Why there’s no end in sight for Myanmar’s Rohingya exodus

Brandon Tensley writes: Myanmar has been careening ever deeper into crisis for several weeks. On August 25th, an insurgent army of the Rohingya people—a stateless Muslim group in the majority-Buddhist country—attacked state security forces. The military responded with a brutal counterinsurgency, one that included torture, summary killings, and the mass displacement of civilians. The Myanmar government has since largely cut off aid operations to conflict-torn areas.

Violence centered around the Rohingya, particularly in the impoverished state of Rakhine, on Myanmar’s western coast, isn’t new. Last year, for instance, on October 9th, the Arakan Rohingya Solidarity Army—the group that also carried out last month’s attacks—killed a dozen officers across state security outposts. Over the next few days, the Myanmar military’s reprisal forced thousands of Rohingya, as well as other civilians, across the border into nearby Bangladesh. Many of those who escaped the violence reported that their villages had been burned down and that innocent civilians had been killed. Four years before that, a string of riots in 2012 claimed more than 100 lives and forced some 140,000 more into squalid refugee camps. The plight of the Rohingya has routinely left them vulnerable to abuse by smugglers, as they take to rickety boats and attempt to look for sanctuary elsewhere; in 2015, increased attempts at migration led to a regional refugee crisis.

Yet the severity and speed with which the current crisis is escalating threatens to make it the worst flare-up of mass migration Myanmar has seen in decades. These developments, in a country allegedly moving toward democracy, can also seem more dire than before. [Continue reading…]

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How violence in Myanmar radicalized a new generation of Rohingya

The New York Times reports: Nazir Hossain, the imam of a village in far western Myanmar, gathered the faithful around him after evening prayers last month. In a few hours, more than a dozen Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army fighters from his village would strike a nearby police post with an assortment of handmade weapons.

The men needed their cleric’s blessing.

“As imam, I encouraged them never to step back from their mission,” Mr. Hossein recalled of his final words to the ethnic Rohingya militants. “I told them that if they did not fight to the death, the military would come and kill their families, their women and their children.”

They fought — joining an Aug. 25 assault by thousands of the group’s fighters against Myanmar’s security forces — and the retaliation came down anyway. Since then, Myanmar’s troops and vigilante mobs have unleashed a scorched-earth operation on Rohingya populations in northern Rakhine State in Myanmar, sending hundreds of thousands fleeing their homes in a campaign that the United Nations has called ethnic cleansing.

From its start four years ago as a small-scale effort to organize a Rohingya resistance, ARSA — which is known locally as Harakah al-Yaqin, or the Faith Movement — has managed to stage two deadly attacks on Myanmar’s security forces: one last October and the other last month.

But in lashing out against the government, the militants have also made their own people a target. And they have handed Myanmar’s military an attempt at public justification by saying that it is fighting terrorism, even as it has burned down dozens of villages and killed fleeing women and children.

This radicalization of a new generation of Rohingya, a Muslim minority in a Buddhist-majority country, adds fuel to an already combustible situation in Rakhine, Myanmar’s poorest state.

Increasingly, there is also concern that both the relatively few Rohingya who have taken up arms and the broader population — hundreds of thousands of whom are crowded in camps in neighboring Bangladesh — will be exploited by international terrorism networks, bringing a localized struggle into the slipstream of global politics.

ARSA’s attempt at insurgency politics has been disastrous so far — a cease-fire that they declared this month was rejected by the military, and they are reported to have suffered lopsided casualties compared with the government’s. But the men caught up in the cause insist that resistance is worth the steep cost, even to their families. [Continue reading…]

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Aid group warns of lives at risk among Rohingya in Bangladesh

Reuters reports: Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh could die due to a lack of food, shelter and water available for the huge numbers of them fleeing violence in Myanmar, an aid agency warned on Sunday.

Nearly 410,000 members of the Rohingya Muslim minority fled from western Rakhine state to Bangladesh to escape a military offensive that the United Nations has branded a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing”.

“Many people are arriving hungry, exhausted and with no food or water,” Mark Pierce, Bangladesh country director for the Save the Children aid agency said in a statement.

