Bangladesh arrests militant suspect in U.S. blogger murder

Bangladesh arrests militant suspect in U.S. blogger murder

DHAKA (Reuters) – Bangladesh police said on Saturday they had arrested an Islamist militant wanted in connection with the 2015 killing of a U.S. blogger critical of religious extremism.

Deputy police commissioner Masudur Rahman said the man, identified as Arafat Rahman, 24, a member of al Qaeda-inspired militant group Ansar Ullah Bangla Team, was suspected of taking part in the killing of writer Avijit Roy.

Roy, a U.S. citizen of Bangladeshi origin, was hacked to death by machete-wielding assailants in February 2015 while returning home with his wife from a Dhaka book fair. Roy’s widow, Rafida Ahmed, was seriously injured.

Police official Rahman said the detainee, who was identified after analyzing CCTV footage, was arrested by the counter-terrorism police unit on the outskirts of the capital, Dhaka, on Friday night.

“In the primary interrogation, he confessed his involvement in the killing of four other secular activists,” he told Reuters.

It was not possible to contact the detainee to comment as he was in police custody.

Muslim-majority Bangladesh of 160 million people has had a string of deadly attacks targeting bloggers, foreigners and religious minorities.

The most serious recent attack came in July 2016, when gunmen stormed a cafe in the diplomatic quarter of Dhaka and killed 22 people, most of them foreigners.

Police say the Ansar Ullah Bangla Team militant group is behind the murders of more than a dozen secular bloggers and gay rights activists. They believe a sacked army major, who is still at large, was the leader of the group and masterminded the killings.

Al Qaeda and Islamic State have also claimed responsibility for a series of killings over the past few years, including that of Roy.

The government has denied the presence of such groups, blaming domestic militants instead. But security experts say the scale and sophistication of the cafe attack suggested links to a wider network.

Police and army commandos have killed more than 60 suspected militants and arrested hundreds since the cafe attack.

(Reporting by Ruma Paul; Editing by Jeremy Gaunt and Clelia Oziel)

Bangladesh says agreed with Myanmar for UNHCR to assist Rohingya’s return

By Ruma Paul

DHAKA (Reuters) – Bangladesh and Myanmar have agreed to take help from the U.N. refugee agency to safely repatriate hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims who had fled violence in Myanmar, Bangladesh said on Saturday.

More than 600,000 Rohingya sought sanctuary in Bangladesh after the military in mostly Buddhist Myanmar launched a brutal counter-insurgency operation in their villages across the northern parts of Rakhine State following attacks by Rohingya militants on an army base and police posts on Aug. 25.

Faced with a burgeoning humanitarian crisis, the two governments signed a pact on Thursday agreeing that the return of the Rohingya to Myanmar should start within two months.

Uncertainty over whether the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) would have a role had prompted rights groups to insist that outside monitors were needed to safeguard the Rohingya’s return.

Addressing a news conference in Dhaka, Bangladesh Foreign Minister Abul Hassan Mahmood Ali gave assurances that the UNHCR would play some part.

“Both countries agreed to take help from the UNHCR in the Rohingya repatriation process,” Ali said. “Myanmar will take its assistance as per their requirement.”

The diplomatic breakthrough came just ahead of a visit by Pope Francis to Myanmar and Bangladesh from Nov. 26 to Dec. 2 that is aimed at promoting “reconciliation, forgiveness and peace”.

While the violence in Rakhine has mostly ceased, Rohingya have continued to stream out of Myanmar, saying they have largely lost access to sources of livelihood such as their farms, fisheries and markets.

Thousands of Rohingya, most of them old people, women and children, remain stranded on beaches near the border, waiting for a boat to take them to Bangladesh.

FROM CAMP TO CAMP

Ali said a joint working group, to be formed within three weeks, will fix the final terms to start the repatriation process.

After leaving the refugee camps in Bangladesh, Rohingya who opt to be voluntarily repatriated will be moved to camps in Myanmar, the minister said.

“Most houses were burnt down. Where they will live after going back? So, it is not possible to physically return to their homes,” Ali said.

Myanmar officials have said returnees will be moved to camps only temporarily while so-called “model villages” are constructed near their former homes.

Win Myat Aye, the minister for social welfare, relief and resettlement who heads a Myanmar government panel on rehabilitation in Rakhine, said India and China had offered to provide “modular houses” for returnees.

The U.N. and the United States have described the Myanmar military’s actions as “ethnic cleansing”, and rights groups have accused the security forces of committing atrocities, including mass rape, arson and killings.

The United States also warned it could impose sanctions on individuals responsible for alleged abuses.

Led by Nobel peace prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar is in the early stages of a transition to democracy after decades of military rule. But civilian government is less than two years old, and still shares power with the generals, who retain autonomy over matters of defense, security and borders.

The commander of Myanmar’s armed forces, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, has denied that soldiers committed any atrocities.

On Friday he met China’s President Xi Jinping in Beijing having been told earlier in the week by a top Chinese general that China wanted stronger ties with Myanmar’s military.

