Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Rohingya crisis: Aung San Suu Kyi breaks her silence, but fails to quell criticism

The Straits Times, 20 Sep 2017

Myanmar's de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi yesterday broke her silence on the Rohingya crisis, but her speech failed to quell mounting international criticism of her government's military offensive against the Muslim minority that has been described by the UN as a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.

In her address to the nation, the Nobel Peace laureate said she does not fear global scrutiny over the crisis, which has driven more than 400,000 people from Rakhine state to Bangladesh since Aug 25. While she condemned human rights violations and promised that violators would be held to account, she stopped short of blaming the military and did not address the United Nations' allegations.

"We condemn all human rights violations and unlawful violence. We are committed to the restoration of peace and stability and rule of law throughout the state," Ms Suu Kyi said in Myanmar's capital, Naypyitaw.

Amnesty International noted that "she is still silent about the role of the security forces".

The Myanmar government has said its armed forces are tackling the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, which has claimed responsibility for attacking a border post on Aug 25, and which the government accuses of setting fires to Rohingya villages and attacking civilians. But Rohingya and rights groups say it is the army which has razed houses to force the minority out of Myanmar.

Terrorism experts warn that the Rohingya's plight has forged a groundswell of support among Islamist militants in the region, particularly from Malaysia and Indonesia. Meanwhile in India, a debate has broken out amid government efforts to deport around 40,000 Rohingya Muslims on the grounds that they pose a security threat to the country.

Myanmar ready to let Rohingya return: Suu Kyi
She says refugees will get full assurance of security, access to aid after being verified
By Tan Hui Yee, Regional Correspondent, The Straits Times, 20 Sep 2017

Myanmar is ready to start a verification process to let some 400,000 refugees who have crossed into Bangladesh to return, de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi said in her first public remarks that some say did not address the Rohingya crisis.

The Nobel Peace laureate has come under fire from the international community and rights groups for keeping mum since an army crackdown on insurgents also drove the Muslim Rohingya from their homes in Rakhine state.

"Those who have been verified as refugees from this country will be accepted without any problem and with full assurance of their security and access to humanitarian aid," Ms Suu Kyi said in a 30-minute speech delivered entirely in English in the capital, Naypyitaw.

The refugees are mostly Rohingya who are deemed illegal "Bengali" migrants from present-day Bangladesh. Most of them live in Rakhine, one of the poorest states.

On Aug 25, insurgents claiming to fight for Rohingya rights attacked police posts and an army base, sparking an operation by security forces that is now being condemned as ethnic cleansing - a charge Naypyitaw denies.

Many who fled to Bangladesh say they were driven out by a mix of security forces and ethnic Rakhine vigilantes, who then set their homes on fire. In addition to those who had fled during earlier bouts of conflict, south-eastern Bangladesh now hosts some 700,000 Rohingya. Analysts fear regional militants may be drawn to this conflict.

Ms Suu Kyi stressed yesterday that the bulk of Rohingya in Rakhine did not flee Myanmar.

"I think it is very little known that the great majority of Muslims in Rakhine state have not joined the exodus," she said, avoiding the term "Rohingya", which is not recognised as an ethnic group by the government. "More than 50 per cent of the villages of Muslims are intact."

But she said: "We want to understand why this exodus is happening. We would like to talk to those who have fled as well as those who have stayed."

Ms Suu Kyi's speech, telecast on television and the Internet, did not touch on alleged military atrocities.

Instead, she said "we condemn all human rights violations and unlawful violence", and promised that action will be taken against perpetrators "regardless of their religion, race and political position".

The speech drew scathing comments from human rights groups, which had hoped for a stronger stance. Amnesty International said she and her government were just "burying their heads in the sand".

"The real subtext is that she can't do anything about this, and she is not going to do anything about this," independent analyst Kim Jolliffe, who specialises in security and humanitarian affairs, told The Straits Times.

There is little that Ms Suu Kyi can do directly. Despite its parliamentary majority, her National League for Democracy party has no say on military matters or on key portfolios that run the civil service. In Rakhine, she also has to contend with ethnic Rakhine defensive of their rights and aggrieved by all the global attention on the Rohingya.

Nationalist army chief Min Aung Hlaing, who operates independently of Ms Suu Kyi, told the nation in a Facebook post on Saturday to unite over the issue.

While Ms Suu Kyi has promised to implement recommendations for Rakhine's security and development drawn up by a commission led by former United Nations secretary-general Kofi Annan, her government has said it will refuse visas to a UN fact-finding team.