“I’m particularly worried that the demand for food, shelter, water and basic hygiene support is not being met due to the sheer number of people in need. If families can’t meet their basic needs, the suffering will get even worse and lives could be lost.” [Continue reading…]

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‘Blood flowed in the streets’: Refugees from one Rohingya village recount days of horror

The Washington Post reports: The soldiers arrived in the Burma village just after 8 a.m., the villagers said, ready to fight a war.

They fired shots in the air, and then, the villagers claim, turned their guns on fleeing residents, who fell dead and wounded in the monsoon-green rice paddy. The military’s retribution for a Rohingya militant attack on police posts earlier that day had begun.

Mohammed Roshid, a rice farmer, heard the gunfire and fled with his wife and children, but his 80-year-old father, who walks with a stick, wasn’t as nimble. Roshid said he saw a soldier grab Yusuf Ali and slit his throat with such ferocity the old man was nearly decapitated.

“I wanted to go back and save him, but some relatives stopped me because there was so many military,” Roshid, 55, said. “It’s the saddest thing in my life that I could not do anything for my father.”

The Burmese military’s “clearance operation” in the Maung Nu hamlet and dozens of other villages populated by Burma’s ethnic Rohingya minority triggered an exodus of an estimated 389,000 refugees into Bangladesh, an episode the United Nations human rights chief has called “ethnic cleansing.” The tide of refugees is expected to grow in the coming days. The newly arrived refugees — dazed, clutching their belongings, some barefoot in ankle-deep mud — have crowded out an existing camp and put up makeshift shelters. Others simply sit on the roadways, fighting crowds as large relief trucks fling down bags of rice or water. [Continue reading…]

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If Trump wants to unravel Obama’s legacy, he could start with Burma

Ishaan Tharoor writes: President Trump has made no secret of his desire to dismantle the achievements of President Barack Obama, be they domestic reforms on health care, an executive order governing the status of undocumented youth, a landmark international agreement on climate change or the deal inked between world powers and Iran over its nuclear program.

Many of Trump’s efforts to unravel Obama’s legacy, though, have stalled. More often than not, they have also proved widely unpopular among the public, according to a slate of opinion polls. But there’s one hot spot where Trump could probably walk back the effects of Obama’s foreign policy with little condemnation: Burma. [Continue reading…]

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‘Textbook example of ethnic cleansing’: 370,000 Rohingyas flood Bangladesh as crisis worsens

The Washington Post reports: The number of Rohingya refugees fleeing a military crackdown in Burma has now topped 370,000, a crisis the United Nations human rights chief called “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”

Hundreds of thousands of the long-persecuted ethnic minority continued to stream via land and rickety boats into Bangladesh this week, arriving exhausted, dehydrated and recounting tales of nightmarish horrors at the hands of the Burmese military, including friends and neighbors shot dead and homes torched before their eyes.

“It seems they wanted us to leave the country,” said Nurjahan, an elderly Rohingya woman who escaped her burning village 10 days ago and ended up camped by the side of the road, unsure of where to go.

Speaking in Geneva on Tuesday, the International Organization for Migration put the number fleeing Burma at 370,000 but admitted it could rise sharply. [Continue reading…]

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Burma: Satellite images show urban destruction

Human Rights Watch reports: New satellite images show hundreds of buildings destroyed in primarily Rohingya Muslim urban areas in Burma’s Rakhine State, Human Rights Watch said today. Satellite photos taken on September 2, 2017, show 450 buildings destroyed by fire in the town of Maungdaw, the administrative capital of Maungdaw township. Satellite-based heat sensing technology indicated active fires in this area on August 28.