Under the deal struck with Bangladesh, Myanmar agreed to take measures to see that the returnees will not be settled in temporary places for a long time.

Myanmar plans to issue them an identity card on their return, although most Rohingya have so far rejected a scheme to give them “national verification cards”.

While the agreement says Bangladesh would seek the U.N. refugee agency’s assistance on the process, Myanmar – which has largely blocked aid agencies from working in northern Rakhine since August – only agreed “that the services of the UNHCR could be drawn upon as needed and at the appropriate time”.

Win Myat Aye told Reuters on Saturday that Myanmar would discuss “technical assistance” with the UNHCR, but had not reached a formal agreement with the agency.

There were already hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh before the latest exodus, and the Bangladesh minister said they could also be considered for the repatriation, under the terms of the agreement.

The agreement, however, says they will be “considered separately on the conclusion of the present agreement.”

Some independent estimates suggest there are still a few hundred thousand Rohingya remaining in Rakhine.

(Reporting by Ruma Paul in DHAKA and Thu Thu Aung in YANGON; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore and Stephen Powell)

U.S. Congress members decry ‘ethnic cleansing’ in Myanmar; Suu Kyi doubts allegations

U.S. Congress members decry 'ethnic cleansing' in Myanmar; Suu Kyi doubts allegations

By Antoni Slodkowski and Yimou Lee

YANGON/NAYPYITAW (Reuters) – Members of the U.S. Congress said on Tuesday operations carried out against the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar had “all the hallmarks” of ethnic cleansing, while the country’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi expressed doubts about allegations of rights abuses.

The U.S. Senate members also said they were disturbed by a “violent and disproportionate” security response to Rohingya militant attacks that have driven more than 600,000 people from Myanmar to neighbouring Bangladesh.

Human rights monitors have accused Myanmar’s military of atrocities, including mass rape, against the stateless Rohingya during so-called clearance operations following insurgent attacks on 30 police posts and an army base.

Myanmar’s government has denied most of the claims, and the army last week said its own probe found no evidence of wrongdoing by troops.

“We are not hearing of any violations going on at the moment,” Suu Kyi told reporters in response to a question about human rights abuses at the end of the Asia-Europe Meeting, or ASEM, in Myanmar’s capital Naypyitaw.

“We can’t say whether it has happened or not. As a responsibility of the government, we have to make sure that it won’t happen.”

Nobel laureate Suu Kyi said she hoped talks with Bangladesh’s foreign minister this week would lead to a deal on the “safe and voluntary return” of those who have fled.

Suu Kyi’s less than two-year old civilian government has faced heavy international criticism for its response to the crisis, though it has no control over the generals it has to share power with under Myanmar’s transition to power after decades of military rule.

HALLMARKS OF ETHNIC CLEANSING

While a top UN official has described the military’s actions as a textbook case of “ethnic cleansing”, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on a visit to Myanmar last week refused to label it as such.

In early November, U.S. lawmakers proposed targeted sanctions and travel restrictions on Myanmar military officials.

Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley, who was among the sponsors of the legislation introduced in the Senate, led a congressional delegation that visited Rakhine this week, but was blocked from traveling to the violence-hit north of the state and to Rohingya camps.

The group also traveled to Cox’s Bazar district in Bangladesh, where Rohingya refugees are huddled into makeshift camps and fed by overstretched aid agencies.

“Many refugees have suffered direct attacks including loved ones, children and husbands being killed in front of them, wives and daughters being raped, burns and other horrific injuries. This has all the hallmarks of ethnic cleansing,” Merkley told reporters in Myanmar on Tuesday.

“We are profoundly disturbed by the violent and disproportionate response against the Rohingya by the military and local groups,” he said.

The delegation called for Myanmar to allow an investigation into the alleged atrocities that would involve the international community.

“We want to emphasize that the world is watching,” Merkley said, adding that it was important Myanmar allow anyone who wants to come back to return to their homes and their farms.

Merkley said the delegation was “not here today to recommend…what the U.S. government would do or should do,” when asked about the legislation introduced in the Congress.

‘ISOLATION IN CAMPS’

Myanmar officials have so far said they plan to resettle most returnees in new “model villages”, rather than on the land they previously occupied, an approach the United Nations has criticized in the past as effectively creating permanent camps.

“Individuals cannot be coming back…simply to return to camps where there would be continued discrimination, restrictions on full participation in the economy and society,” said Merkley.

He warned that isolating people in camps creates a “two-tier society that is fundamentally incompatible with the future of democracy and it guarantees perpetuation of suspicions and misunderstandings and conflicts.”

Speaking earlier on Tuesday, Suu Kyi said discussions would be held with the Bangladesh foreign minister on Wednesday and Thursday about repatriation. Officials from both countries began talks last month on how to process the Rohingya wanting to return.

“We hope that this would result in an MOU signed quickly, which would enable us to start the safe and voluntarily return of all of those who have gone across the border,” Suu Kyi said.

The Rohingya are largely stateless and many people in Myanmar view them as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

Suu Kyi said Myanmar would follow the framework of an agreement reached in the 1990s to cover the earlier repatriation of Rohingya, who had fled to Bangladesh to escape previous bouts of ethnic violence.

