Reuters report on Myanmar massacre brings calls for independent probe

Ten Rohingya Muslim men with their hands bound kneel as members of the Myanmar security forces stand guard in Inn Din village September 2, 2017.

(Reuters) – A Reuters investigation into the killing of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar prompted a demand from Washington for a credible probe into the bloodshed there and calls for the release of two journalists who were arrested while working on the report.

The special report, published overnight, lays out events leading up to the killing of 10 Rohingya men from Inn Din village in Rakhine state who were buried in a mass grave after being hacked to death or shot by Buddhist neighbors and soldiers.

“As with other, previous reports of mass graves, this report highlights the ongoing and urgent need for Burmese authorities to cooperate with an independent, credible investigation into allegations of atrocities in northern Rakhine,” U.S. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said.

“Such an investigation would help provide a more comprehensive picture of what happened, clarify the identities of the victims, identify those responsible for human rights abuses and violations, and advance efforts for justice and accountability,” she said.

The Reuters report drew on interviews with Buddhists who confessed to torching Rohingya homes, burying bodies and killing Muslims in what they said was a frenzy of violence triggered when Rohingya insurgents attacked security posts last August.

The account marked the first time soldiers and paramilitary police have been implicated by testimony from security personnel in arson and killings in the north of Rakhine state that the United Nations has said may amount to genocide.

In the story, Myanmar said its “clearance operation” is a legitimate response to attacks by insurgents.

Asked about the evidence Reuters had uncovered about the massacre, Myanmar government spokesman Zaw Htay said on Thursday, before publication of the report: “We are not denying the allegations about violations of human rights. And we are not giving blanket denials.”

If there was “strong and reliable primary evidence” of abuses, the government would investigate, he said.

There was no comment from the government following the publication of the report.

“A TURNING POINT”

Nearly 690,000 Rohingya have fled their villages and crossed the border of western Myanmar into Bangladesh since August.

British Labour Party lawmaker Rosena Allin-Khan told BBC’s Newsnight that the Reuters report was consistent with accounts she had heard while working as a doctor at Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh last year.

“We’ve been bystanders to a genocide,” she said. “This evidence marks a turning point because, for the first time since this all started to unfold in August, we have heard from the perpetrators themselves.”

She said that, as well as an international probe, there needed to be a referral to the International Criminal Court.

Human Rights Watch said Myanmar’s military leaders should be held accountable in an international court for alleged crimes against the Rohingya population.

“As more evidence comes out about the pre-planning and intent of the Myanmar armed forces to wipe out Rohingya villages and their inhabitants, the international community … needs to focus on how to hold the country’s military leaders accountable,” said HRW’s deputy Asia director Phil Robertson.

Campaign group Fortify Rights also called for an independent investigation.

“The international community needs to stop stalling and do what’s necessary to hold accountable those who are responsible before evidence is tainted or lost, memories fade, and more people suffer,” said the group’s chief executive Matthew Smith.

United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, David Kaye, said in a tweet: “During the reporting of this article, two Reuters journalists were arrested by Myanmar police. They remain held & must absolutely be released.”

Yanghee Lee, the U.N. human rights investigator for Myanmar who has been barred from visiting the Rohingya areas, echoed that call and added in a tweet: “Independent & credible investigation needed to get to the bottom of the Inn Din massacre.”

Police arrested two Reuters reporters, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, on Dec. 12 for allegedly obtaining confidential documents relating to Rakhine and have accused them of violating Myanmar’s Official Secrets Act. They are in prison while a court decides if they should be charged under the colonial-era act.

(Writing by John Chalmers; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan and Alex Richardson)

Turkish PM calls Rohingya killings in Myanmar ‘genocide’

Rohingya refugee children play at the Shamlapur refugee camp near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh December 20, 2017. REUTERS/Marko Djurica

COX’S BAZAR, Bangladesh (Reuters) – Turkey’s prime minister on Wednesday dubbed the killing of minority Muslim Rohingyas in Myanmar by its security forces “genocide” and urged the international community to ensure their safety back home.

Binali Yildirim met several Rohingyas in two refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar in neighboring Bangladesh.

Almost 870,000 Rohingya fled there, about 660,000 of whom arrived after Aug. 25, when Rohingya militants attacked security posts and the Myanmar army launched a counter-offensive.

