UN Warns of ‘Ethnic Cleansing’ of Myanmar’s Muslims

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Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh—The situation in Myanmar is a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing”, the United Nations said on Monday, as the number of Rohingya Muslims fleeing Myanmar for Bangladesh topped 300,000.

The UN warning came as it emerged the Dalai Lama had written to Aung San Suu Kyi urging Myanmar’s de facto civilian leader to find a peaceful solution to the crisis in the mainly Buddhist country.

The Rohingya, a stateless Muslim minority, have faced decades of persecution in Myanmar where they are regarded as illegal immigrants.

But since the latest upsurge in violence on August 25, hundreds of thousands have flooded across the border into Bangladesh bringing stories of entire villages burned to the ground by Buddhist mobs and Myanmar troops.

On Monday the UN human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein accused Myanmar of waging a “systematic attack” on the Rohingya and warned that “ethnic cleansing” seemed to be under way.

“Because Myanmar has refused access to human rights investigators the current situation cannot yet be fully assessed, but the situation seems a textbook example of ethnic cleansing,” he told the UN Human Rights Council.

Suu Kyi, a Nobel peace laureate, has come in for strong international criticism over the military crackdown on the Rohingya, which began when militants ambushed security forces on August 25.

The UN special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar has said the latest violence may have left more than 1,000 dead, most of them Rohingya.

A further 27,000 ethnic Rakhine Buddhists as well as Hindus have also fled violence that has gripped northern Rakhine, where international aid programmes in Rakhine have been severely curtailed.

On Monday it emerged that the Dalai Lama had joined fellow Nobel peace laureates Malala Yousafzai and Archbishop Desmond Tutu in urging Suu Kyi to intervene.

“Questions that are put to me suggest that many people have difficulty reconciling what appears to be happening to Muslims there with Myanmar’s reputation as a Buddhist country,” the Tibetan spiritual leader wrote in a letter to Suu Kyi shortly after the latest fighting broke out.

“I appeal to you and your fellow leaders to reach out to all sections of society to try to restore friendly relations throughout the population in a spirit of peace and reconciliation.”

The UN refugee agency says at least 313,000 Rohingya have now arrived in Bangladesh from Myanmar’s Rakhine state since August 25, around a third of the total population of 1.1 million.

The true figure could be even higher — the UN said many new arrivals are still on the move and are therefore left out of the calculations.

UN Flays India’s Decision

 The top UN human rights official on Monday denounced Myanmar’s “brutal security operation” against Muslim Rohingyas in Rakhine state, saying it was disproportionate to insurgent attacks carried out last month.

Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, addressing the United Nations Human Rights Council, also criticised India for seeking to deport Rohingyas who have taken shelter in India.

“I deplore current measures in India to deport Rohingyas at a time of such violence against them in their country,” Zeid said, noting that some 40,000 Rohingyas had settled in India, including 16,000 who have received refugee documentation.

Noting India’s obligations under international law, he said: “India cannot carry out collective expulsions, or return people to a place where they risk torture or other serious violations.”

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