Yesterday, she invited diplomats to visit villages in Rakhine unaffected by the conflict, and urged them to see the larger picture of Myanmar's "fragile" democratic transition. "We would like you to think of our country as a whole," she said. "It is as a whole only, that we can make progress."

Many of Ms Suu Kyi's supporters gathered to listen to her speech.

"They see her as defending (the reputation of) the country," said Mr Sein Win, training director of the Myanmar Journalism Institute.

But given allegations of discrimination that have surfaced, Mr Sein Win said he was disappointed that Ms Suu Kyi did not talk about how specific displaced communities in Rakhine state would receive help.

By generalising, he said, "sometimes you miss the point".

ISIS, Al-Qaeda drawn to crisis in Rakhine state
By Francis Chan, Indonesia Bureau Chief, The Straits Times, 20 Sep 2017

The plight of the Rohingya, an Islamic minority in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, has evoked strong emotions across the Muslim world.

Many countries have protested against the persecution of the community, following a violent crackdown by the Myanmar army that left hundreds dead and sparked an exodus of more than 410,000 people from Rakhine to Bangladesh.

But as rights groups urge world leaders to impose sanctions on Myanmar's military, which is accused of "ethnic cleansing", a darker danger lies ahead.

Counter-terrorism experts say the crisis has attracted the attention of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), as well as Muslim militants and hardliners in Indonesia and Malaysia.

This may result in another longstanding conflict in South-east Asia, following the ongoing siege in the southern Philippine city of Marawi by Islamist militants.

Echoing its strategy in southern Philippines, ISIS has routinely, through its online publication Dabiq, claimed that it plans to establish a base in Bangladesh to launch revenge attacks on the Myanmar government over its treatment of the Muslim Rohingya.

Malaysian counter-terrorism chief Ayob Khan Mydin Pitchay said earlier this week that ISIS is exploiting the Rohingya crisis to recruit more fighters, particularly from South-east Asia.

Indeed, latest developments out of Kuala Lumpur have revealed that a group of Malaysians had travelled to Myanmar, via Bangladesh and Thailand, to take on government troops there.

Malaysian police in Kelantan state, which shares a border with southern Thailand, told news agency Bernama that it has identified more than 100 "rat trails" used for smuggling, and has stepped up patrols there to prevent the illegal entry of Rohingya and "untoward incidents".

Meanwhile in Indonesia, the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) had called for "jihadists" to travel to Rakhine to fight on behalf of the Rohingya. The FPI has shown that it has the ability to mobilise hundreds of thousands of people, as seen in the many rallies it led against former Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, a Chinese-Christian politician, for insulting Islam earlier this year.

FPI spokesman Slamet Maarif was quoted by The Australian newspaper earlier this month as saying that the group is prepared to wage "jihad", or a holy war, in Myanmar if the need arises. "That is why one of the main requirements for our recruits is the willingness to die as a martyr," he said.

Centre for Radicalism and Deradicalisation Studies executive director Adhe Bhakti said the real danger for Indonesia lies in whether elements of the Jemaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD), a local terrorist network with ties to ISIS, join the fray. "More influential groups in the context of 'jihad' such as the JAD have yet to appeal for fighters. If they do, that may pose a greater risk," said Mr Adhe.

Islamist militant groups have previously exploited the Rohingya crisis for their cause, notably in 2012 and 2015, but this current conflict has drawn wider attention.

Mr Iftekharul Bashar, an associate research fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, said the crisis is unfolding at a time when ISIS is losing much of its territory in the Middle East and is trying to expand its hold in South Asia and South-east Asia.

"The recent siege of Marawi... shows that ISIS penetration in the Rakhine state conflict cannot be ruled out," he added.

Datuk Ayob warned that Myanmar's proximity to Malaysia would encourage ISIS to tap the conflict in Rakhine. "Myanmar is closer to Malaysia than Syria and the southern Philippines... and now Rakhine has become their latest destination for 'jihad'," he told Bernama news.

The resurgent Al-Qaeda, which was behind the Sept 11, 2001, attacks in the United States, has also started to make its move, issuing a statement on Sept 12 calling for attacks against the Myanmar government over the Rohingya.

While most of the attention by security agencies has been on ISIS, Mr Bashar warned that Al-Qaeda, and its affiliate in the Indian subcontinent known by the acronym AQIS, is equally dangerous.

AQIS has not carried out any major attacks in Bangladesh in the past few years, but it has recently mentioned the Myanmar military as a key target, added Mr Bashar. "Although the majority of Muslims still support a peaceful settlement with Rohingya returning to their homeland, a smaller segment thinks that an armed 'jihad' is the only solution left to end the plight of the Rohingya."