“The Myanmar military has been trying to uproot Rohingya Muslim community from their homeland and for that they persecuted them, set fire to their homes, villages, raped and abused women and killed them,” Yildirim told reporters from Cox’s Bazar, before flying back to Turkey.

“It’s one kind of a genocide,” he said.

“The international community should also work together to ensure their safe and dignified return to their homeland,” Yildirim, who was accompanied by Bangladesh’s Foreign Minister Abul Hassan Mahmood Ali, said.

Surveys of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh by aid agency Medecins Sans Frontieres have shown at least 6,700 Rohingya were killed in Rakhine state in the month after violence flared up on Aug. 25, MSF said last week.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein has called the violence “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing” and said he would not be surprised if a court eventually ruled that genocide had taken place.

Yildirim inaugurated a medical camp at Balukhali, sponsored by Turkey, and handed over two ambulances to Cox’s Bazar district administration. He also distributed food to Rohingya refugees at Kutupalong makeshift camp.

He urged the international community to enhance support for Rohingyas in Bangladesh and help find a political solution to this humanitarian crisis.

U.N. investigators have heard Rohingya testimony of a “consistent, methodical pattern of killings, torture, rape and arson”.

The United Nations defines genocide as acts meant to destroy a national, ethnic, racial or religious group in whole or in part. Such a designation is rare under international law, but has been used in contexts including Bosnia, Sudan and an Islamic State campaign against the Yazidi communities in Iraq and Syria.

Nobel peace laureate Aung San 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 after decades of military rule.

Yildirim’s trip follows Turkish first lady Emine Erdogan’s visit in September to the Rohingya camp, when she said the crack down in Myanmar’s Rakhine state was “tantamount to genocide” and a solution to the Rohingya crisis lies in Myanmar alone.

(Reporting by Mohammad Nurul Islam; Editing by Malini Menon and Richard Balmforth)

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)

U.S. says holds Myanmar military leaders accountable in Rohingya crisis

A Rohingya refugee woman who crossed the border from Myanmar a day before, carries her daughter and searches for help as they wait to receive permission from the Bangladeshi army to continue their way to the refugee camps, in Palang Khali, Bangladesh October 17, 2017. REUTERS/Jorge Silva

By David Brunnstrom and Jonathan Landay

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on Wednesday the United States held Myanmar’s military leadership responsible for its harsh crackdown on the Rohingya Muslim minority.

Tillerson, however, stopped short of saying whether the United States would take any action against Myanmar’s military leaders over an offensive that has driven more than 500,000 Rohingya Muslims out of the country.

Washington has worked hard to establish close ties with Myanmar’s civilian-led government led by Nobel laureate and former dissident Aung San Suu Kyi in the face of competition from strategic rival China.

“The world can’t just stand idly by and be witness to the atrocities that are being reported in the area,” Tillerson told Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank.

“We really hold the military leadership accountable for what’s happening,” said Tillerson, who said the United States was “extraordinarily concerned” by the situation.

Rohingya Muslims have fled Myanmar in large numbers since late August when Rohingya insurgent attacks sparked a ferocious military response, with the fleeing people accusing security forces of arson, killings and rape.

Tillerson said Washington understood Myanmar had a militancy problem, but the military had to be disciplined and restrained in the way it dealt with this and to allow access to the region “so that we can get a full accounting of the circumstances.”

“Someone, if these reports are true, is going to be held to account for that,” Tillerson said. “And it’s up to the military leadership of Burma to decide, ‘What direction do they want to play in the future of Burma?'”

Tillerson said Washington saw Myanmar, which is also known as Burma, as “an important emerging democracy,” but the Rohingya crisis was a test for the power-sharing government.

He said the United States would remain engaged, including ultimately at the United Nations “with the direction this takes.”

The European Union and the United States have been considering targeted sanctions against Myanmar’s military leadership.

Punitive measures aimed specifically at top generals are among a range of options that have been discussed, but they are wary of action that could hurt the wider economy or destabilize already tense ties between Suu Kyi and the army.

Tillerson also said he would visit New Delhi next week as the Trump administration sought to dramatically deepen cooperation with India in response to China’s challenges to “international law and norms” in Asia.

