Bangladesh accuses Burma of air violations
COX’S BAZAR, Bangladesh — Bangladeshi authorities summoned Burma’s envoy to protest what they said were violations of their airspace, further straining the nations’ ties as the number of Rohingya Muslims fleeing violence in western Burma in the past three weeks reached more than 400,000.
Burma’s presidential spokesman on Saturday said there’s no evidence of any trespassing and that Bangladesh should have reached out to discuss its concerns instead of issuing public statements.
The Bangladesh Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Friday that Burmese drones and helicopters flew into Bangladeshi airspace on Sept. 10, Tuesday and Thursday. It said a protest note was handed to Burma’s envoy Friday evening. Bangladesh warned that the “provocative acts” could lead to consequences.
In Rangoon, Burma’s largest city, presidential spokesman Zaw Htay said that while Burma’s military denied crossing into Bangladesh’s airspace, the matter was being investigated. “We don’t know exactly if they released that statement for political reasons,” he said of Bangladesh’s protest.
He added that Burma was “transporting rations for dis- placed people for emergency assistance” to areas close to the border and that Bangladesh “needs to understand that as well.”
United Nations agencies say an estimated 409,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled to Bangladesh since Aug. 25, when deadly attacks by a Rohingya insurgent group on police posts prompted Burma’s military to launch “clearance operations” in Rakhine state. Those fleeing have described indiscriminate attacks by security forces and Buddhist mobs.
The Burmese government said hundreds of people have died, mostly Rohingya “terrorists,” and that 176 out of 471 Rohingya villages have been abandoned. Burma has insisted that Rohingya insurgents and fleeing villagers are destroying their own villages. It has offered no proof to back those allegations.
The U.N. has described the violence against the Rohingya in Burma as ethnic cleansing — an organized effort to rid an area of an ethnic group.
Burma is often called Myanmar, a name that ruling military authorities adopted in 1989. Some nations, such as the United States and Britain, have refused to adopt the name change.
Ethnic Rohingya have faced persecution and discrimination in majority-Buddhist Burma for decades and are denied citizenship, even though many families have lived there for generations. The government says there is no such ethnicity as Rohingya and that members of the group are Bengalis who illegally migrated to Burma from Bangladesh.
U.N. agencies fear that continued violence in Burma may eventually drive up to 1 million Rohingya into Bangladesh.
As hundreds of thousands of Rohingya have crossed the border, relief camps have overflowed and food, medicine and drinking water have been in short supply.
Mohammed Shahriar Alam, Bangladesh’s junior foreign minister, said Saturday that India, Turkey, Morocco, Indonesia, Iran and Malaysia have sent aid and that the goods are waiting in an airport in nearby Chittagong. He said ships were expected to arrive with more aid soon.
“The United Nations and many other private organizations are working there to support hundreds of thousands who are in dire need of assistance,” said Khaled Mahmud, a top official in the Cox’s Bazar area. He acknowledged that aid distribution remained haphazard three weeks into the crisis.
A Rohingya Muslim woman is given water by a passer-by near the Mushani refugee camp in Bangladesh on Saturday as the woman and her daughter wait for help to reach a doctor.