That agreement did not address the citizenship status of Rohingya, and Bangladesh has been pressing for a repatriation process that provided Rohingya with more safeguards this time.

“It’s on the basis of residency…this was agreed by the two governments long time ago with success, so this will be formula we will continue to follow,” Suu Kyi said.

Earlier talks between the two countries reached a broad agreement to work out a repatriation deal, but a senior Myanmar official later accused Bangladesh of dragging its feet in order to secure funding from aid agencies for hosting the refugees.

(Additional reporting by Thu Thu Aung; writing by Simon Lewis; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore and Hugh Lawson)

Bullets and burns: Portraits of injured Rohingya refugees

Bullets and burns: Portraits of injured Rohingya refugees

By Jorge Silva

COX’S BAZAR, Bangladesh (Reuters) – The two Rohingya Muslim brothers, six-year-old Mohamed Heron and four-year-old Akhter, held each other as they showed burns on their arms and torsos that their uncle says resulted from Myanmar’s armed forces firing rockets at their village.

Two of their siblings, one seven years old and the other a 10-month-old infant, died in the attack, according to their uncle, Mohamed Inus. Their father was held by the military and has not been heard of since.

“These two children survived when our village was fired on with rockets,” Inus told Reuters at Kutupalong refugee camp, near Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh.

They were among a number of Rohingya who showed their wounds to a Reuters photographer who visited Kutupalong and the nearby camps at Balukhali, Leda and Nayapara.

(Click http://reut.rs/2hBZZoK to view the photo essay)

Fleeing along with other villagers who abandoned their scorched homes, the boys reached Bangladesh after a three-day trek. At Kutupalong, they were treated for three weeks for their burns at a Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) clinic.

Since the ethnic violence erupted in late August, thousands of Rohingya have crossed the border each week, often travelling for days and even weeks, trekking through forests and over mountains, with many making a hazardous river or sea crossing on the last leg of their flight to fellow-Muslim Bangladesh.

Bangladeshi hospitals and international aid agencies are struggling to provide medical care for all the refugees, many of whom have suffered horrific injuries and psychological trauma.

Since the crisis began, Chittagong Medical College Hospital has received 261 casualties suffering wounds from gunshots or explosions, according to its director, Brigadier General Jalal Uddin.

Sixteen have died from their wounds and some have been crippled.

“We have had to amputate the limbs of some patients,” Jalal Uddin said.

Sadar Hospital in Cox’s Bazar had treated 1,467 Rohingya since the exodus began for injuries including bullet wounds, broken bones, and cuts inflicted by knives or machetes, residential medical officer Shaheen Abdur Rahman Chowdhury said.

More than 600,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh since Myanmar’s military launched what it described as “clearance operations” following a series of attacks by Rohingya militants on security posts in Rakhine state in late August.

Rights monitors and fleeing Rohingya say the army and Rakhine Buddhist vigilantes have mounted a campaign of arson aimed at driving out the Muslim population.

The U.N. rights agency said it was “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing”. Myanmar, an overwhelmingly Buddhist nation, rejects the charge, saying its forces targeted insurgents of the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, whom it has accused of setting fires and attacking civilians.

At the camps in Bangladesh, other Rohingya victims of the violence recounted the horrors they had lived through.

ANWARA BEGUM

Anwara Begum, 36, said she woke to find her home in Maungdaw township, in the northernmost part of Rakhine state, in flames. Before she could get out the burning roof caved in on her and her nylon clothes melted onto her arms.

Her husband carried her for eight days to reach the Kutupalong camp in Bangladesh.

“I thought I was going to die. I tried to stay alive for my children,” she said, adding she was still waiting for treatment for her burns.

IMAM HOSSAIN

His right arm swathed in bandages from the knuckles of his hand to well above the elbow, Imam Hossain, 42, lay exhausted on the roadside near the Kutupalong camp.

He was returning home after teaching at a madrassa in his village when three men attacked him with knives.

The next day, he made his wife and two children leave with other villagers fleeing to Bangladesh. He reached Cox’s Bazar later. He was still searching for his family.

“I want to ask the Myanmar government why they are harming the Rohingya,” he said. “Why do Buddhists hate us? Why do you torture us? What is wrong with us?”

MOHAMED JABAIR

Suffering burns to his limbs and torso, Mohamed Jabair, 21, had feared that he had also lost his sight in an explosion that ripped through his village home.

Knocked unconscious and badly burned, Jabair was carried by his brother and others for four days to Cox’s Bazar.

“I was blind for many weeks and admitted to a government hospital in Cox’s Bazar for 23 days. I was frightened that I would be blind forever,” he said.

Jabair said money sent by relatives in Malaysia had run out and he could no longer afford treatment.

NUR KAMAL

Bowing to show deep cuts arcing across his scalp, 17-year-old Nur Kamal described how soldiers assaulted him after they found the young shopkeeper hiding in his home in Kan Hpu village in Maungdaw.

“They hit me with a rifle butt on my head first and then with a knife,” Kamal said.