Tillerson said the administration had began a “quiet conversation” with some emerging East Asian democracies about creating alternatives to Chinese infrastructure financing.

(Reporting by David Brunnstrom and Jonathan Landay; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Alistair Bell)

‘I can’t take this any more’ – Rohingya Muslims flee Myanmar in new surge

Rohingya refugees, who arrived from Myanmar last night, walk in a rice field after crossing the border in Palang Khali near Cox's Bazaar, Bangladesh

By Tom Allard and Nurul Islam

COX’S BAZAR, Bangladesh (Reuters) – Thousands of Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar fled to Bangladesh on Monday in a new surge of refugees driven by fears of starvation and violence the United Nations has denounced as ethnic cleansing.

Reuters reporters on the Bangladeshi side of the border, in Palong Khali district, saw several thousand people crossing from Myanmar’s Rakhine state, filing along embankments between flooded fields and scrubby forest.

“Half of my village was burnt down. I saw them do it,” said Sayed Azin, 46, who said he had walked for eight days carrying his 80-year-old mother in a basket strung on a bamboo pole between him and his son.

Soldiers and Buddhist mobs had torched his village, he said.

“I left everything,” he said, sobbing. “I can’t find my relatives … I can’t take this any more.”

Some new arrivals spoke of bloody attacks by Buddhist mobs on people trekking toward the border.

Rohingya refugees who fled from Myanmar make their way through the rice field after crossing the border in Palang Khali, Bangladesh

Rohingya refugees who fled from Myanmar make their way through the rice field after crossing the border in Palang Khali, Bangladesh October 9, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

About 519,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar since Aug. 25, when attacks by Rohingya militants on security posts in Rakhine sparked a ferocious military response.

Refugees and rights groups say the army and Buddhist vigilantes have engaged in a campaign of killing and arson aimed at driving the Rohingya out of Myanmar.

Myanmar rejects accusations of ethnic cleansing and has labeled the militants from the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army who launched the initial attacks as terrorists who have killed civilians and burnt villages.

Among those fleeing were up to 35 people on a boat that capsized off the Bangladesh coast on Sunday. At least 12 of them drowned while 13 were rescued, Bangladeshi police said.

“We faced so many difficulties, for food and survival,” Sayed Hossein, 30, told Reuters, adding that his wife, three children, mother and father in law had drowned.

“We came here to save our lives.”

 

‘GETTING WORSE’

The Myanmar government has said its “clearance operations” against the militants ended in early September and people had no reason to flee. But in recent days the government has reported large numbers of Muslims preparing to leave, with more than 17,000 people in one area alone.

The government cited worries about food and security as their reasons.

Some villagers in Rakhine said food was running out because rice in the fields was not ready for harvest and the state government had closed village markets and restricted the transport of food, apparently to cut supplies to the militants.

“The situation’s getting worse. We have no food and no guarantee of security,” said a Rohingya resident of Hsin Hnin Pyar village on the south of the state’s Buthidaung district.

He said a lot of people were preparing to flee.

“While the Myanmar military has engaged in a campaign of violence, there is mounting evidence that Rohingya women, men and children are now also fleeing the very real threat of starvation,” rights group Amnesty International said.

Senior state government official Kyaw Swar Tun declined to go into details when asked about the food, except to ask, “Have you heard of anyone dying of hunger in Buthidaung?”

The reports of food shortages will add to the urgency of calls by aid agencies and the international community for unfettered humanitarian access to the conflict zone.

The insurgents declared a one-month ceasefire from Sept. 10 to enable the delivery of aid but the government rebuffed them, saying it did not negotiate with terrorists.

The ceasefire is due to end at midnight on Monday but the insurgents said in a statement they were ready to respond to any peace move by the government.

The ability of the group to mount any sort of challenge to the army is not known, but it does not appear to have been able to put up resistance to the latest military offensive.

Students of a local madrasa watch from inside their classroom as bodies of Rohingya refugees from Myanmar, who were killed when their boat capsized on the way to Bangladesh, are brought to their school in Shah Porir Dwip, in Teknaf, near Cox's Bazar in Bangladesh, October 9, 2017.

