Di­plo­mats in Myan­mar re­main silent as mil­i­tary con­tin­ues Ro­hingya as­sault

The Buffalo News - - WASHINGTON NEWS - By Han­nah Beech NEW YORK TIMES

Ro­hingya calamity deep­ens, and world can only watch.

YANGON, Myan­mar – It is un­fold­ing again: Troops have un­leashed fire and rape and in­dis­crim­i­nate slaugh­ter on a vul­ner­a­ble mi­nor­ity, driv­ing hun­dreds of thou­sands of civil­ians to flee and cre­at­ing a hu­man­i­tar­ian emer­gency that crosses bor­ders.

A cri­sis in Myan­mar that many saw com­ing has brought a host of un­com­fort­able ques­tions along with it: Why did the world – which promised “never again” af­ter Rwanda and Bos­nia, then Su­dan and Syria – seem­ingly do so lit­tle to fore­stall an eth­nic cleans­ing cam­paign by Myan­mar’s mil­i­tary? And what can be done now to ad­dress the ur­gent hu­man­i­tar­ian calamity caused when more than half of Myan­mar’s eth­nic Ro­hingya Mus­lims fled the coun­try over just a few weeks?

Out­sideMyan­mar,crit­i­cis­mofitsmil­i­tary has mounted. The United Na­tions sec­re­tary-gen­eral, An­to­nio Guter­res, has urged “un­fet­tered ac­cess” for in­ter­na­tional agen­cies and called the Ro­hingya cri­sis “the world’s fastest-de­vel­op­ing refugee emer­gency and a hu­man­i­tar­ian ANAL­Y­SIS and hu­man rights night­mare.”

Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron of France has called it geno­cide. And there is talk, although still ten­ta­tive, of the Euro­pean Union’s re­new­ing tar­geted sanc­tions on peo­ple cul­pa­ble in the vi­o­lence that has driven the Ro­hingya from Rakhine, a state in western Myan­mar.

But in Yangon, Myan­mar’s com­mer­cial cap­i­tal, where the diplo­matic corps is based, there is still re­luc­tance to call to task pub­licly ei­ther the mil­i­tary or the civil­ian ad­min­is­tra­tion led by Aung San Suu Kyi. Some di­plo­mats say they are try­ing to pre­serve what­ever in­flu­ence they may have left, in or­der to avert an even worse catas­tro­phe.

More than half a mil­lion Ro­hingya Mus­lims have fled to Bangladesh since late Au­gust, when a Ro­hingya mil­i­tant at­tack on Myan­mar se­cu­rity posts cat­alyzed a bru­tal coun­terof­fen­sive. Hun­dreds of thou­sands more re­main­ing in Myan­mar may still be try­ing to cross the border. Those who can­not flee are trapped and hun­gry in north­ern Rakhine, ac­cord­ing to anec­do­tal ev­i­dence col­lected by in­ter­na­tional aid agen­cies, which the govern­ment has largely pre­vented from de­liv­er­ing re­lief sup­plies or even as­sess­ing need in the re­gion.

“There are few places on Earth where we are de­nied ac­cess to this ex­tent,” said Jan Ege­land, the sec­re­tary-gen­eral of the Nor­we­gian Refugee Coun­cil. “We have an of­fice in north­ern Rakhine, we have staff there, we have sup­plies there, we could go to­mor­row with our trucks – but we are be­ing stopped. This is il­le­gal, this is in­tol­er­a­ble.”

I spoke to half a dozen am­bas­sadors and se­nior aid agency staff mem­bers in Yangon about what the prob­lem was. All asked to speak off the record.

There are many rea­sons for their ret­i­cence, but a ma­jor one is this: Myan­mar has been pre­sented as a suc­cess story, de­spite a host of eco­nomic and eth­nic problems. Elec­tions in 2015 el­e­vated Suu Kyi, the No­bel Peace Prize lau­re­ate whose name was once a by­word for acts of con­science, and seemed to usher in a chance for democ­racy to take hold.

But what­ever author­ity she has, as the na­tion’s state coun­selor, is dwarfed by that of a mil­i­tary that ruled for nearly half a cen­tury and con­tin­ues to mo­nop­o­lize power. Suu Kyi is not the one or­der­ing Ro­hingya vil­lages to be burned down or civil­ians to be mas­sa­cred. That fire­power lies with the Tat­madaw, Myan­mar’s mil­i­tary, led by Se­nior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing.

Di­plo­mats say Suu Kyi used to ex­press sym­pa­thy for the Ro­hingya in pri­vate, ex­plain­ing that she could not speak out be­cause of wide­spread ha­tred for them among the Bud­dhist ma­jor­ity. But over the past year or so, she has played to that prej­u­dice, re­fer­ring in­stead to the Ro­hingya as il­le­gal im­mi­grants from Bangladesh.

In an ad­dress Thurs­day, Suu Kyi pushed back against in­ter­na­tional crit­i­cism and promised to per­son­ally over­see ef­forts to bring peace to Rakhine and repa­tri­ate those who have fled to Bangladesh. Suu Kyi de­clined to tackle ac­cu­sa­tions that the mil­i­tary has un­leashed ar­son, mur­der and rape on the Ro­hingya. De­spite Suu Kyi’s ob­fus­ca­tions, di­plo­mats in Yangon have tended to avoid in­creas­ing pub­lic pres­sure. Vet­eran ob­servers of Myan­mar’s mil­i­tary, which has long faced con­dem­na­tion for its bru­tal­ity to­ward civil­ians and eth­nic mi­nori­ties, have warned that an in­ter­na­tional sham­ing of a dis­graced No­bel lau­re­ate is just what the gen­er­als want. “She gets all the crit­i­cism, and then the Tat­madaw gets to qui­etly do what it wants and what it has done for decades, which is to burn vil­lages and ter­ror­ize eth­nic ar­eas,” said David Scott Mathieson, a long­time hu­man-rights re­searcher in Myan­mar.

New York Times

Sup­port­ers of Aung San Suu Kyi gath­ered at an in­ter­re­li­gious gath­er­ing of prayers for peace or­ga­nized by her party this week in Yangon, Myan­mar. As the hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis for Ro­hingya Mus­lims worsens, en­voys are re­luc­tant to crit­i­cize Suu Kyi.

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