His uncle found him unconscious in a pool of blood. It took them two weeks to get to Bangladesh.

“We want justice,” Kamal said. “We want the international community to help us obtain justice.”

KALABAROW

Her husband, daughter and one son were killed when soldiers fired on Kalabarow’s village in Maungdaw. The 50-year-old woman was hit in her right foot. For several hours, she lay where she fell, pretending to be dead, before a grandson found her.

During their 11-day journey to Bangladesh, a village doctor amputated her infected foot and four men carried her on a stretcher made of bamboo and a bedsheet.

“As we walked through the forest, we saw burnt villages and dead bodies. I thought we would never be safe,” she said.

ABDUR RAHAMAN

Abdur Rahaman, a 73-year-old merchant from Maungdaw, was ambushed while walking on a mountain path with other refugees.

A machete thrown at his feet severed three toes as he ran from his attackers. With his foot bleeding through a tourniquet made from his longyi, or sarong, Rahaman walked for two more hours, before his nephew and friends carried him across the border.

“Our future is not good,” he said. “Allah must help us. The international community has to do something.”

ANSAR ALLAH

Curled up in a ball, 11-year-old Ansar Allah shows a large, livid scar on his right thigh – the result of a gunshot wound.

“They sprayed us with bullets, as our house was burning,” his mother Samara said.

“It was a bullet half the size of my index finger,” she said, before adding, “I can’t stop thinking, why did God put us in that dangerous situation?”

SETARA BEGUM

Setara Begum, 12, was among nine siblings in their home in Maungdaw when it was hit by a rocket.

“I saved eight of my nine children from the burning house, but Setara was trapped inside,” said her mother, Arafa.

“I could see her crying in the middle of the fire, but it was difficult to save her. By the time we could reach her, she was badly burned,” Arafa said.

Setara’s father carried her for two days to Bangladesh.

The young girl received no treatment for the severe burns to her feet. Her feet healed. But she has no toes.

The trauma has scarred her psychologically.

“She has been mute from that day, and doesn’t speak to anyone,” her mother said. “She only cries silently.”

MOMTAZ BEGUM

Her face heavily bandaged, Momtaz Begum told how soldiers came to her village demanding valuables.

“I told them I was poor and had nothing. One of them started beating me saying, ‘If you have no money, then we will kill you’.”

After beating her, they locked her in her home and set fire to the roof. She escaped to find her three sons dead and her daughter beaten and bleeding.

Momtaz fled to Bangladesh, where she spent 20 days at the MSF clinic being treated for burns to her face and body.

“What can I say about the future, if now we have no food, no house, no family. We cannot think about the future. They have killed that as well.”

(Additional reporting by Serajul Quadir, Nurul Islam and Nazimuddin Shyamol; Writing by Karishma Singh; Editing by Darren Schuettler and Simon Cameron-Moore)

Exclusive: $6 for 38 days work: Child exploitation rife in Rohingya camps

Azimul Hasan, 10, a Rohingya refugee boy, serves plates at a roadside hotel where he works at Jamtoli, close to Palong Khali camp, near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, November 12, 2017.

By Tom Allard and Tommy Wilkes

COX’S BAZAR/KUTUPALONG, Bangladesh (Reuters) – Rohingya refugee children from Myanmar are working punishing hours for paltry pay in Bangladesh, with some suffering beatings and sexual assault, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) has found.

Independent reporting by Reuters corroborated some of the findings.

The results of a probe by the IOM into exploitation and trafficking in Bangladesh’s refugee camps, which Reuters reviewed on an exclusive basis, also documented accounts of Rohingya girls as young as 11 getting married, and parents saying the unions would provide protection and economic advancement.

About 450,000 children, or 55 percent of the refugee population, live in teeming settlements near the border with Myanmar after fleeing the destruction of villages and alleged murder, looting and rape by security forces and Buddhist mobs.

Afjurul Hoque Tutul, additional superintendent of police in Cox’s Bazar, near where the camps are based, said 11 checkpoints had been set up that would help prevent children from leaving.

“If any Rohingya child is found working, then the owners will be punished,” he said.

Most of the refugees have arrived in the past two and a half months after attacks on about 30 security posts by Rohingya rebels met a ferocious response from Myanmar’s military.

Described by the United Nations human rights commissioner Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein as a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing”, Myanmar’s government counters that its actions are a proportionate response to attacks by Rohingya “terrorists”.

The IOM’s findings, based on discussions with groups of long-term residents and recent arrivals, and separate interviews by Reuters, show life in the refugee camps is hardly better than it is in Myanmar for Rohingya children.

The IOM said children were targeted by labor agents and encouraged to work by their destitute parents amid widespread malnutrition and poverty in the camps. Education opportunities are limited for children beyond Grade 3.

Azimul Hasan, 10, a Rohingya refugee boy, stands inside a roadside hotel where he works at Jamtoli, close to Palong Khali camp, near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, November 12, 2017.