Students of a local madrasa watch from inside their classroom as bodies of Rohingya refugees from Myanmar, who were killed when their boat capsized on the way to Bangladesh, are brought to their school in Shah Porir Dwip, in Teknaf, near Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh, October 9, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

COMING, GOING

Bangladesh was already home to 400,000 Rohingya who had fled earlier bouts of violence.

Mostly Buddhist Myanmar does not recognize the Rohingya as citizens, even though many have lived there for generations.

But even as refugees arrive, Bangladesh insists they will all have to go home. Myanmar has responded by saying it will take back those who can be verified as genuine refugees.

Many Rohingya fear they will not be able to prove their right to return.

Myanmar leader and Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi has faced scathing international criticism for not doing more to stop the violence, although she has no power over the security forces under a military-drafted constitution.

The United States and Britain have warned Myanmar the crisis is putting at risk the progress it has made since the military began to loosen its grip on power in 2011.

 

(Additonal reportin by Damir Sagolj in COX’S BAZAR, Wa Lone in YANGON; Writing by Robert Birsel; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Nick Macfie)

 

Rohingya insurgents open to peace but Myanmar ceasefire ending

A Myanmar soldier stands near Maungdaw, north of Rakhine state, Myanmar September 27, 2017. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun

By Robert Birsel

YANGON (Reuters) – Muslim Rohingya insurgents said on Saturday they are ready to respond to any peace move by the Myanmar government but a one-month ceasefire they declared to enable the delivery of aid in violence-racked Rakhine State is about to end.

The Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) did not say what action it would take after the ceasefire ends at midnight on Monday but it was “determined to stop the tyranny and oppression” waged against the Rohingya people.

“If at any stage, the Burmese government is inclined to peace, then ARSA will welcome that inclination and reciprocate,” the group said in a statement.

Government spokesmen were not immediately available for comment.

When the ARSA announced its one-month ceasefire from Sept. 10, a government spokesman said: “We have no policy to negotiate with terrorists.”

The rebels launched coordinated attacks on about 30 security posts and an army camp on Aug. 25 with the help of hundreds of disaffected Rohingya villagers, many wielding sticks or machetes, killing about a dozen people.

In response, the military unleashed a sweeping offensive across the north of Rakhine State, driving more than half a million Rohingya villagers into Bangladesh in what the United Nations branded a textbook example of “ethnic cleansing”.

Myanmar rejects that. It says more than 500 people have been killed in the fighting, most of them “terrorists” who have been attacking civilians and torching villages.

The ability of the ARSA, which only surfaced in October last year, to mount any sort of challenge to the Myanmar army is not known but it does not appear to have been able to put up resistance to the military offensive unleashed in August.

Inevitably, there are doubts about how the insurgents can operate in areas where the military has driven out the civilian population, cutting the insurgents off from recruits, food, funds and information.

The ARSA accused the government of using murder, arson and rape as “tools of depopulation”.

‘NATIVE’

The ARSA denies links to foreign Islamists.

In an interview with Reuters in March, ARSA leader Ata Ullah linked the creation of the group to communal violence between Buddhists and Muslims in Rakhine in 2012, when nearly 200 people were killed and 140,000, mostly Rohingya, displaced.

The group says it is fighting for the rights of the Rohingya, who have never been regarded as an indigenous minority in Myanmar and so have been denied citizenship under a law that links nationality to ethnicity.

The group repeated their demand that Rohingya be recognized as a “native indigenous” ethnic group, adding that all Rohingya people should be allowed “to return home safely with dignity … to freely determine their political status and pursue their economic, social and cultural development”.

The Rohingya have long faced discrimination and repression in Rakhine State where bad blood between them and ethnic Rakhine Buddhists, stemming from violence by both sides, goes back generations.

The ARSA condemned the government for blocking humanitarian assistance in Rakhine and said it was willing to discuss ceasefires with international organizations so aid could be delivered.

Some 515,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh but thousands remain in Rakhine.

Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi has faced scathing criticism for not doing more to stop the violence, although a military-drafted constitution gives her no power over the security forces.

Suu Kyi has condemned rights abuses and said Myanmar was ready to start a process agreed with Bangladesh in 1993 by which anyone verified as a refugee would be accepted back.

Many refugees fear they will not have the paperwork they believe Myanmar will demand to allow them back.

