The Financial Express

Villages burned to ground in Rakhine, foreign envoys say

| Updated: October 24, 2017 21:00:42

Two Rohingya refugees, who just arrived from Myanmar with their newborn babies, walk towards a relief centre in Teknaf under Cox's Bazar on Tuesday.	— Reuters Two Rohingya refugees, who just arrived from Myanmar with their newborn babies, walk towards a relief centre in Teknaf under Cox's Bazar on Tuesday. — Reuters

Ambassadors of 20 mostly western countries based in Myanmar in a joint statement has said they saw Rohingya villages were burned to the ground with residents fleeing elsewhere while visiting the Rakhine state, the scene of the violent military crackdown, reports BSS.

"We saw villages which had been burned to the ground and emptied of inhabitants . . . The violence must stop," the envoys said Tuesday after their visit to the region under a government-sponsored tour.

The envoys said, "We saw on our visit the dire humanitarian need" and "we call once more for unimpeded humanitarian access to northern Rakhine and resumption of life-saving services without discrimination throughout the state".

The foreign envoys tour and subsequent statement came five weeks after the army clampdown to flush out alleged terrorists from the region sparked one of the world's worst exoduses with the ethnic minority people fleeing their homes to escape atrocities.

"The security forces have an obligation to protect all people in Rakhine without discrimination and to take measures to prevent acts of arson," the statement read.

It added: "We have stressed to the Union and State Government (of Myanmar) and to local authorities in Rakhine that the people we saw during this visit must not be subject to, and should be protected from, any reprisals, such as physical attacks or arbitrary arrest."

The statement said, "investigation of allegations of human rights violations needs to be carried out by experts" since the envoys' visit "was not an investigation mission and could not be in the circumstances".

The diplomats urged them to allow the UN Fact-Finding Mission to visit Rakhine.

The envoys represented the United States, the European Union, Britain, Germany, France, Australia, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Serbia, Switzerland, Turkey, Spain, Sweden and Finland.

Indonesian ambassador was the lone non-western foreign envoy included in the delegation for the tour while the statement said the diplomats visited a number of villages in Maungdaw and Rathedaung districts and met a mixture of local communities in Northern Rakhine.

The statement, however, welcomed the commitment of the State Counsellor to address human rights violations in accordance with strict norms of justice but "we call again on the Myanmar authorities to fully investigate allegations of human rights violations and bring prosecutions against those responsible".

"We encourage the Myanmar Government to move quickly to enable the voluntary, dignified and safe return to their places of origin of the hundreds of thousands of refugees who have fled to Bangladesh," the statement said.

"As friends of Myanmar we remain ready to work with the Myanmar Government to help Rakhine reach its potential," it said.

It said the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State has set out recommendations for a stable, peaceful and prosperous future for all communities in the state, irrespective of ethnicity, religion or citizenship status.

"We support full implementation of the (Kofi Anan) report," the statement read.

The envoys expected their visit to be the "only the very first step in an urgently needed opening up of access for all, including to media, to all parts of Northern Rakhine".

AFP report adds, more than 10,000 Muslim Rohingya have massed in Myanmar near a crossing point into Bangladesh, Myanmar media said Tuesday, apparently poised to join an exodus across the border due to food shortages and fear of attacks in their mainly Buddhist homeland.

Over 500,000 Rohingya have streamed into Bangladesh in just the past five weeks, and numbers are again swelling, raising doubt about the practicality of a Myanmar proposal to begin repatriating them.

Myanmar's northern state of Rakhine has been emptied of half of its Rohingya population in weeks.

More are on the move as insecurity presses them to leave those villages which have so far been spared the worst of the violence that ripped through the state.

After a brief lull in arrivals, the Bangladesh Border Guard says 4-5,000 Rohingya are now crossing each day.

"They don't want to stay (in Myanmar). They want to come here... they are being told to leave," Lieutenant-Colonel S.M Ariful Islam said.

Food is also running out, with villagers too fearful to tend to their crops in case they are attacked by their neighbours.

"In some villages Rohingyas are scared to pass by Rakhine villages," Chris Lewa, from Rohingya advocacy group the Arakan Project, told AFP.

On occasions when the Rohingya village chief decides to leave, the whole hamlet will follow, emptying a village "in just a few hours", she said.

Myanmar denies most Rohingya citizenship and the public in the Buddhist-majority nation does not want them back.

Myanmar's army has carefully shaped perceptions of the Muslim group, branding them illegal immigrants intent on imposing Islam via the country's western gateway.

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