It is high time the world made an all-out effort to stop the ongoing pogrom against Myanmar’s minority Rohingya in Rakhine State by the Tatmadaw, the armed forces of Myanmar.
The pogrom resembles those crimes perpetrated against Jews in concentration camps. The military junta of Myanmar torches Rohingya villages, stops aid to Rohingya camps, and restricts Rohingyas’ movement.
The attack, which began on August 25, is the latest incursion of the Tatmadaw on the pretext of Rohingya militants killing a soldier, six police personnel and civilians, including Rohingya, as reported by Myanmar’s State Counselor Office. This was the first time Rohingya militants had taken up arms after having lost of several hundred lives, as well as homes and properties, due to attacks by Myanmar border security forces since 2012.
According to the BBC, which accuses Myanmar of ethnic cleansing, more than 10,000 Rohingya refugees have entered Bangladesh since the military operation began in Rakhine State, while the International Organization for Migration reported some 18,500 Rohingya crossed into Bangladesh.
New York-based Human Rights Watch said satellite photos appear to show widespread burning in 10 areas of northern Rakhine State. The World Food Program of the United Nations has reported that 80,000 Muslim Rohingya children are starving in Rakhine State.
Persecution of the Rohingya is not a new phenomenon; the Rohingya were expelled by General Ne Win of Burma, now known as Myanmar, in 1979. As many as 200,000 were given shelter by government of Bangladesh on humanitarian grounds. A diplomatic maneuver by Bangladesh convinced friendly countries, including Malaysia, to put pressure on the Burmese government to take back the Rohingya minority community. A bilateral agreement was signed between Bangladesh and Gen. Ne Win’s government for repatriation. Within a span of 16 months they were repatriated.
In 1982, the Burmese government had made an amendment to the citizenship law, revoking the Rohingyas’ citizenship.
The Rohingya people again became victims of the Myanmar military junta in 1990, when the Tatmadaw conducted Operation Nagamin (King Dragon) in an effort to rid the country of illegal immigrants. The military junta concentrated on Rakhine State.
Local Buddhists along with the military attacked the Rohingya, causing 270,000 of them flee to Bangladesh by March 1990.
On July 12, 2012, then-UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres discussed with Myanmar’s president Thein Sein approaches to the solution of ethnic enmity in Myanmar. President Sein told Guterres, who is now UN secretary-general, that the only solutions were to either send the Rohingya to a third country or have the UNHCR look after them.
That meant that president Sein had effectively walked away from his prior commitment to take back Rohingyas from Bangladesh, made to prime minister of Bangladesh Sheikh Hasina when she paid a visit to Myanmar in December 2011.
It is doubtful that the recommendations of the independent commission led by former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan to resolve the chronic crisis in Rakhine State will be carried out by the State Counselor Office successfully, because when the commission was set up last year the Tatmadaw- backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), now branded Ma Ba Tha, an Islamophobic Buddhist organization, and Rakhine nationalists jointly rejected the formation of the commission, which was seen as foreign intervention.
Earlier, US UN Ambassador Nikki Haley spoke to the international community, urging it to stand together and call on Myanmar’s government to cooperate with a UN mission charged with probing alleged abuses by military and security forces. UK UN Ambassador Matthew Rycroft urged on the Security Council to discuss reports of mass civilian casualties after raiding by Myanmar security forces against Rohingya militants.
The Security Council condemned killings on both sides but did not make any strong statement because of insistence by the Chinese UN ambassador.
It is high time China acknowledges the predicament in Myanmar, because China is facing conflict along its own border as a result of Chinese-origin Kachin ethnic minority in Kachin State in northern Myanmar fighting against Myanmar’s junta. Conflict in Kachin State occasionally spills over the Chinese border.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan praised the Bangladesh government for providing sanctuary to Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslims.
Indonesia’s foreign minister is currently visiting Bangladesh to discuss the plight of Rohingya Muslims in Bangladesh, Malaysia, India and Indonesia, the largest Muslim country in the world.
Malaysia’s Foreign Ministry summoned Myanmar’s envoy to lodge strong protest against the inhuman treatment meted out to Rohingya minority Muslims.
Meanwhile, Turkey’s foreign minister and first lady visited Rohingya camps in Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh, while aid from Turkey has reached Myanmar for Rohingya trapped there.
This being the situation on the ground, the UN secretary-general, who is fully aware of the fate of Rohingya minority in Myanmar, must send peace-keeping forces to Rakhine State, both to protect the minority community of Rakhine State and to bring back Rohingya from neighboring countries. The Security Council should consider imposing economic sanctions on Myanmar’s government as well. Enough blood has flowed in the Naf River. Further bloodshed must be stopped and this manmade crisis resolved. The onus lies on the international community.
The author, a retired diplomat from Bangladesh and former president of the Nova Toastmaster International Club of America, writes from Falls Church, Virginia.
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