(Writing by Robert Birsel; Editing by Stephen Coates)

More than 60 Rohingya feared drowned as U.S. steps up pressure on Myanmar

More than 60 Rohingya feared drowned as U.S. steps up pressure on Myanmar

By Tommy Wilkes and Michelle Nichols

COX’S BAZAR, Bangladesh/UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – More than 60 Rohingya Muslim refugees from Myanmar are believed to have drowned when their boat capsized, the latest victims in what the United Nations says is the world’s fastest-developing refugee emergency.

The refugees drowned in heavy seas off Bangladesh late on Thursday, part of a new surge of people fleeing a Myanmar military campaign that began on Aug. 25 and has triggered an exodus of some 502,000 people.

International anger over the crisis is growing.

In New York, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley called on countries to suspend providing weapons to Myanmar over the violence.

It was the first time the United States had called for punishment of Myanmar’s military, but she stopped short of threatening to reimpose U.S. sanctions which were suspended under the Obama administration.

Buddhist-majority Myanmar rejects accusations of ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity and has denounced rights abuses.

Its military launched a big offensive in response to coordinated attacks on the security forces by Rohingya insurgents in the north of Rakhine state on Aug. 25.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told the Security Council the violence had spiraled into the “world’s fastest-developing refugee emergency, a humanitarian and human rights nightmare”.

Colonel Anisul Haque, head of the Bangladeshi border guards in the town of Teknaf, told Reuters more refugees had arrived over the past day or two after the number had seemed to be tailing off, with about 1,000 landing at the main entry point on the coast on Thursday.

The refugee boat capsized in driving rain and high seas as darkness fell.

An official with the International Organization for Migration said 23 people were confirmed dead and 40 were missing. Seventeen survived.

“We’re now saying 40 missing, which suggests the total fatality rate will be in the range of 63,” the official, Joe Millman, told a news briefing in Geneva.

One survivor, Abdul Kalam, 55, said his wife, two daughters and a grandson were among the dead, who were buried at tearful funerals on Friday.

Kalam said armed Buddhists came to his village about a week ago and took livestock and food. He said villagers were summoned to a military office and told there were no such people as Rohingya in Myanmar.

After that he decided to leave and headed to the coast with his family, avoiding military camps on the way.

A spokesman for the U.N. refugee agency said a fifth of new arrivals were suffering from acute malnutrition.

The Bangladeshi Red Crescent said its clinics were treating increasing numbers of people with acute diarrhea. The World Health Organization has said one of the diseases it is particularly worried about is cholera.

“We’re seeing the absolute perfect breeding ground for a major health crisis,” said Unni Krishnan, director of Save the Children’s Emergency Health Unit.

‘BRUTAL CAMPAIGN’

In a ramping up of the pressure on Myanmar, also known as Burma, Haley echoed U.N. accusations that the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people in Rakhine state was ethnic cleansing.

“We cannot be afraid to call the actions of the Burmese authorities what they appear to be – a brutal, sustained campaign to cleanse the country of an ethnic minority,” Haley told the U.N. Security Council.

The United States said earlier the army response to the insurgent attacks was “disproportionate” and the crisis raised questions about Myanmar’s transition, under the leadership of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, after decades of military rule.

Suu Kyi has no power over the generals under a military-drafted constitution. She has nevertheless drawn scathing criticism from around the world for not stopping the violence.

The public in Myanmar, where Buddhist nationalism has surged over recent years, largely supports the offensive against the insurgents.

Haley said the military must respect rights and fundamental freedoms, and those who had been accused of abuses should be removed from command and prosecuted.

“And any country that is currently providing weapons to the Burmese military should suspend these activities until sufficient accountability measures are in place,” she said.

There was no ethnic cleansing or genocide in Myanmar, its national security adviser, Thaung Tun, said at the United Nations, adding that Myanmar had invited Guterres to visit.

China and Russia, which have veto powers in the Security Council, expressed support for Myanmar.

The U.N. Human Rights Council extended the mandate of a Myanmar fact-finding mission by six months, until September 2018, over the objections of Myanmar, China and the Philippines.

Myanmar’s representative said the mission was “not helpful, was not in line with the situation on the ground and would do no good to finding a solution to Rakhine issues”.

Myanmar says it will not grant visas to mission investigators.

