UN accuses Myanmar of ethnic cleansing

Numerous Rohingya are fleeing to Bangladesh. Source: YouTube

Myanmar’s military has stepped up persecution of the Rohingya community in Rakhine State, with murders and extensive burning of villages being reported, a United Nations representative claims.

Bangladesh’s foreign ministry said it discouraged illegal border crossing but 32,000 Rohingya had already been registered as refugees. Thousands more Rohingya are reportedly gathering on the border.

John McKissick of the UN’s refugee agency, the UNHCR, in the Bangladeshi border town of Cox’s Bazar, said the Burmese military had “engaged in collective punishment of the Rohingya minority”, including “killing men, shooting them, slaughtering children, raping women, burning and looting houses, forcing these people to cross the river [to Bangladesh]”.

“Now it’s very difficult for the Bangladeshi government to say the border is open because this would further encourage the government of Myanmar to continue the atrocities and push them out until they have achieved their ultimate goal of ethnic cleansing of the Muslim minority in Myanmar,” he added.

The UN special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, and Samantha Power, the US ambassador to the UN, have called for international observers to be allowed to investigate the allegations of abuse and violence and for aid to resume to northern Rakhine State. 

A government spokesman said he was “very, very disappointed” by the UN comments. The military improbably claims that Rohingya militants, or “Bengali terrorists” as they are controversially called, burned their own villages.

Human Rights Watch’s satellite photographs suggested that more than 1,200 Rohingya homes near the border had disappeared since alleged Rohingya separatists were accused of attacking border outposts on October 9. The media and aid groups are denied access to the area making it difficult to verify any allegations.

State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi has expressed concerns over the Rohingya’s fate but has also accused them of violence.

The BBC’s Jonah Fisher said: “If Ms Suu Kyi bows to international pressure and sets up a credible investigation into the alleged abuses in Rakhine state, she risks fracturing her relationship with the army. It could jeopardise the stability of her young government.

“So for the last six weeks Ms Suu Kyi has kept her head firmly in the sand, avoiding journalists and press conferences.

“When forced she has commented that the military in Rakhine is operating according to the ‘rule of law’. Few believe that to be the case.

“While there are loud calls from overseas for action, most Burmese have very little sympathy for the Rohingya. The army’s ‘clearance operations’ against the ‘violent attackers’ of Rakhine state appear to have strong popular support, putting Ms Suu Kyi under very little domestic pressure.”