UN expects up to 300,000 Rohingya refugees

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Yangon—Up to 300,000 Rohingya Muslims could flee violence in northwestern Myanmar to neighbouring Bangladesh, a UN agency official said on Wednesday, warning of a funding shortfall for emergency food supplies for the refugees.

According to estimates issued by United Nations workers in Bangladesh’s border region of Cox’s Bazar, arrivals since the latest bloodshed started 12 days ago have already reached 46,000.

Numbers are difficult to establish with any certainty due to the turmoil as Rohingya escape operations by Myanmar’s military. However, the UN officials have raised their estimate of the total expected refugees from 120,000 to 300,000, said Dipayan Bhattacharyya, who is Bangladesh spokesman for the World Food Programme.

Suu Kyi, Myanmar face chorus of anger over atrocities against Rohingya Muslims

“They are coming in nutritionally deprived, they have been cut off from a normal flow of food for possibly more than a month,” he told Reuters.

“They were definitely visibly hungry, traumatised.”

The surge of refugees, many sick or wounded, has strained the resources of aid agencies and communities which are already helping hundreds of thousands displaced by previous waves of violence in Myanmar.

Many have no shelter, and aid agencies are racing to provide clean water, sanitation and food.

The source added that the 300,000 number was probably towards the worst-case scenario.

Meanwhile, Myanmar said it is negotiating with China and Russia to ensure they block any UN Security Council censure over the violence.

Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi blamed ‘terrorists’ for “a huge iceberg of misinformation” on the strife in the northwestern state of Rakhine but, in a statement, she made no mention of the Rohingya who have fled.

She has come under increasing pressure from countries with Muslim populations, including Indonesia, where thousands led by Islamist groups held a rally in Jakarta on Wednesday, to demand that diplomatic ties with Buddhist-majority Myanmar be cut.

Myanmar National Security Adviser Thaung Tun told a news conference in the capital, Naypyitaw, that Myanmar was counting on China and Russia to block a UN resolution on the crisis.

“We are negotiating with some friendly countries not to take it to the Security Council,” he said.

“China is our friend and we have a similar friendly relationship with Russia, so it will not be possible for that issue to go forward.”

Suu Kyi spoke by telephone on Tuesday with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, who has pressed world leaders to do more to help a population of roughly 1.1 million he says are facing genocide.

In a statement issued by her office on Facebook, Suu Kyi said the government had “already started defending all the people in Rakhine in the best way possible” and warned against misinformation that could mar relations with other countries.

She referred to images on Twitter of killings posted by Turkey’s deputy prime minister that he later deleted because they were not from Myanmar.

“She said that kind of fake information which was inflicted on the deputy prime minister was simply the tip of a huge iceberg of misinformation calculated to create a lot of problems between different countries and with the aim of promoting the interests of the terrorists,” her office said in the statement.

Suu Kyi on Wednesday met Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who said he shared Myanmar’s concern about “extremist violence” in Rakhine state.

Myanmar has been laying landmines across a section of its border with Bangladesh for the past three days, two government sources in Dhaka said, adding that the purpose may have been to prevent the return of Rohingya Muslims fleeing violence.

Bangladesh will formally lodge a protest on Wednesday against the laying of land mines so close to the border, said the sources who had direct knowledge of the situation but asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the matter.

A Myanmar military source said landmines were laid along the border in the 1990s to prevent trespassing and the military had since tried to remove them, but none had been planted recently.

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