(Additional reporting by Serajul Quadir in DHAKA, Nurul Islam, Rahul Bhatia in COX’S BAZAR, Stephanie Ulmer-Nebehay and Tom Miles in GENEVA; Writing by Robert Birsel; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Nick Macfie)

Aid groups call for access to Myanmar conflict zone

Women carry children through the water as hundreds of Rohingya refugees arrive under the cover of darkness by wooden boats from Myanmar to the shore of Shah Porir Dwip, in Teknaf, near Cox's Bazar in Bangladesh, September 27, 2017. Picture taken September 27, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

By Simon Lewis

YANGON (Reuters) – International aid groups in Myanmar have urged the government to allow free access to Rakhine State, where an army offensive has sent 480,000 people fleeing to Bangladesh but hundreds of thousands remain cut off from food, shelter and medical care.

The latest army campaign in the western state was launched in response to attacks by Rohingya Muslim insurgents on security posts near the Bangladesh border on Aug. 25.

The government has stopped international non-government groups (INGOs), as well as U.N. agencies, from working in the north of the state, citing insecurity.

“INGOs in Myanmar are increasingly concerned about severe restrictions on humanitarian access and impediments to the delivery of critically needed humanitarian assistance throughout Rakhine State,” aid groups said in a statement late on Wednesday.

An unknown number of people are internally displaced, while hundreds of thousands lack food, shelter and medical services, said the groups, which include Care International, Oxfam and Save the Children.

“We urge the government and authorities of Myanmar to ensure that all people in need in Rakhine Sate have full, free and unimpeded access to life-saving humanitarian assistance.”

The government has put the Myanmar Red Cross in charge of aid to the state, with the help of the International Committee of the Red Cross. But the groups said they feared insufficient aid was getting through given the “enormous” needs.

Relations between the government and aid agencies had been difficult for months, with some officials accusing groups of helping the insurgents.

Aid groups dismissed the accusations, which they said had inflamed anger towards them among Buddhists in the communally divided state.

The groups said threats, allegations and misinformation had led to “genuine fears” among aid workers, and they called for an end to “misinformation and unfounded accusations” and for the government to ensure safety.

‘UNACCEPTABLE TRAGEDY’

The United Nations has accused the army of ethnic cleansing to push Rohingya Muslims out of Myanmar, and rights groups have said the army has committed crimes against humanity and called for sanctions, in particular an arms embargo.

The United States said the army response to the insurgent attacks was “disproportionate” and the crisis raised questions about Myanmar’s transition to democracy after decades of military rule.

British Minister of State for Asia and the Pacific Mark Field described the situation as “an unacceptable tragedy” after visiting Myanmar and meeting leaders including Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.

“Burma has taken great strides forward in recent years. But the ongoing violence and humanitarian crisis in Rakhine risks derailing that,” Field said in a statement.

Britain, like other members of the international community, called for the violence to stop and humanitarian access to the area and for refugees to be allowed to return safely.

Suu Kyi has faced scathing criticism and calls for her Nobel prize to be withdrawn. She denounced rights abuses in an address last week and expressed concern about the suffering.

She also said any refugees verified as coming from Myanmar would be allowed to return.

‘NO JUSTICE’

Myanmar is getting ready to “verify” refugees who want to return, the government minister charged with putting into effect recommendations to solve problems in Rakhine said.

Myanmar would conduct a “national verification process” at two points on its border with Bangladesh under terms agreed during a repatriation effort in 1993, state media quoted Win Myat Aye, the minister for social welfare, relief and resettlement, as saying.

“After the verification process, the refugees will be settled in Dargyizar village,” the minister said, referring to a Rohingya village that was razed after Aug. 25, according to satellite imagery.

It is unclear how many refugees would be willing to return.

Previous government efforts to verify the status of Muslims in Rakhine were broadly rejected as under the process, Muslims would not be recognized as Rohingya, an ethnic identity they prefer but which Myanmar does not recognize.

Most Rohingya are stateless and regarded as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

“As we’re Muslim, the government hates us. They don’t want our Rohingya community,” said refugee Zafar Alam, 55, sheltering from the rain under an umbrella near the Balukhali settlement in Bangladesh.

“I don’t think I’d be safe there. There’s no justice.”

The government would take control of fire-gutted land, Win Myat Aye said this week. Rights groups say about half of more than 400 Rohingya villages were torched.