Bangladesh bears brunt of Myanmar's crackdown on Rohingya
As a Nobel laureate is in denial and a general is in a state of amnesia, Bangladesh continues to bear the brunt of 'ethnic cleansing'.
By Syed Munir Khasru, Published The Straits Times, 25 Sep 2017

Since Aug 25, over 400,000 Rohingya refugees have fled the Myanmar state of Rakhine into neighbouring Bangladesh.

Bangladesh has been harbouring the Rohingya for decades, bringing the total asylum count, according to unofficial sources, to around a staggering 900,000.

No other developing nation has hosted this many Rohingya refugees for so many years. The United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, all Muslim-majority nations, together have given asylum to 560,000 Rohingya, much fewer than small, densely populated Bangladesh. Myanmar's other democratic neighbour, India, is seeking ways to repatriate its existing 40,000.


Myanmar's current crisis springs from decades, even centuries, of rejection of the Muslim Rohingya people by the Buddhist-majority nation.

The Myanmar people tend to view the Rohingya as "illegal immigrants" from Bangladesh who refused to leave.

In fact, Rohingya have lived in Myanmar since the 12th century when it was an independent kingdom called Arakan. Hundreds of thousands more came from Bangladesh to Myanmar when the British imported labour. Over the centuries and decades, many intermarried into other ethnic groups. There are currently 1.1 million living in the country's western coastal Rakhine state, which borders Bangladesh.

Despite being in an ethnically diverse nation, both the Myanmar people and their administration consider the Rohingya illegal Bangladeshi immigrants who once came to their land as agricultural labourers and haven't left since.

They are considered to be security threats encroaching on Myanmar resources. (If such is the grounds for their expulsion, then the millions of Indian labourers who moved from one end of British India to the other during the 200 years of British rule in India must also be repatriated to their place of origin!)

After Burma's independence from the British in 1948, Rohingya were not included in the list of ethnic groups that could apply for citizenship, but those living in Burma for at least two generations were allowed to apply for identity cards that could later be turned into citizenship cards.

However, after the military coup in 1962, when citizens were required to have national registration cards, the Rohingya were given foreign identity cards that excluded them from having certain jobs and accessing certain public services.

The final blow came after 1982 when the Rohingya were excluded from applying for even the basic citizenship type from a category of three types, as they were required to prove that their family had been living in Burma before 1948, a proof requiring paperwork almost impossible to acquire.

Since 1962, there have been intermittent crackdowns on Rohingya, forcing them to flee to neighbouring regions from time to time. The scale and intensity of the crackdowns have intensified over the years and reached a critical point since the last attack on Aug 25.

Orchestrating the current crackdown from behind the scenes is Myanmar army chief Min Aung Hlaing, who in his official Facebook page has outright denied the Rohingya the right to proper treatment in Myanmar, labelling the entire crisis as a "Bengali issue".

The general either does not know history or is in a state of selective amnesia. In desperation to justify the terror and savagery unleashed by his forces, he has chosen to use the cloak of a democratic government that has been described by United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres as "not a perfect democracy... where the military has the upper hand".


This exodus has been described as a "textbook example of ethnic cleansing" by UN human rights chief Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein. The exodus has been particularly difficult for Bangladesh, which now has to accommodate overwhelming numbers of Rohingya in a very short span of time in the city of Teknaf, which is one of its least developed regions. The Bangladeshi people and its government, in spite of having to deal with myriad social and political problems of their own, have been by and large accommodative to these incoming refugees.

Diplomatically, Bangladesh has been put in a tight situation. If it agrees to completely take in the refugees and integrate them like Germany did with Syrian refugees, then it gives an opportunity to Myanmar to direct all its Rohingya population into Bangladesh, accomplishing its goal of having no Rohingya in Myanmar.

When refugees are fleeing communal wars, famine or environmental catastrophe, it is inhumane to send them back to a place where no citizen is safe. But the case for Myanmar is very different as all other ethnic groups in the country are living functioning daily lives under whatever form of democracy it has.

By taking in all Rohingya, Bangladesh runs the risk of legitimising Myanmar's false claim that Rohingya are illegal Bangladeshi immigrants who must be returned to their country of origin where they belong.

It is rather unfortunate that Bangladesh has been put to such a conundrum by its next-door neighbour, with whom it did not have a bad start. In fact, Burma was one of the first countries to recognise Bangladesh in January 1972, and General Ne Win in April 1974 visited Bangladesh where he and Sheikh Mujibur Rahman tried to forge the foundation for a new relationship.

The Bangladesh government has yet to formulate a well-thought-out strategy and plan how to address the humanitarian crisis without giving Myanmar an excuse to send all its Rohingya population away.