“The widespread destruction of urban areas in Maungdaw town suggests that Burmese security forces are not just attacking Rohingya Muslims in isolated villages,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The Burmese government has an obligation to protect everyone in the country, but if safety cannot even be found in area capitals, then no place may be safe.” [Continue reading…]

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Aung San Suu Kyi and her foreign admirers must help the Rohingyas

The Economist says: The reports are horrifying: soldiers and militiamen surrounding villages, raping women, decapitating children, herding men into buildings and setting them ablaze. The Burmese army is letting few outsiders into the northern part of Rakhine state, near the border with Bangladesh, so it is hard to be certain about the scale of the atrocities. But the UN says that well over 150,000 refugees have fled to Bangladesh since August 25th, with 35,000 crossing the border in a single day this week. They are the lucky ones. Satellite images reveal burning villages across northern Rakhine, and bodies have been washing up on the shores of the river that separates Myanmar from Bangladesh (see article). The victims are Rohingyas, a Muslim minority that has been persecuted by the Burmese authorities with varying degrees of ferocity since the 1980s.

Today’s government is led by Aung San Suu Kyi, herself a victim of persecution by past military regimes, and winner of the Nobel peace prize for her long vigil for democracy. But she seems no more sympathetic to the Rohingyas’ plight than her jackbooted predecessors. She denies that there is any systematic abuse by the security services, claiming instead that they are simply trying to hunt down organised Rohingya militants who have attacked police and army posts. Pleas from the UN, neighbouring governments, aid agencies and even her fellow Nobel laureates to curb the violence and allow humanitarian aid to flow to the victims have had no effect. She is not even willing to use the term Rohingya; her government dismisses the 1m-strong group that has been present in Rakhine since precolonial times as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

Ms Suu Kyi’s initial reluctance to take up the Rohingya cause was understandable, though not admirable. The vast majority of Burmese share the official view, that Rohingyas are foreign interlopers; many also imagine that, as Muslims, they are plotting against Buddhism, the religion of the majority. When sectarian riots broke out in 2012 between Rohingyas and Rakhines, a largely Buddhist ethnic group inhabiting the same region, the local media painted the Rohingyas as the aggressors, even though they came off much the worse. Moreover, Ms Suu Kyi has little authority over the army, which granted itself the right to regulate itself (and the police) before handing power to her civilian government. Why take on an unpopular fight that she had almost no prospect of winning?

But the violence in Rakhine has reached such an unconscionable level that there can be no justifying continued passivity. Whether it is popular or not, the first duty of any government is to keep the people it governs alive. Even if Ms Suu Kyi cannot rein in the army, she should at least denounce its behaviour, and make clear to ordinary Burmese the horrors it is unleashing in their name. She has managed to face the generals down once before, after all, during her campaign for democracy, and retains immense moral authority. [Continue reading…]

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Aung San Suu Kyi — a Nobel Peace Prize winner’s shame

Nicholas Kristof writes: For the last three weeks, Buddhist-majority Myanmar has systematically slaughtered civilians belonging to the Rohingya Muslim minority, forcing 270,000 to flee to neighboring Bangladesh — with Myanmar soldiers shooting at them even as they cross the border.

“The Buddhists are killing us with bullets,” Noor Symon, a woman carrying her son, told a Times reporter. “They burned houses and tried to shoot us. They killed my husband by bullet.”

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the widow who defied Myanmar’s dictators, endured a total of 15 years of house arrest and led a campaign for democracy, was a hero of modern times. Yet today Daw Suu, as the effective leader of Myanmar, is chief apologist for this ethnic cleansing, as the country oppresses the darker-skinned Rohingya and denounces them as terrorists and illegal immigrants.

And “ethnic cleansing” may be an understatement. Even before the latest wave of terror, a Yale study had suggested that the brutality toward the Rohingya might qualify as genocide. The U.S. Holocaust Museum has also warned that a genocide against the Rohingya may be looming.

For shame, Daw Suu. We honored you and fought for your freedom — and now you use that freedom to condone the butchery of your own people? [Continue reading…]

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More than a quarter-million Rohingya have fled Burma in the past two weeks, UN says

The Washington Post reports: On Friday, the United Nations’ refugee agency significantly revised upward its estimate of how many Rohingya people had fled Burma to neighboring Bangladesh over the past two weeks, to 270,000 from just 125,000 earlier this week.