Officials have announced plans for resettlement camps for the displaced, while U.N. officials and diplomats are urging the government to let people rebuild homes.

(Additonal reporting by Tommy Wilkes in COX’S BAZAR; Writing by Robert Birsel; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Michael Perry)

Hindus fleeing Myanmar violence hope for shelter in Modi’s India

FILE PHOTO: A Hindu family is seen at a shelter near Maungdaw, Rakhine state, Myanmar September 12, 2017. REUTERS/Stringer/File Photo

By Krishna N. Das and Rupam Jain

KUTUPALONG, Bangladesh/NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Caught in the crossfire between Myanmar’s military and Rohingya insurgents, hundreds of Hindus who have fled to Bangladesh are placing their hopes on the Hindu nationalist government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in neighboring India.

Nearly 500 are sheltered in a cleared-out chicken farm in a Hindu hamlet in Bangladesh’s southeast, a couple of miles from where most of the 421,000 Rohingya Muslims who have also fled violence in Myanmar since Aug. 25 are living in makeshift camps.

The Hindu refugees say they are scared of going back to their villages in Buddhist-majority Myanmar’s restive Rakhine state, but also wary of staying in mostly Muslim Bangladesh.

Modi’s government, meanwhile, is making it easier for Hindus, Buddhists, Christians and other minorities from Bangladesh and Pakistan to gain citizenship in India.

“India is also known as Hindustan, the land of the Hindus,” said Niranjan Rudra, sitting on a plastic sheet in the chicken farm flanked by his wife, who sported a large vermilion red dot on her forehead typical of married Hindu women.

“We just want a peaceful life in India, not much. We may not get that in Myanmar or here,” he said. Fellow refugees nodded in agreement, stating that they wanted the message to reach the Indian government through the media.

The Indian government declined to comment on the Hindu refugees’ hopes. A government source said it was waiting while the Supreme Court hears an appeal against the home ministry’s plans to deport around 40,000 Rohingya Muslims from the country.

But Achintya Biswas, a senior member of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), or the World Hindu Council, which has close ties with the ideological parent of Modi’s ruling party, said India was the natural destination for the Hindus fleeing Myanmar.

“Hindu families must be allowed to enter India by the government,” Biswas said by phone. “Where else will they go? This is their place of origin.”

Biswas said the VHP and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the umbrella group that mentors Modi’s ruling party, would submit a report to the home ministry on the refugees and demand a new policy allowing Hindus from Myanmar and Bangladesh to seek asylum in India.

The Hindu right who form the bedrock of Modi’s support have long believed India is the home for all Hindus.

India’s Home Ministry spokesman K.S. Dhatwalia declined to comment.

A senior home ministry official in New Delhi, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that no Hindu in Myanmar or Bangladesh affected by the violence had approached Indian authorities.

“At this juncture we have no SOS calls from Hindus,” said the official. “Also, the Supreme Court is yet to decide whether India should deport Rohingya Muslims or not. The matter is sub-judice and any policy decision will be taken only after the court’s order.”

“WANT TO FEEL SAFE”

Hindus make up a small but long-standing minority in both Myanmar and Bangladesh.

Refugee Rudra, a barber from Myanmar’s Thit Tone Nar Gwa Son village, showed Reuters what he said was a temporary citizenship card issued in 1978 by the authorities there. The card listed his race as “Indian” and religion as “Hindu”.

Rudra and other Hindu refugees said they had fled soon after Rohingya insurgents attacked 30 Myanmar police posts, triggering a fierce military counteroffensive.

Since then, 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, leaving many villages in northern Rakhine empty.

“Our village in Myanmar was surrounded by hundreds of men in black masks on the morning of Aug. 25,” said Veena Sheel, a mother-of-two whose husband works in Malaysia.

“They called some men out and asked them to fight the security forces … a few hours after we heard gunshots.”

Sheel left the next day with eight other women and their families, walking for two days to reach Bangladesh.

“There are so many people all around us. No peace here, no peace back in Myanmar,” said Sheel. “We should be taken to Hindustan, that’s our land. Wherever we stay, we want to feel safe.”

