By Myo Myo and James Hookway
Myanmar—Myanmar security forces Tuesday stepped up their claims that Muslim militants were hoping to take advantage of the turmoil in the West of the country by establishing an Islamic state there, and alleged that international aid groups were assisting them.
The country has come under widespread criticism for its heavy-handed response to a series of attacks on Friday, when a small group of ethnic-Rohingya insurgents launched what they called a pre-emptive strike against security forces in northern Rakhine State where many of the stateless Muslim minority live.
Since then, more than 100 people, the majority of them insurgents, have been killed, and a stream of Rohingya, who are Muslim, has headed toward the border with Bangladesh, where 80,000 Rohingya already have fled since a surge of violence began in 2012.
On Monday, Pope Francis, who plans to visit the country in November, joined a growing clamor for Myanmar to provide the group with “full rights,” while United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres is concerned by the worsening situation, his spokesman said. Myanmar authorities consider the Rohingya to be illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, and the estimated 1 million population is subject to travel restrictions and other curbs. Around 140,000 live in temporary camps after communal clashes forced them from their villages.
Their plight poses a dilemma for State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace Prize winner who now serves as Myanmar’s de facto leader. If she moves to provide the Rohingya with more rights, political analysts say she risks incurring the wrath of Buddhist hard-liners who have become increasingly influential in Myanmar since the political opening which also brought Ms. Suu Kyi to power. It could also worsen relations with Myanmar’s military, which still controls much of the government, including the defense and interior ministries.
Instead, Ms. Suu Kyi appears to be siding with the army, with her office releasing a statement accusing international aid agencies of helping Rohingya militants and commending the military action around the area of Maungdaw, near Myanmar’s border with Bangladesh.
On Tuesday, police Brig. Gen. Win Tin told diplomats that foreign groups were assisting the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, which led Friday’s attacks and an assault on police positions last October. He said 11 people from Saudi Arabia had supervised the group and provided training and financial assistance.
“This group aims to deteriorate the administration of Maungdaw region and then establish an Islamic state in Maungdaw,” Gen. Win Tin said.
Home Affairs Minister Lt. Gen. Kyaw Swe told the same briefing that investigators had found that some members of international aid agencies had provided such as ammonia and fertilizers which militants subsequently used to explosive devices. The U.N. is currently evacuating all nonessential staff from the region because of the fear of reprisals.
Myanmar’s national security adviser, Thaung Tun, meanwhile, said that there is no ethnic cleansing under way in Rakhine State, and that the government intends to address the issue of the Rohinya’s statelessness. “The situation in Maungdaw is extremely complex and there are no easy or quick fixes,” he said.
The violence in Rakhine State is continuing, however. Win Min, a Muslim resident of Maungdaw, said by telephone Tuesday that soldiers set his home alight and shot a friend. “It happened after we were talking in the road. After I went to our temporary shelter, the military shot him. He shouted ‘help me, help me’,” Mr. Win Min said.
When he turned back, he said soldiers shot his friend again and he ran away, not knowing if the man lived or died.
“The military is now shooting Muslims who are out on the road,” Mr. Win Min said.
New York-based Human Rights Watch said Tuesday that satellite images it had obtained showed that that strips of land totaling some 100 kilometers in length had been razed.
“This new satellite data should cause concern and prompt action by donors and U.N. agencies to urge the Burmese government to reveal the extent of ongoing destruction in Rakhine State,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Shuffling all the blame on insurgents doesn’t spare the Burmese government from its international obligations to stop abuses and investigate alleged violations.”courtesy www.wsj.com