United Nations security council will meet on Thursday to discuss escalating tensions in Rakhine and fate of hundreds of thousands of Muslim refugees
The UK has warned Myanmar that the Rohingya crisis is an “unacceptable tragedy” and Aung San Suu Kyi’s government must end the violence and lift a blockade on humanitarian aid.
“What we have seen in Rakhine in the past few weeks is an absolute and unacceptable tragedy,” Mark Field, Britain’s minister for Asia, said on Thursday after a visit to the country, where he met with Aung San Suu Kyi and visited western Rakhine state, the centre of the bloodshed.
“We need the violence to stop and all those who have fled to be able to return to their homes quickly and safely,” he said. “Burma has taken great strides forward in recent years. But the ongoing violence and humanitarian crisis in Rakhine risks derailing that progress,” he added of the ex-British colony.
Close to half a million Rohingya, a Muslim minority in majority-Buddhist Myanmar, have fled the army into Bangladesh. While the government says it is fighting an emergent “terrorist” group, the UN rights chief, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, has described it as a “textbook example” of ethnic cleansing.
Field said Aung San Suu Kyi had given him assurances those who had fled their homes would be able to return across the border. “The proof will be in the pudding, and whether she will allow those who wish to return to do so,” he later told the BBC. “There are now hundreds of thousands of Rohingya on the Bangladeshi side of the border and there is a big question mark just how many will feel confident enough with the security implications on what is happening in the country to return.”
He said Aung San Suu Kyi did not share the views of some ministers who have claimed burned land becomes government land and remained the best hope for “ongoing democracy” in the country, despite failing to stop the violence against the Rohingya minority.
“She finds herself treading fine line between the international criticism that we have seen in the past six weeks, but also public opinion in Burma that remains very strongly anti-Rohingya,” he said. “What would be calamitous essentially is for it to fall back into a military dictatorship. She is a 71-year-old lady. She is perhaps not entirely comfortable emoting. She is not someone prone to the political and public relations that we are all used to … but she is increasingly aware that much needs to be done.”
United Nations secretary-general António Guterres will brief the UN security council on the crisis later on Thursday in New York. Guterres has sent a letter to the council to express concern about the “humanitarian catastrophe” unfolding in Myanmar.
The latest campaign, the deadliest so far, ramped up after the army launched a huge counter-offensive in retribution for guerrilla-style ambushes on 25 August by a Rohingya militant group. Satellite imagery shows more than 200 Rohingya villages have since been burned.
As Myanmar does not allow unfettered access to the conflict zone, it is impossible to corroborate how many people have died. The army has rebuffed accusations of war crimes and points to attacks by “extremist terrorists” against Buddhists and Hindus.
(The Guardian, Reuters and Agence France-Presse)