Since taking office in 2014, Modi’s government has issued orders stating that no Hindu or member of another minority from Pakistan or Bangladesh would be considered an illegal immigrant even if they entered the country without valid documents on or before Dec. 31, 2014. (http://bit.ly/2f61Qxr)

It also plans to nearly halve to six years the period Hindus, Christians and other minorities from those countries need to have lived in India to be granted citizenship by naturalization.

“We are regularizing only those who have come due to religious persecution in Bangladesh and Pakistan,” junior home minister Kiren Rijiju told Reuters last month, adding that there was no policy on refugees from Myanmar.

It will not be easy for secular India to accept the Myanmar Hindu refugees’ demand while the government is pushing for the deportation of Rohingya Muslims.

Modi’s government has already been criticized by activists for not speaking out against Myanmar’s military offensive, and accused of vilifying the Rohingya in the country to seek legal clearance for their deportation.

(Reporting by Krishna N. Das and Rupam Jain; Editing by Alex Richardson)

Rohingya Muslims trapped after Myanmar violence told to stay put

Rohingya refugees sit inside their temporary shelter as it rains at a camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh September 19, 2017. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui

By Wa Lone and Andrew R.C. Marshall

SITTWE, Myanmar (Reuters) – Thousands of Rohingya Muslims trapped by hostile Buddhists in northwestern Myanmar have enough food and will not be granted the safe passage they requested from two remote villages, a senior government official said on Tuesday.

The Rohingya villagers said they wanted to leave but needed government protection from ethnic Rakhine Buddhists who had threatened to kill them.

They also said they were running short of food since Aug. 25, when Rohingya militants launched deadly attacks in Rakhine state, provoking a fierce crackdown by the Myanmar military.

At least 420,000 Rohingya have since fled into neighboring Bangladesh to escape what a senior United Nations official has called a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing”.

Tin Maung Swe, secretary of the Rakhine state government, said requests from the two villages for safe passage had been denied, since they had enough rice and were protected by a nearby police outpost.

“Their reasons were not acceptable,” he said. “They must stay in their original place.”

Residents of Ah Nauk Pyin, one of the two Rohingya villages, said they hoped to move to the relative safety of a camp outside Sittwe, the nearby state capital.

About 90,000 Rohingya displaced by a previous bout of violence in 2012 are confined to camps in Rakhine in squalid conditions.

But such a move was “impossible,” said state secretary Tin Maung Swe, since it might anger Rakhine Buddhists and further inflame communal tensions.

In a nationally televised speech on Tuesday, Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi vowed to punish the perpetrators of human rights violations in Rakhine, but did not address U.N. accusations of ethnic cleansing by the military.

The Nobel Peace Prize laureate said that many Muslims had not fled and urged foreign diplomats to study why certain areas of Rakhine state had “managed to keep the peace”.

“We can arrange for you to visit these areas and to ask them for yourself why they have not fled … even at a time when everything around them seems to be in a state or turmoil,” she said.

The Rohingya residents of Ah Nauk Pyin say they have no other choice but to stay, and their fraught relations with equally edgy Rakhine neighbors could snap at any moment.

About 2,700 people live in Ah Nauk Pyin, which sits half-hidden among fruit trees and coconut palms on a rain-swept peninsula.

Its residents said that Rakhine men have made threatening phone calls and recently congregated outside the village to shout, “Leave, or we will kill you all”.

On Tuesday morning, Rakhine villagers chased away two Rohingya men trying to tend to their fields, said Maung Maung, the leader of Ah Nauk Pyin.

The Rakhine deny harassing their Muslim neighbors, but want them to leave, fearing they might collaborate with militants from the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), which carried out the Aug. 25 attacks.

Khin Tun Aye, chief of Shwe Laung Tin, one of the nearby Rakhine villages, said they had chased away the two Rohingya men in case they were “planning to attack or blow up our village”.

“They shouldn’t come close during this time of conflict situation. People are living in constant fear,” he said.

The Office of the United Nations Resident Coordinator in Myanmar told Reuters it was “aware and concerned” about the situation and was discussing it with the Myanmar government.

State secretary Tin Maung Swe said Reuters could not visit the area for security reasons, but said the authorities were assessing needs of those living there.

“If they need food, we are ready to send it,” he said. “Don’t worry about it.”

(Reporting by Andrew R.C. Marshall; Editing by Alex Richardson)