Kofi Annan to hold briefing on Rohingya crisis as Security Council heads to Burma

FORMER United Nations chief Kofi Annan is expected to provide details of a report on the plight of Rohingya Muslims in Burma (Myanmar) during an informal meeting with the Security Council on Friday.

According to the Yahoo! News (via the AFP), Jeffrey Feltman, the UN’s top political affairs official, will travel to the country on Friday for four days of talks on the crisis.

Feltman will be holding consultations with Myanmar to address these urgent issues,” said a UN official.

Annan in late August presented the final report by the special advisory commission on Rakhine state. Annan, who chairs the commission, did this at the request of Burma’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Among others, the report called for Burmese authorities to take urgent action to address the plight of the Rohingya, who are not recognised as citizens and have faced decades of discrimination from the country’s Buddhist majority.

On Wednesday, the UN human rights office said Burmese security forces had brutally driven out half a million Muslim Rohingya from northern Rakhine state, torching their homes, crops and villages to prevent them from returning.

SEE ALSO: Burma, Bangladesh to agree plan for repatriation of Rohingya refugees

Jyoti Sanghera, head of the Asia and Pacific region of the UN human rights office, called on Suu Kyi to “stop the violence” and voiced fear if the stateless Rohingya refugees return from Bangladesh they may be interned.

“If villages have been completely destroyed and livelihood possibilities have been destroyed, what we fear is that they may be incarcerated or detained in camps,” she told a news briefing.

In a report based on 65 interviews with Rohingya who have arrived in Bangladesh in the past month, the UN human rights office said that “clearance operations” had begun before insurgent attacks on police posts on Aug 25 and included killings, torture and rape of children.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein – who has described the government operations as “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing” – said in a statement that the actions appeared to be “a cynical ploy to forcibly transfer large numbers of people without possibility of return”.

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A man guards near a house, which was burnt down, during the last days violence in Maungdaw, northern Rakhine State, Burma, on Aug 30, 2017. Source: Reuters/Soe Zeya Tun

 

“Credible information indicates that the Burmese security forces purposely destroyed the property of the Rohingyas, scorched their dwellings and entire villages in northern Rakhine State, not only to drive the population out in droves but also to prevent the fleeing Rohingya victims from returning to their homes,” the report said.

It said the destruction by security forces, often joined by mobs of armed Rakhine Buddhists, of houses, fields, food stocks, crops, and livestock made the possibility of Rohingya returning to normal lives in northern Rakhine “almost impossible”.

The campaign was “well-organised, coordinated and systematic” and began with Rohingya men under 40 being arrested a month earlier, creating a “climate of fear and intimidation”.

“We are not in a position to make a finding of genocide or not, but this should in no way detract from the seriousness of the situation which the Rohingya population is currently facing,” said Thomas Hunecke, who led the team that went to Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, from Sept 14-24.

It was “highly likely” that Burmese security forces planted landmines along the border in recent weeks to prevent Rohingya from returning, he said, citing doctors treating injuries.

Violence continues

Despite growing international condemnation of the crisis, the military campaign is popular in Buddhist-majority Burma, where there is little sympathy for the Rohingya, and for Muslims in general, and where Buddhist nationalism has surged.

Burma on Tuesday launched its first bid to improve relations between Buddhists and Muslims since the eruption of deadly violence inflamed the communal tension and triggered an exodus of some 520,000 Muslims to Bangladesh.

But the UN’s Sanghera, noting that 11,000 Rohingya crossed into Bangladesh on Monday alone, said: “Clearly it seems that some level of eviction, displacement, forced movement and violence may be continuing.”

The UN experts documented Burmese security forces “firing indiscriminately at Rohingya villagers, injuring and killing other innocent victims, setting houses on fire”.

SEE ALSO: Israel refuses to stop arms sales to Burma despite Rohingya ‘ethnic cleansing’

“Almost all testimonies indicated that people were shot at close range and in the back while they tried to flee in panic,” the report said.

The UN report quoted a 12-year-old girl from Rathedaung township as saying the security forces had surrounded her house and started shooting.

“It was a situation of panic – they shot my sister in front of me. She was only seven years old. She cried and told me to run. I tried to protect her and care for her, but we had no medical assistance on the hillside and she was bleeding so much that after one day she died. I buried her myself.”

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Bodies of Rohingya refugee children from Burma, who were killed when their boat capsized on the way to Bangladesh, are carried by local residents in Shah Porir Dwip, in Teknaf, near Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh, on Oct 9, 2017. Source: Reuters/Damir Sagolj

The girl did not know what happened to her mother and four brothers, nor her father, who was jailed a month earlier.

The United Nations said on Wednesday that its current top official in Burma, Renata Lok-Dessallien, would finish her nearly four-year assignment at the end of October.

Burma is stalling on accepting a plan by the UN to upgrade the UN country head to the more powerful rank of assistant secretary-general (ASG) when Lok-Dessallien leaves.

Suu Kyi’s national security adviser Thaung Tun told Reuters earlier this month that the UN “must treat us equally,” adding that: “We’ll be fine with anybody if all member states have an ASG assigned. Not just us.”

Additional reporting by Reuters

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