For now, Bangladesh has already made an additional 810ha of land available for camps to house refugees in Teknaf. The Rohingya there will be given temporary shelter and other necessary relief materials, but will be registered, fingerprinted and excluded from mixing with the local community.

Bangladesh itself is reeling from frequent river erosion, coastal flooding and rapid climate change,and will soon be logistically unable to accommodate any more Rohingya flocking across its border. It has urged the international community to build pressure on Myanmar, instead of pushing Bangladesh to stretch its limit by taking in more refugees.

The UN, European Parliament and many others have branded the situation in Myanmar as inhuman and akin to ethnic cleansing.

Myanmar is in a state of denial about the issue. In her speech last week, Myanmar leader and Nobel Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi denied any incident of armed clashes or clearance operations by its military. Declining to use the term Rohingya, she chose to speak of Muslims who had fled and those who had stayed "to find out what was at the root of the crisis". Mr Salil Shetty, the secretary-general of Amnesty International, aptly questioned why Myanmar would restrict aid workers and international media from visiting the Rakhine state.

Even as the world debates the responsibilities of rich and poor nations to refugees, the reality is that Bangladesh, a natural disaster-prone, densely populated and resource-constrained country, is valiantly struggling to provide food, shelter and basic amenities to the most persecuted and helpless minority in the world - while a powerful army general in Myanmar has the luxury of roaming around in social media in a state of "amnesia of convenience", and a Nobel laureate, who in her Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech stated "ultimately our aim should be to create a world free from the displaced, the homeless and the hopeless", continues to be in a state of denial.

The writer is chairman of international think-tank The Institute for Policy, Advocacy, and Governance.

RSAF delivers humanitarian relief supplies worth $270,000 to aid refugees in Bangladesh
By Toh Yong Chuan, Senior Correspondent In Chittagong (Bangladesh), The Straits Times, 11 Oct 2017

A Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) team yesterday airlifted its first batch of humanitarian supplies to Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh.

The relief package - comprising tents, blankets, food, medical supplies and lamps - was delivered by a Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) KC-135R transport aircraft to Chittagong airport.

A second batch is slated to be delivered today. The aid, worth around $270,000, was donated by the Singapore Government and independent disaster relief organisation Mercy Relief.

Senior Minister of State for Defence and Foreign Affairs Maliki Osman, who travelled to Bangladesh with the SAF, witnessed the handing over of the supplies to Chittagong Divisional Commissioner Md Abdul Mannan by Senior Lieutenant-Colonel Lim Lit Lam from the SAF's Changi Regional Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief Coordination Centre.

"Singapore offers our deepest condolences to all those affected by the humanitarian crisis in Rakhine state," Dr Maliki said. "We are a small state, we do what we can to help."

Some 500,000 Rohingya are estimated to have fled Myanmar's Rakhine state for Bangladesh since violence broke out in August.

This week's airlift comes two weeks after the Singapore Government said it would donate about $300,000 worth of humanitarian relief supplies to Bangladesh and Myanmar for the affected communities.

Singapore had also expressed concern about the humanitarian situation, and said it stood ready to support efforts by ASEAN to provide humanitarian assistance.

Yesterday, MINDEF said that since conveying the Singapore Government's offers of humanitarian assistance to the governments of Bangladesh and Myanmar on Sept 29, the SAF has been working closely with Singapore's Foreign Ministry, Mercy Relief and the Bangladeshi government to coordinate the delivery of aid supplies to meet displaced people's needs.

Dr Maliki said the supplies delivered were based on feedback from the Bangladeshi government on the needs on the ground.

"We hope this will alleviate some of the conditions of some of the people who are currently in Cox's Bazar," he said.

Chittagong is 130km north of Cox's Bazar, where many refugees have gathered.

"Singaporeans are also equally concerned with what they see is happening," Dr Maliki added, noting that many community groups have stepped up to raise funds and work with relief agencies to distribute them.

Meanwhile, Mercy Relief said it had identified women as the most vulnerable group in the overpopulated evacuation camps.

Its team members will be distributing relief items such as dignity kits for women that contain scarves, sanitary napkins and soap, as well as solar lamps and tents.

"With women and children making up a majority of those displaced by the conflict, there is an urgent need to prioritise their safety," said Mercy Relief executive director Zhang Tingjun, who also travelled to Chittagong.

"By providing solar lamps, we can increase a sense of security for those sleeping out in the open."

She added: "Additionally, the tents distributed can provide a private space for girls and nursing mothers. Addressing these needs can promote the overall well-being of those displaced."

No comments:

Post a Comment