Renewed violence has engulfed Burma’s Rakhine state, where tension between the mostly Muslim Rohingya ethnic minority and the country’s Burmese and largely Buddhist majority have simmered and flared for decades. Some 300,000 and 500,000 Rohingya already lived in refugee camps in Bangladesh before this summer. An estimated 1.1 million remained in Burma. Since Aug. 25, nearly a quarter of that remaining population has reportedly fled.

Human rights groups and journalists have been reporting a statewide scorched-earth campaign by Burmese security forces to kill or otherwise expel Rohingya from the country. A BBC reporter who was on a government-chaperoned trip around Rakhine state said he spoke with Burmese men who admitted to burning a Rohingya village with the help of local police. The U.N.’s special rapporteur on Burma — also known as Myanmar — said Friday that more than 1,000 mostly Rohingya people may have been killed over the past two weeks. [Continue reading…]

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Massacre at Tula Toli: Rohingya recall horror of Myanmar army attack

The Guardian reports: It was the fast-flowing river that doomed the inhabitants of Tula Toli.

Snaking around the remote village on three sides, the treacherous waters allowed Burmese soldiers to corner and hold people on the river’s sandy banks. Some were shot on the spot. Others drowned in the current as they tried to escape.

Zahir Ahmed made a panicked dash for the opposite bank, where he hid in thick jungle and watched his family’s last moments.

“I was right next to the water,” he recalled in an interview a week later at a refugee camp in neighbouring Bangladesh, his eyes bloodshot and his shirt stained with sweat and dirt.

Ahmed said teenagers and adults were shot with rifles, while babies and toddlers, including his youngest daughter, six-month old Hasina, were thrown into the water.

He cried as he described seeing his wife and children die, meticulously naming and counting them on both hands until he ran out of fingers.

More than 160,000 of Myanmar’s 1.1 million ethnic Rohingya minority have fled to Bangladesh, bringing with them stories that they say describe ethnic cleansing.

During interviews with more than a dozen Rohingya from Tula Toli, the Guardian was told of what appeared to be devastating carnage as Myanmar’s armed forces swept through the village on 30 August and allegedly murdered scores of people. [Continue reading…]

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Rohingya crisis intensifies as India’s Modi arrives in Burma for talks

The Washington Post reports: Nearly 125,000 refugees belonging to the Rohingya minority ethnic group have fled Burma for neighboring Bangladesh in just the past week and a half, according to local aid organizations. They have relayed testimony of indiscriminate executions, gunfire from helicopters and a scorched-earth campaign seemingly aimed at destroying Rohingya villages and driving the mostly Muslim population out of predominantly Buddhist Burma. Hundreds have died making the journey to Bangladesh, including 46 who drowned when a boat carrying them capsized last week.

As the crisis deepens, governments and influential international figures — primarily, but not exclusively, from the Muslim world — have begun to speak out against the Burmese government and its de facto leader, Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrived in the Burmese capital on Tuesday to discuss trade, but he was also expected to bring up the Rohingya issue.

The most recent spate of violence in Burma’s southwestern Rakhine state broke out Aug. 25, when Rohingya militants attacked local security forces, killing at least 12. The attack mirrored a similar one in October that killed nine border police personnel and spurred almost 90,000 Rohingyas to flee to Bangladesh, which has been a refuge for the group for decades, though increasingly reluctantly.

This year’s violence appears to be more widespread and intense. The Burmese military has acknowledged killing at least 370 Rohingyas in what it calls “clearance operations.” The government maintains that all those killed belonged to the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), a militant group that has been building up its ranks since last year’s violence. It is unclear how much local and international support ARSA has, but videos of its training camps show only small numbers of shabbily dressed and ill-equipped fighters. [Continue reading…]

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Myanmar blocks all UN aid to civilians at heart of Rohingya crisis

The Guardian reports: Myanmar has blocked all United Nations aid agencies from delivering vital supplies of food, water and medicine to thousands of desperate civilians at the centre of a bloody military campaign against the country’s Muslim Rohingya minority, the Guardian has learned.

The UN halted distributions in northern Rakhine state after militants attacked government forces on 25 August and the army responded with a counteroffensive that has killed hundreds of people.

The office of the UN resident coordinator in Myanmar said deliveries had been suspended “because the security situation and government field-visit restrictions rendered us unable to distribute assistance”.

