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Rohingya Rebels Call for Humanitarian Cease-fire

  • VOA News

Kifawet Ullah is helped by other newly arrived Rohingya after he collapsed while waiting to have his token validated in order to collect a bag of rice distributed by aid agencies in Kutupalong, Bangladesh, Sept. 9, 2017.

Rohingya insurgents in Myanmar have called for a month-long cease-fire starting Sunday in order to allow humanitarian aid to reach those affected by the conflict.

Fighters from the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), as they call themselves, launched an attack on dozens of police posts and an army base late last month, leading to the displacement of more than 300,000 people.

In a statement Saturday, the group encouraged aid groups to “resume their humanitarian assistance to all victims of the humanitarian crisis, irrespective of ethnic or religious background during the cease-fire period."

Sunday Amnesty International charged that Myanmar has been deliberately targeting Rohingya by placing landmines along the routes that Rohingya refugees use to cross into Bangladesh. The rights organization reported two landmine explosions Sunday, including one that blew off a young man's leg while he was herding cattle near the border. Other landmines were confirmed by Amnesty on Friday.

The cease-fire announcement comes a day after U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley reminded Myanmar that while Washington supports the fight against violence in northwestern Rakhine state, humanitarian aid must reach those in need.

Haley released a statement Friday saying, "We welcome the Burmese government committing humanitarian assistance to all displaced by violence. However, we will continue to urge them to make sure this aid actually reaches those in need, as quickly as possible, and that it is delivered in a manner that protects their rights and dignity."

Earlier Friday the State Department said it is "very focused" on restoring humanitarian assistance to Myanmar's northern Rakhine state and is "very concerned about sustained allegations of abuses" in that area.

Patrick Murphy, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Southeast Asia, told reporters by phone Friday that the United States is urging all parties to take steps to calm tensions in the area. He said since August, "probably well over" 200,000 refugees have crossed over the border into Bangladesh to escape the violence."

He said the number of internally displaced persons — those who have left their homes but not left Myanmar — is unknown. Murphy noted that members of the Rohingya ethnic group and non-Rohingya are among the displaced persons in the area.

Discussions with the Myanmar government are "ongoing," he said, through the U.S. ambassador to the country, which also is known as Burma.

Fleeing violence

The latest round of violence began August 25 when a group of Rohingya insurgents attacked police posts and an army base in what they said was an effort to protect their ethnic minority from persecution. Rakhine state is home to most of the Rohingya minority group.

Subsequent clashes and a military counteroffensive have killed at least 400 people and triggered the latest exodus of Rohingya villagers to Bangladesh.

U.N. Refugee Agency Asia Director Vivian Tan in Bangladesh told VOA Burmese that aid workers estimate there are about 164,000 new arrivals in Bangladesh.

The United Nations said about 146,000 people have crossed the border into Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazaar district since August 25.

Officials said the U.N. World Food Program has provided tens of thousands of people with food, including high-nutrient porridge to women and children who are arriving in Bangladesh hungry and malnourished. The agency said it needs $11.3 million to support the influx of people, in addition to those already living in camps.

Aung San Suu Kyi under fire

Myanmar’s de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, has been criticized for her response to the violence.

Many observers say she has played down reports of the Burmese military's brutal treatment of Rohingya civilians. Aung San Suu Kyi maintains there has been “a huge iceberg of misinformation” about the Rohingya crisis and violence in Rakhine following the attacks on security posts.

A series of Twitter photos that allegedly showed dead Rohingya people were later proved to be unrelated to the current violence, according to a statement posted on Facebook by Aung San Suu Kyi’s office.

The Nobel Peace laureate said “fake information” was used to promote the interests of “terrorists,” a word she used to describe ARSA insurgents.

Priscilla Clapp, who served as chief of mission and permanent charge d’affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Myanmar from 1999 to 2002, said a lot of the criticism of Aung San Suu Kyi is unfair, due to the limitations on her power and influence.

“In a way, she’s at a great disadvantage with the military, which controls all the security of the country and much of the government administration from before,” said Clapp, currently a senior adviser at the U.S. Institute of Peace and Asia Society.

Clapp also blames the ARSA group, which she calls terrorists, who have deliberately provoked the extreme reaction on the part of the security forces. She also maintains, however, that security forces must be “much more moderate in the way they approach these things, and sensitive to community relations.”

International pressure

But human rights advocates are urging the Burmese government to stop the violence.

“The governments of the world have to press very hard on Aung San Suu Kyi and also the Burma military to stop the violence,” Human Rights Watch’s Deputy Asia Director Phil Robertson told VOA, adding that independent monitors should be granted access to assess allegations of serious human rights violations made by ethnic Rohingya refugees who have fled into Bangladesh.

Robertson urged the United States and the international community to provide more humanitarian relief and medical assistance to the refugees.

“So far we have seen very little comments from the Trump administration about the situation which is quite shocking,” he said. “There is a massive humanitarian crisis in a country which, until recently, the United States spent a great deal of time trying to understand them and work with the government on various developments and trade.”

Former U.S. diplomat Clapp says the complexity of the situation merits a more nuanced reaction from the international community.

“To reduce it to simplicity and black-and-white equations is not helpful. It’s just inflaming further problems inside the country and it’s making the population more resistant to international advice,” Clapp said. “We have to be much more understanding and get involved on the ground in helping them resolve this problem.”

Abuses against and restrictions on members of the Rohingya population were cited as one of the leading human rights problems in Myanmar, according to the State Department's 2016 Human Rights Report (( www.state.gov/j/drl/rls/hrrpt/humanrightsreport/index.htm?year=2016&dlid=265324#wrapper ))

The Rohingya are one of Myanmar's many ethnic minorities in the Buddhist-majority nation. The Myanmar government considers the Rohingya to be economic migrants from Bangladesh, and it has never granted them citizenship, even though most can show their families have been in the country for generations.

VOA's Burma Service contributed to this report.

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