Myanmar demands Rakhine unity

Myanmar’s army chief Min Aung Hlaing has called for the union to unite over the “issue” of the Rohingya in Rakhine State, saying the million-strong group has no roots in the country, while his forces are accused of systematically purging the largely Muslim community.

The military claims its “clearance operations” along the Bangladesh border are aimed at driving out Rohingya militants who reportedly attacked police outposts on August 25, leading to the widespread slaughter of Muslim civilians and the burning of entire villages.

The authorities repeatedly make the claim that the Rohingya burn down their own homes and villages, which the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein dismissed as a “complete denial of reality”.

UN representatives have described the campaign as having all the hallmarks of “ethnic cleansing” of the Rohingya with most of the Buddhist majority insisting on be calling them “Bengalis”, implying they are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

Meanwhile, Bangladesh has summoned Myanmar’s ambassador to protest against alleged violations of its airspace as the number of Rohingya refugees arriving from Rakhine since August 25 has reached 409,000, according to UN estimates.

Myanmar’s presidential spokesman Zaw Htay denied the claims and criticised Dhaka for making public statements, rather than using diplomatic channels.

“We don’t know exactly if they released that statement for political reasons,” he said.

Bangladesh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Burmese drones and helicopters had repeatedly crossed the border last week, warning that “provocative acts” could have consequences.

Zaw Htay said that out of 471 “Bengali” villages in three Rakhine State border townships, 176 were now completely empty while at least 34 were partially abandoned.

Further weakening her international standing, State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi decided not to attend the UN General Assembly meetings between September 19-25, saying that she would instead deal with the Rakhine crisis.

UN Security Council members on Thursday called for “immediate steps to end the violence” and ensure civilian protection.

The statement was the first made on the Rohingya by the Security Council with the UK’s ambassador to the UN, Matthew Rycroft, calling it “an important first step”.

A scholar in Myanmar said the entire nature of Buddhism needed to be reassessed.

“I think we should stop romanticising Buddhism and Buddhists as more peaceful than any other people,” Myanmar activist Dr Maung Zarni told ABC.

“There is a romanticised, rosy, orientalised image of Buddhism … but that’s just so false.” Zarni said, adding that Buddhism had been used as a political ideology for thousands of years and could be manipulated in the same way as Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Judaism.

EU Foreign Affairs chief Federica Mogherini receives Myanmar’s Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing last November. Picture credit: Flickr