“The UN is in close contact with authorities to ensure that humanitarian operations can resume as soon as possible,” the office said. Aid was being delivered to other parts of Rakhine state, it added.

In the deadliest outbreak of violence in the area for decades, the military has been accused of atrocities against the persecuted Rohingya minority, tens of thousands of whom have fled burning villages to neighbouring Bangladesh, many with bullet wounds. [Continue reading…]

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Malala tells Aung San Suu Kyi ‘world is waiting’ for her to act over Rohingya violence

Press Association reports: Malala Yousafzai has called on Aung San Suu Kyi to condemn the “tragic and shameful” treatment of the Myanmar’s Rohingya people following violence that has left hundreds dead.

In a statement on Twitter, the Nobel peace prize winner told her fellow laureate that the “world is waiting” for her to act over unrest that has seen tens of thousands of people flee into neighbouring Bangladesh.

Yousafzai’s intervention comes after foreign secretary Boris Johnson warned Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s de facto leader, that the treatment of the ethnic minority group was “besmirching” the country’s reputation.

Myanmar security officials and insurgents from the Rohingya have accused each other of burning down villages and committing atrocities in Rakhine state in the north-west of the country.

Calling for an end to the violence, Yousafzai said she had been left heartbroken by reports of young children being killed by security forces and urged the Burmese government to grant the group citizenship. [Continue reading…]

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Myanmar says it will refuse entry to UN investigators probing Rohingya abuses

Reuters reports: Myanmar will refuse entry to members of a United Nations probe focusing on allegations of killings, rape and torture by security forces against Rohingya Muslims, an official said on Friday.

The government led by Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi had already said it would not cooperate with a mission set up after a Human Rights Council resolution was adopted in March.

“If they are going to send someone with regards to the fact-finding mission, then there’s no reason for us to let them come,” said Kyaw Zeya, permanent secretary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the capital, Naypyitaw.

“Our missions worldwide are advised accordingly,” he said, explaining that visas to enter Myanmar would not be issued to the mission’s appointees or staff.

Suu Kyi, who came to power last year amid a transition from military rule, leads Myanmar through the specially created position of “State Counsellor”, but is also minister of foreign affairs.

Although she does not oversee the military, Suu Kyi has been criticized for failing to stand up for the more than 1 million stateless Rohingya Muslims in the western state of Rakhine.

She said during a trip to Sweden this month the UN mission “would have created greater hostility between the different communities”. The majority in Rakhine are ethnic Rakhine Buddhists who, like many in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, see the Rohingya as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. [Continue reading…]

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The murder of Ko Ni, a prominent Muslim lawyer in Myanmar

Hannah Beech writes: Whenever I met with Ko Ni, whether seated in his office, with its flickering electricity and precarious piles of law books, or sipping tea in the moldering headquarters of Myanmar’s then-opposition political party, the image that came to mind was that of Atticus Finch — though an Atticus wearing a Burmese sarong. With his salt-and-pepper hair and upright bearing, Ko Ni was the consummate honorable lawyer. He persevered for decades as one of Myanmar’s top constitutional experts despite living under the rule of a military junta with little respect for judicial process. Every day, he woke up and prepared to throw himself, pro bono, into hopeless cases. One day in his office, I saw a stack of papers at the foot of his desk. On top was a copy of the Bulgarian Constitution. You never know, he said, when knowledge of such a document might prove useful.

On January 29th, Ko Ni, sixty-three years old, was assassinated at the airport in Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city. He had just returned from a democracy conference in Indonesia and was waiting for a taxi curbside, while holding his young grandson, when a gunman in sandals sauntered up and pumped a bullet into Ko Ni’s head at close range. Nay Win, a taxi driver who tried to chase down the assassin, was also shot to death. (Ko Ni’s grandson, who had come with relatives to greet his grandfather, tumbled out of the lawyer’s arms but was unhurt.)

