid work­ers are over­whelmed by the hu­man tide.

With fears mount­ing that those in most need are not re­ceiv­ing ba­sic aid — de­spite hand­outs by lo­cal vol­un­teers — Bangladesh’s Prime Min­is­ter Sheikh Hasina said the army would be de­ployed to dis­trib­ute aid sent by donor na­tions.

Lt. Col. Rashidul Hasan on Fri­day said the or­ders had reached the cri­sis zone.

“We’ve got the di­rec­tive that the army would re­ceive re­lief ma­te­ri­als sent by for­eign na­tions at the air­port and take it to Cox’s Bazar,” he said.

It was not im­me­di­ately clear how quickly food and medicine would reach the refugees, many of whom are hud­dled on road­sides and patches of land.

But the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion and UNICEF said they would launch vac­ci­na­tion cam­paigns on Satur­day against measles, rubella and po­lio, tar­get­ing 150,000 newly ar­rived chil­dren.

UNICEF spokes­woman Mar­ixie Mer­cado said they were also screen­ing chil­dren for mal­nu­tri­tion.

Last week, there were more than “1,100 un­ac­com­pa­nied and sep­a­rated chil­dren, and we es­ti­mate that those num­bers will rise sharply,” she added.

Around one-third of Myanmar’s Ro­hingya pop­u­la­tion have fled north­ern Rakhine state for Bangladesh since Au­gust 25, when raids by Ro­hingya mil­i­tants trig­gered the mas­sive mil­i­tary cam­paign.

The UN has warned that the rest of the pop­u­la­tion may soon fol­low, deep­en­ing the hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis un­fold­ing in Bangladesh where some 10,000 refugees are ar­riv­ing daily.

Myanmar faced re­newed pres­sure on Fri­day as fresh satel­lite im­ages emerged of scorched vil­lages across Rakhine state, fuel­ing ac­cu­sa­tions the mil­i­tary is sys­tem­at­i­cally driv­ing out Ro­hingya Mus­lims in what the UN says is an eth­nic cleans­ing cam­paign.

Hu­man Rights Watch said 62 vil­lages in the Ro­hingya-ma­jor­ity area have been tar­geted by ar­son at­tacks, with more than half show­ing “ex­ten­sive build­ing de­struc­tion.”

Amnesty In­ter­na­tional also re­leased im­ages of dozens of razed com­mu­ni­ties, al­leg­ing Myanmar’s se­cu­rity forces have led “sys­tem­atic” clear­ances of Ro­hingya Mus­lim set­tle­ments.

“Rakhine state is on fire,” said Olof Blomqvist, a re­searcher with Amnesty In­ter­na­tional, in a “clear cam­paign of eth­nic cleans­ing by the Myanmar se­cu­rity forces.”

Tes­ti­mony col­lected by AFP in the Bangladesh refugee camps since the start of the cri­sis backs up al­le­ga­tions by rights groups that Myanmar’s army has been sys­tem­at­i­cally burn­ing Ro­hingya vil­lages.

Somira, 29, a Ro­hingya refugee who uses one name, said in Cox’s Bazaar that she passed dozens of burn­ing vil­lages dur­ing her ar­du­ous trek through flooded fields and jun­gle to Bangladesh.

“I saw vil­lages af­ter vil­lages that were burnt to ashes,” she said. “The mil­i­tary is burn­ing the vil­lages and now there is no way we can iden­tify where we pre­vi­ously lived.”

Myanmar de­nies the al­le­ga­tions, in­stead in­sist­ing the mil­i­tants have set the fires. This week it said 176 Ro­hingya vil­lages, 40 per­cent of the to­tal in the north­ern Rakhine state, were now com­pletely empty.

The cri­sis has heaped crit­i­cism on Myanmar’s civil­ian leader Aung San Suu Kyi for fail­ing to con­demn army ac­tions or de­fend the rights of the Ro­hingya.

But it has also turned the spot­light on the No­bel lau­re­ate’s lack of lever­age with Myanmar’s army, which still con­trols all se­cu­rity mat­ters and wields sig­nif­i­cant po­lit­i­cal power.

Re­lief work­ers in Bangladesh have strug­gled to man­age the grow­ing hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis amid an acute short­age of shel­ters and sup­plies.

“We have to es­ti­mate the worst case sce­nario” where all Ro­hingya flee Rakhine, said Mo­hammed Ab­diker Mo­hamud, a di­rec­tor of the In­ter­na­tional Or­ga­ni­za­tion for Mi­gra­tion (IOM), the UN’s mi­gra­tion agency.

“Un­less a po­lit­i­cal so­lu­tion is found there is a pos­si­bil­ity that the en­tire Ro­hingya com­mu­nity may come to Bangladesh.”

Mean­while, thou­sands of sup­port­ers of rad­i­cal groups staged protests af­ter weekly prayers, urg­ing the gov­ern­ment of Ban­galdesh to go to war against Myanmar over the “geno­cide” of Ro­hingya Mus­lims.

Pro­test­ers call for war

Po­lice said at least 15,000 fol­low­ers of five ex­trem­ist groups, in­clud­ing the hard-line He­fazat-e-Is­lam, joined a demon­stra­tion in front of the coun­try’s largest mosque in cen­tral Dhaka.

They were protest­ing against the clam­p­down by Myanmar’s se­cu­rity forces in Rakhine state, po­lice said.

Nur Hos­sain Kasemi, a madrassa teacher who heads He­fazat’s Dhaka unit, spoke at the rally, which fol­lowed a pro­ces­sion in front of the mosque.

“The Burmese gov­ern­ment is car­ry­ing out a geno­cide. The houses in Rakhine are be­ing torched. We urge the Bangladeshi peo­ple to stand by Ro­hingya peo­ple,” Kasemi told the gath­er­ing.

“We urge the Bangladesh gov­ern­ment to re­solve the prob­lem through war. It is the right time,” he said, ac­cord­ing to lead­ing online Ben­gali news por­tal Bangla Tri­bune.

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