Azimul Hasan, 10, a Rohingya refugee boy, stands inside a roadside hotel where he works at Jamtoli, close to Palong Khali camp, near Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, November 12, 2017. REUTERS/Navesh Chitrakar

Rohingya boys and girls as young as seven years old were confirmed working outside the settlements, according to the findings.

Boys work on farms, construction sites and fishing boats, as well as in tea shops and as rickshaw drivers, the IOM and Rohingya residents in the camp reported.

Girls typically work as maids and nannies for Bangladeshi families, either in the nearby resort town of Cox’s Bazar or in Chittagong, Bangladesh’s second-largest city, about 150 km (100 miles) from the camps.

One Rohingya parent, who asked not to be identified because she feared reprisals, told Reuters her 14-year-old daughter had been working in Chittagong as a maid but fled her employers.

When she returned to the camp, she was unable to walk, her mother said, adding that her daughter’s Bangladeshi employers had physically and sexually assaulted her.

“The husband was an alcoholic and he would come to her bedroom at night and rape her. He did it six or seven times,” the mother said. “They gave us no money. Nothing.”

The account could not be independently verified by Reuters but was similar to others recorded by the IOM.

Most interviewees said female Rohingya refugees “experienced sexual harassment, rape and being forced to marry the person who raped her”, the IOM said.

A 12 year old Rohingya girl who worked as domestic help in a house in Bangladesh, looks out the window at an undisclosed location near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, November 8, 2017.

A 12 year old Rohingya girl who worked as domestic help in a house in Bangladesh, looks out the window at an undisclosed location near Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, November 8, 2017. REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain

PAID A PITTANCE, IF AT ALL

Across Bangladesh’s refugee settlements, Reuters saw children wandering muddy lanes alone and aimlessly, or sitting listlessly outside tents. Many children begged along roadsides.

The Inter Sector Coordination Group, which oversees UN agencies and charities, said this month it had documented 2,462 unaccompanied and separated children in the camps. The actual number was “likely to be far higher”, it said.

A preliminary survey by the UNHCR and Bangladesh’s Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commission has found that 5 percent of households – or 3,576 families – were headed by a child.

Reuters interviewed seven families who sent their children to work. All reported terrible working conditions, low wages or abuse.

Muhammad Zubair, dressed in a dirty football shirt, his small stature belying his stated age of 12 years old, said he was offered 250 taka per day but ended up with only 500 taka ($6) for 38 days work building roads. His mother said he was 14 years old.

“It was hard work, laying bricks on the road,” he said, squatting in the doorway of his mud hut in the Kutupalong camp. He said he was verbally abused by his employers when he asked for more money and was told to leave. He declined to provide their identities.

Zubair then took a job in a tea shop for a month, putting in two shifts per day from 6am to past midnight, broken by a four-hour rest period in the afternoon.

He said he wasn’t allowed to leave the shop and was only permitted to speak to his parents by phone once.

“When I wasn’t paid, I escaped,” he said. “I was frightened because I thought the owner, the master, would come here with other people and take me again.”

 

FORCED MARRIAGE

Many parents also pressure their daughters to marry early, for protection and for financial stability, according to the IOM findings. Some child brides are as young as 11, the IOM said.

But many women only became “second wives,” the IOM said. Second wives are frequently divorced quickly and “abandoned without any further economic support”.

Kateryna Ardanyan, an IOM anti-trafficking specialist, said exploitation had become “normalized” in the camps.

“Human traffickers usually adapt faster to the situation than any other response mechanism can. It’s very important we try to do prevention.” Ardanyan said.

“Funding dedicated to protecting Rohingya men, women and children from exploitation and abuse is urgently needed.”

 

(Reporting by Tom Allard and Tommy Wilkes; Editing by Philip McClellan)

 

Aboard rickety boats or swimming, over 750 Rohingya reach Bangladesh

Aboard rickety boats or swimming, over 750 Rohingya reach Bangladesh

By Tommy Wilkes and Simon Cameron-Moore

COX’S BAZAR/YANGON (Reuters) – They came in boats, others on flimsy rafts, some even swam. Around 750 Rohingya Muslims made their escape from Myanmar on Friday to reach Bangladesh, where the greatest danger is malnutrition and disease in teeming refugee camps.

Over 613,000 Rohingya have already taken refuge in the camps since a Myanmar military clearance operation forced them to abandon their villages in northern Rakhine State.

Rohingya who have reached Bangladesh have recounted horror stories of rape and murder. A top U.N. official described the military’s actions as “ethnic cleansing”, though Myanmar denied that, saying its operation was needed for national security after Rohingya militants attacked 30 security posts on Aug. 25.

Aung San Suu Kyi, the de facto leader of Myanmar’s less than two-year-old administration, was in Vietnam on Friday, attending the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit. She was expected to hold talks with several leaders on the sidelines of the gathering, including Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Having won the Nobel Peace Prize for defying the generals who ruled predominantly Buddhist Myanmar with an iron fist for nearly half a century, Suu Kyi’s reputation as a stateswoman has suffered due to her failure to speak out more strongly over the Rohingya crisis.

Under a constitution written before the junta gave way, the civilian administration still has to share power with the generals, and has little say over defense and security issues.