As a senior legal adviser to the National League for Democracy, or N.L.D., which is the party of Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Prize laureate and advocate for democracy, Ko Ni certainly had enemies. He had called for amending, or even rewriting, Myanmar’s Constitution, to reduce the power of the military that had drafted it in the first place. He was also a Muslim, a faith that makes up less than five per cent of the population in Myanmar, a predominantly Buddhist nation. Being a Muslim in Myanmar has proved perilous in recent years, particularly in the country’s far western Rakhine state, where hundreds of Rohingya, a Muslim ethnicity largely stripped of citizenship, have been killed, and hundreds of thousands more displaced. A February report by the United Nations accused Burmese security forces of having unleashed a campaign of mass murder, torture, and rape late last year. On March 2nd, Yanghee Lee, the U.N.’s special rapporteur for human rights, reiterated that pogroms against the Rohingya “may amount to crimes against humanity.” Anti-Muslim violence has also flared outside of Rakhine, in places where Burmese of various faiths had long lived in harmony. [Continue reading…]

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Pope Francis rebukes Myanmar over treatment of Rohingya

The New York Times reports: Pope Francis on Wednesday issued a fresh rebuke against Myanmar over its repression of the Rohingya minority group, just days after a United Nations report concluded that security forces had slaughtered and raped hundreds of men, women and children in a “campaign of terror.”

“They have been suffering, they are being tortured and killed, simply because they uphold their Muslim faith,” Francis said of the Rohingya in his weekly audience at the Vatican.

He asked those present to pray with him “for our Rohingya brothers and sisters who are being chased from Myanmar and are fleeing from one place to another because no one wants them.”

The pope urged Christians “to not raise walls but bridges, to not respond to evil with evil, to overcome evil with good,” and added: “A Christian can never say, ‘I’ll make you pay for that.’ Never! That is not a Christian gesture.”

The remarks were widely seen as a reference to President Trump’s vow to make Mexico pay for a wall along its border with the United States, though the pope did not mention Mr. Trump by name.

Francis also addressed the plight of the Rohingya in 2015, but his latest remarks were his strongest yet on the issue. [Continue reading…]

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Aung San Suu Kyi fails to calm Myanmar’s ethnic violence

The Economist reports: Syed, a 33-year-old Muslim religious teacher, feared the worst. On October 9th Rohingya militants attacked border posts near Maungdaw, a township in the north of Rakhine state in western Myanmar, killing nine Burmese border guards. Syed, himself a Rohingya from Rakhine, was sure that a vicious crackdown by Myanmar’s army would follow. So he put on non-religious clothes and shaved his beard. Along with 16 others he left his home village. For days the group hid in a forest. Eventually they crossed the Naf River, which separates Myanmar from Bangladesh, and found their way to the sprawling, ramshackle Kutupalong camp near the coastal town of Cox’s Bazar.

Syed’s fears were justified. Myanmar’s army has blocked access to much of Maungdaw, keeping away journalists, aid workers and international monitors (troops claim to be searching for stolen guns and ammunition). But reports have emerged of mass arrests, torture, the burning of villages, killings of civilians and the systematic rape of Rohingya women by Burmese soldiers. At least 86 people have been killed. Satellite imagery analysed by Human Rights Watch suggests that soldiers have burned at least 1,500 buildings — including homes, food shops, markets and mosques (one devastated area is pictured). The organisation says this could be a conservative estimate; it includes only buildings not obscured by trees. Amnesty International says the army’s “callous and systematic campaign of violence” may be a crime against humanity. Myanmar’s government denies all such allegations, dismissing many of them as fabrications.

Around 27,000 Rohingyas — members of a Muslim ethnic group native to Rakhine — have recently, like Syed, fled to Bangladesh. But about 1m of them remain. Before the recent turmoil, tens of thousands of Rohingyas in northern Rakhine relied on aid for food, water and health care. The blockade has severed that lifeline.

Such brutality does not reflect well on Aung San Suu Kyi, a winner of the Nobel peace prize who has led Myanmar since her party’s resounding electoral victory in 2015. Neither does ethnic conflict, which has been intensifying on the other side of the country, speak well of her skills as a peacemaker. She entered office saying her priority was to resolve Myanmar’s decades-long civil wars. [Continue reading…]

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