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International Concern Grows Over Rohingya Exodus From Myanmar


Filipino Muslims display placards during a rally to protest Myanmar's persecution of Rohingya Muslims outside Myanmar's embassy in Makati, Metro Manila, Philippines, Sept. 8, 2017.

Protests have popped around the world over the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar. Even the Dalai Lama and South African rights leader Desmond Tutu have weighed in, seeking better treatment for the Muslim minority group.

Protesters rallied Friday in Jakarta, shouting "God is great," while in Tokyo, police had to separate those who support the Rohingya from counterprotesters who call them terrorists.

In Afghanistan's western Herat province, protesters demanded an end to violence against the Rohingya, and in Islamabad, demonstrators stomped on pictures of Myanmar's state leader, Aung San Suu Kyi.

Protests also were reported in India and Iran.

The United Nations says about 270,000 people have fled to Bangladesh from Myanmar's Rakhine state in the past two weeks, after a group calling itself the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army attacked several police posts.

A house is seen on fire in Gawduthar village, Maungdaw township, in the north of Rakhine state, Myanmar, Sept. 7, 2017.
A house is seen on fire in Gawduthar village, Maungdaw township, in the north of Rakhine state, Myanmar, Sept. 7, 2017.

Rohingya refugees say the military and members of Myanmar's Buddhist majority then attacked their villages, forcing them to flee. There are reports of villages being burned to the ground and the military deliberately targeting civilians, but access to the region is limited, so the reports can't be independently verified.

'Desperate humanitarian state'

The Rohingya are a minority group largely based in Rakhine. Myanmar's government calls them Bengalis and considers them illegal migrants, even though many families have been in the country for generations.

Sectarian violence between the Rohingya and Myanmar's Buddhist majority has flared repeatedly over the past two decades. The latest round is among the worst so far, and on Friday, the United Nations described the refugee camps in Bangladesh as overflowing as more people flooded in.

Rohingya refugees climb up a hill after crossing the Bangladesh-Myanmar border in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, Sept. 8, 2017.
Rohingya refugees climb up a hill after crossing the Bangladesh-Myanmar border in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, Sept. 8, 2017.

"They are in a desperate, absolutely desperate humanitarian state, without enough to eat. … They are saying that they are living out in the open, without shelter from the tropical sun, without shelter from the rain, with their children, without enough food to eat," IOM spokesman Leonard Doyle told VOA.

The crisis has drawn the attention of world figures.

The Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, urged support for the Rohingya. Those who are harassing them "should remember Buddha," who would "definitely help" the Muslims, he said.

Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak complained Friday of the burden his country bears in caring for many Rohingya.

Police stand guard after protesters broke through police lines during a protest against Myanmar's persecution of Rohingya Muslims in Islamabad, Pakistan, Sept. 8, 2017.
Police stand guard after protesters broke through police lines during a protest against Myanmar's persecution of Rohingya Muslims in Islamabad, Pakistan, Sept. 8, 2017.

"We will manage it on a humanitarian basis. Malaysia has always been upholding the sanctity of life," he said. "At the same time, we can't be hosting so many people in this country. We do need to solve this problem at the source."

Price 'too steep'

Retired Bishop Tutu issued a letter to Suu Kyi, his fellow Nobel Peace Prize laureate, in which he admonished her for not speaking out, despite her own years as a dissident prisoner.

"My dear sister: If the political price of your ascension to the highest office in Myanmar is silence, the price is surely too steep," he wrote.

Although Suu Kyi has been somewhat subdued on the Rohingya situation since her National League for Democracy won an election two years ago, she said Thursday that her government would protect all residents. She said it would begin to implement a reconciliation plan proposed by former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Anan.

"We have to take care of our citizens. We have to take care of everybody who is in our country, whether or not they are our citizens. It is our duty and we try our best," she said. "Of course, our resources are not as complete and adequate as we would like them to be, but still, we try our best and we want to make sure that everyone is entitled to the protection of the law."

WATCH: International Concern Grows Over Rohingya Exodus From Myanmar

Officials in Rakhine state told VOA's Burmese service they were working to help Rohingya return.

"We coordinated with village elders and imams yesterday to reorganize civilians who do not get involved in terror attacks on security forces to be able to return to their homes. We have provided food supply to the Muslim community," said Colonel Phone Tint, the Rakhine state government border and security affairs minister.

Some experts say that while Myanmar's government must be held to account for the crisis, blaming Suu Kyi entirely won't help, given that she leads a fragile new democracy.

"I'm very concerned about some of this international demonization of Daw Suu, which I think is overstated, and I think we need to be supportive," said Derek Mitchell, the former U.S. ambassador to Myanmar, told VOA's Burmese service.

He said the world understands that Myanmar needed to respond to the ARSA attacks. But he said there needed to a comprehensive approach to bring justice and stability to Rakhine. Otherwise, he said, the violence could spread throughout Rakhine and around the country.

VOA's Afghan, Bangla, Burmese, Indonesian and Urdu services contributed to this report.

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