Still, leaders at APEC, and two other regional summits to be hosted by the Philippines in the coming days, are expected to exert pressure on Suu Kyi to do more to stem the crisis.

And on Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will meet with Suu Kyi in Naypyitaw, the Myanmar capital, with senators back in Washington pressing to impose sanctions targeting the military.

International Rescue Committee, the leading aid agency headquartered in New York and led by former British foreign minister David Miliband, reckoned that up to two-thirds of the 300,000 Rohingya remaining in Myanmar will join the exodus to Bangladesh in the coming months.

The IRC in a statement highlighted the extremely dangerous health conditions for Rohingya living in camps in the port city of Cox’s Bazar.

A nutrition survey led by its partner Action Contre la Faim had found 40,000 Rohingya children faced malnutrition and required life-saving assistance.

It said 95 percent of the population was drinking contaminated water – and agencies had reported that two-thirds of Cox’s Bazar’s water was contaminated with faeces.

“The conditions we are seeing in Cox’s Bazaar create a perfect storm for a public health crisis on an unimaginable scale,” said Cat Mahony, the IRC’s emergency response director in Cox’s Bazar.

“The situation will only deteriorate with more arrivals and a greater strain on already overstretched resources.”

Trail of destruction: http://tmsnrt.rs/2y8FgQ8

NO MONEY… BUILD A RAFT OR SWIM

Still, Rohingya too scared to stay in Myanmar were ready to risk their lives crossing the waters around the mouth of the Naf river to reach Bangladesh.

They were helped on Friday by another day of calm seas, though more than 200 have drowned attempting the crossing during the past two months.

Bangladesh officials said significant numbers were arriving on rafts they had built from bamboo, lashing plastic jerrycans to the poles for extra buoyancy. They said more Rohingya had swum across on Thursday.

A Reuters photographer saw up to ten rafts landing on the beaches of Teknaf, at the southern tip of Cox’s Bazar, on Friday.

People reaching the shore have told Reuters that there are thousands living in desperate conditions on the strand of beach by the river’s mouth at Pa Nyaung Pin Gyi, as they waited for a chance to cross over.

Dil Muhammad, 30, from Buthidaung, one of the Rakhine regions that bore the brunt of the military operation, finally made it across with his wife and three children after weeks of living on the sand because he could not afford to pay a boatman.

“I stayed in Pa Nyaung Pin Gyi for two months because I didn’t have money to come,” he told Reuters.

Dil Mohammed said his 18 month old daughter was suffering from diarrhea and a fever. “I couldn’t get to a doctor as we were stuck in that place.”

And Sakhina Khatun, a woman of 35, said that three men who had been with her on the other side had been attacked by “Buddhists” when they went to search for bamboo to make a raft.

Border Guard Bangladesh officials counted 444 refugees coming ashore at Sabrang, near Teknaf, and 150 more arriving further along the coast.

Afruzul Haque Tutul, additional superintendent of police in Cox’s Bazar said his officers had rescued 125 Rohingya from a wooden fishing boat stranded off Inani beach and bussed them to the camps.

Mass exodus: http://tmsnrt.rs/2xTId74

A desperate escape: http://tmsnrt.rs/2xIvxQF

(Additional reporting by Mohammad Ponir Hossain and Nurul Islam in COX’S BAZAR; Writing by Simon Cameron-Moore; Editing by Toby Chopra)

Rohingya row to Bangladesh as Myanmar’s Suu Kyi runs summit gauntlet

Rohingya row to Bangladesh as Myanmar's Suu Kyi runs summit gauntlet

By Tommy Wilkes and Simon Cameron-Moore

COX’S BAZAR/YANGON (Reuters) – Blessed by calmer seas, several hundred more Rohingya Muslims on Thursday joined a multitude of refugees in Bangladesh, as calls grew for upcoming regional summits to exert more pressure on Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi to stem the crisis.

A Myanmar military operation has driven out more than 600,000 Rohingya since late August and the latest refugees to find sanctuary in predominantly Muslim Bangladesh say many thousands more are still trying to leave.

Ariful Islam, of Bangladesh’s Border Guard, said about 200 people arrived on Thursday morning on the stretch of coast he commands at Teknaf, at the southern tip of Cox’s Bazar district.

More than 200 Rohingya have drowned in the strong currents and high surf trying to reach Bangladesh from Buddhist-majority Myanmar over the past two months.

But the sea was fairly flat on Thursday morning as Abdus Sabir came ashore at Shamlapur along with a large group of Rohingya after a six-hour boat journey to complete an escape begun weeks ago.

“We fled because the military is still burning our houses,” Abdus, who had abandoned his home in the Rathedaung region of Myanmar’s Rakhine State, told Reuters.

Nearby, Husain Shorif, from the Buthidaung region, said he had rowed for four hours to help bring across 56 people on a raft cobbled together from bamboo and plastic jerrycans.

“Some boatmen were asking for huge money we didn’t have. So we made our own boat and came,” Shorif said, adding that thousands more Rohingya were still stranded at Pa Nyaung Pin Gyi at the mouth of the Naf river.

