Protest greets Malaysian aid ship

Myanmar is under increasing international pressure to address the Rohingya crisis. Source: Wikimedia

Buddhist protesters greeted a Malaysian ship as it docked in Yangon carrying aid for Rakhine State and the Rohingya Muslims.

The ship was due to unload 500 tonnes of food and emergency supplies in Yangon, with the rest of its 2,200-tonne cargo bound for south-eastern Bangladesh, where around 69,000 Rohingyas have fled since the authorities began a crackdown in October. Bangladesh’s government also rejects the Rohingyas and has recently proposed that they be relocated to a flood-prone island.

Such a denial of rights from both sides has prolonged the humanitarian crisis.The shipment is unpopular in Myanmar, where much of the Buddhist majority and the media regard the Rohingya as illegal “Bengali” immigrants from Bangladesh.

“We can accept if the ship is coming to help the Bengalis and we are not trying to stop the donation,” said Win Ko Ko Lat, leader of the Myanmar Buddhist Nationalists Network. “But we want them to know that there is no Rohingya in Myanmar. This is our campaign.”
Breaking with Asean tradition of avoiding comments on other members’ domestic affairs, Malaysia has condemned the Rakhine crackdown, which was a response to the alleged killing of nine police officers in border posts on October 9 blamed on Rohingya militants.

UN aid workers in Bangladesh estimate the total number of deaths in Rakhine State is in excess of 1,000.

Refugees have given journalists, human rights groups and UN investigators detailed accounts of troops firing on civilians, burning villages, beatings, detention and rape.

Myanmar has rejects the allegations and insisting it is a domestic issue.

Around 100 Buddhist monks and nationalists demonstrated outside the port terminal, holding signs disputing the use of the word “Rohingya”.

“We don’t mind that they want to support people who are suffering,” Buddhist monk U Thuseiktha said. “But we don’t want political exploitation of this issue by calling them Rohingya. The name Rohingya doesn’t exist.”

The authorities accuse Malaysia’s embattled Prime Minister Najib Razak of using the Rohingya cause “to promote a certain political agenda” and distract domestic attention away from the ongoing 1MDB scandal.

The Muslim aid organisations in Malaysia funding the shipment had hoped to deliver the supplies directly to Rohingyas in Rakhine State, but instead they were forced to deliver the aid to the authorities in Yangon.

Nay Pyi Taw claimed it would distribute the shipment equally between the Buddhist and Muslim communities in the impoverished but resource-rich state. The government had been delivering aid to affected people in northern Rakhine “without discrimination”, said Win Myat Aye, adding that the authorities would “arrange the distribution of this aid to the communities in the affected areas at the soonest possible time”.

Najib has called the crackdown “genocide” and saw off the shipment when it left Malaysia last week.