Reuters was unable to verify that claim as Myanmar’s military has restricted access to northern parts of Rakhine, where it launched a clearance operation it says was aimed at Rohingya militants behind attacks on 30 security posts on Aug. 25. UN officials described the operation as “ethnic cleansing”, an accusation Myanmar has denied.

The storm of opprobrium over the humanitarian crisis will expose Myanmar to more diplomatic pressure, at least from leaders of Muslim-majority countries and the United States, during three summits hosted by Vietnam and the Philippines.

Suu Kyi, the de facto leader of Myanmar’s less than two-year-old civilian administration, left on Thursday to attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Vietnam’s central seaside resort of Danang.

Awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for standing up to the generals who had ruled the country for nearly half a century, Suu Kyi now has to share power with them, under a constitution drawn up in 2008 when junta was still in control, and has little control over what they do.

After Friday’s APEC gathering, Suu Kyi will meet leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) grouping in Manila on Sunday, followed by an East Asia Summit in Angeles, just north of the Philippine capital.

Mass exodus: http://tmsnrt.rs/2xTAOon

A desperate escape: http://tmsnrt.rs/2A1ATUP

OUTCRY

Setting up a regional trade block, and concerns over North Korea’s ambitions to become a nuclear-armed state are priorities, but New York-based Human Rights Watch beseeched the Asian leaders to ensure stronger action by Myanmar to end the crisis.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will meet Suu Kyi on Nov. 15 for talks on the Rohingya crisis, and they are expected to hold a joint news conference.

“World leaders shouldn’t return home from these summits without agreeing to targeted sanctions to pressure Burma to end its abuses and allow in independent observers and aid groups,” Brad Adams, Asia director of Human Rights Watch, said in a statement that referred to Myanmar by its old name.

Desperate for help to cope with the massive influx of people, Bangladesh is lobbying furiously for pressure to be put on Myanmar.

“We want international communities to continue building pressure on Myanmar. Otherwise, they won’t resolve the crisis,” a foreign ministry official in Dhaka told Reuters, adding that ministers from Germany, China, Japan and Sweden were expected to visit both countries later this month.

HRW’s Adams said leaders meeting Asia should discuss how to investigate alleged rights abuses and atrocities in Rakhine, and refer them to the International Criminal Court in the Hague.

The rights group also urged the Security Council to impose an arms embargo, economic sanctions and travel bans targeting Myanmar military officials.

Some U.S. senators are pressing for the United States to impose its own sanctions, also targeting the military.

The Security Council this week opted for a strongly worded statement scolding Myanmar, as diplomats said China and Russia would have vetoed any resolution.

China has publicly supported the Myanmar government’s efforts to “maintain stability” in Rakhine. The stance taken by China and other Southeast Asian governments fighting insurgencies by Muslim militants should spare Myanmar from any harsh spotlight in the summits’ final communiques.

“On the Rohingya, the leaders will agree that there is no quick fix to the long-standing inter-communal problem with deep historical roots that needs to be carefully managed,” an ASEAN diplomat told Reuters, adding that the group aimed to deliver $500,000 of relief supplies to Myanmar.

A trail of destruction: http://tmsnrt.rs/2fDBxTc

(Additional reporting by Navesh Chitrakar and Mohammad Ponir Hossain in COX’S BAZAR, Ruma Paul in DHAKA and Thu Thu Aung in YANGON; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

U.N. picks Norwegian for Myanmar role as tensions simmer over Rohingya crisis

U.N. picks Norwegian for Myanmar role as tensions simmer over Rohingya crisis

YANGON (Reuters) – The United Nations named a new interim U.N. resident coordinator for Myanmar on Tuesday, appointing Knut Ostby of Norway to take over the humanitarian role at a time of growing strains with the Myanmar government over the handling of the Rohingya crisis.

The appointment of a temporary placeholder was expected after Myanmar blocked an upgrade of the U.N. country chief position.

Myanmar’s de facto leader, Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, has told diplomats in private meetings that she is frustrated with the United Nations, particularly its human rights arm.

Ostby, who has served with the United Nations in a number of hotspots, including Afghanistan and East Timor, will replace Renata Lok-Dessallien, who has completed her term.

Some 600,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled to Bangladesh after ethnic violence erupted in Myanmar’s northern Rakhine state in late August.

Rights monitors and Rohingya refugees say the army and Rakhine Buddhist vigilantes have forced them to flee their homes.

U.N. investigators interviewing Rohingyas living in refugee camps near Cox’s Bazar said on Friday they had gathered testimony pointing to a “consistent, methodical pattern” of killings, torture, rape and arson.

The fact-finding team, led by former Indonesian attorney general Marzuki Darusman, said the death toll from the Myanmar army’s crackdown following Rohingya insurgent attacks on Aug. 25 was unknown, but “may turn out to be extremely high”.

The U.N. team, which was established by the U.N. Human Rights Council in March, renewed its appeal for access to Rakhine state and for talks with the Myanmar government and military to “establish the facts”.

In the early stages of the crisis, the United Nations described the military campaign as “ethnic cleansing”, an accusation rejected by Myanmar, which says its military was engaged in counter-insurgency operations against Rohingya militants behind a series of attacks on security posts.

Suu Kyi has said the refugees can return, but thousands continue to arrive in Bangladesh.

Myanmar, an overwhelmingly Buddhist country with small Christian and Muslim minorities, is struggling to emerge from decades of military rule, and Suu Kyi’s democratically elected government is engaged in a peace dialogue with members of various armed ethnic groups.

(Reporting by Antoni Slodowski; Writing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

Myanmar corrects state media report on U.N. ‘agreement’ to help house refugees

Myanmar corrects state media report on U.N. 'agreement' to help house refugees

NAYPYITAW (Reuters) – A Myanmar state-run newspaper on Saturday corrected a report that a U.N. settlement program, UN-Habitat, had agreed to help build housing for people fleeing violence in the west of the country, where an army operation has displaced hundreds of thousands.

The development underscores tension between Myanmar and the United Nations, which in April criticized the government’s previous plan to resettle Rohingya Muslims displaced by last year’s violence in “camp-like” villages.

More than 600,000 have crossed to Bangladesh since Aug. 25 attacks by Rohingya militants sparked an army crackdown. The U.N. says killings, arson and rape carried out by troops and ethnic Rakhine Buddhist mobs since then amount to a campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya.

The state-run Global New Light of Myanmar (GNLM) newspaper said it had “incorrectly stated that UN-Habitat had agreed with the Union government to provide technical assistance in building housings for displaced people in northern Rakhine.”

“Union officials say that the issue is still under negotiation. The GNLM regrets the error,” said the newspaper.

In its report on Thursday, the daily said UN-Habitat had agreed to provide technical assistance in housing the displaced and the agency would work closely with the authorities to “implement the projects to be favorable to Myanmar’s social culture and administrative system”.

But the U.N. told Reuters in an email that no agreements had been reached “so far” after the agency’s representatives attended a series of meetings with Myanmar officials this week in its capital Naypyitaw.

Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi has pledged that anyone sheltering in Bangladesh who can prove they were Myanmar residents can return, but it remains unclear whether those refugees would be allowed to return to their homes.

Rohingya who return to Myanmar are unlikely to be able to reclaim their land, and may find their crops have been harvested and sold by the government, according to Myanmar officials and plans seen by Reuters.

Buddhist-majority Myanmar in August suggested that U.N. agencies such as the World Food Programme have provided food to Rohingya insurgents, adding to pressure on aid groups which had to suspend activities in Rakhine and pull out most of their staff.

Thousands of refugees have continued to arrive cross the Naf river separating Rakhine and Bangladesh in recent days, even though Myanmar says military operations ceased on Sept. 5.

(Editing by Nick Macfie)

Myanmar gives green light to resume food aid to Rakhine, says U.N.

Myanmar gives green light to resume food aid to Rakhine, says U.N.

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) – Myanmar authorities have agreed to allow the United Nations to resume distribution of food in northern Rakhine state which was suspended for two months, the World Food Programme (WFP) said on Friday.

The agreement, whose details are still being worked out, came as UNICEF reported that Rohingya refugee children fleeing into Bangladesh were arriving “close to death” from malnutrition.

The WFP was previously distributing food rations to 110,000 people in northern Rakhine state – to both Buddhist and the minority Muslim Rohingya communities.

Rohingya insurgent attacks on police stations triggered an army crackdown, that the United Nations has called “ethnic cleansing”, and U.N. humanitarian agencies have not been able to access northern Rakhine to deliver aid since then. WFP deliveries have continued to 140,000 people in central Rakhine.

“WFP has been given the green light to resume food assistance operations in northern part of Rakhine. We are working with the government to coordinate the details,” WFP spokeswoman Bettina Luescher told journalists in Geneva.

She had no timeline or details on the proposed distribution of rations to northern Rakhine, and said it was still being discussed with the authorities in Myanmar.

“We just have to see what the situation on the ground is. It’s very hard to say these things if you can’t get in,” Luescher said.

Some 604,000 Rohingya refugees have fled to Bangladesh in the past two months, bringing the total to 817,000, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said.

Malnutrition rates in Maungdaw and Buthidaung townships in Rakhine, where the vast majority of the Rohingya refugees originate, were already above emergency threshold rates before the crisis, the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said.

“Since August 25, we have had to stop treating 4,000 children with severe acute malnutrition in northern Rakhine because we have had no access,” UNICEF spokeswoman Marixie Mercado told the briefing.

UNICEF has screened nearly 60,000 Rohingya refugee children arriving in Bangladesh, nearly 2,000 of whom have been identified as having severe acute malnutrition, with another 7,000 moderately acutely malnourished, she said.

The agency screened 340 children among recent arrivals, a “rough and rapid exercise” that found 10 percent to be severely acutely malnourished, she said.

“This is an extremely small number of children so these numbers are not representative,” Mercado said.

“But what they do tell us is that some of the children are close to death by the time they make it across the border.”

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay,; editing by Tom Miles and Richard Balmforth)