Category Archives: Medical & Health Care

Aung San Suu Kyi Discusses Rakhine Crisis With ASEAN Foreign Ministers

Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi met with 10 foreign ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on Monday in Yangon to brief them on the situation in troubled Rakhine state where controversial security operations have been in place since deadly attacks on border guard posts in early October.

Aung San Suu Kyi, who also serves as state counselor and foreign affairs minister, informed the ASEAN ministers about the government’s efforts to provide assistance to both the Rohingya Muslim community and ethnic Rakhine Buddhist communities affected by violence in the wake of the attacks, according to a statement issued by the State Counselor’s Office.

“The retreat was initiated by the Government of Myanmar with the aim of apprising fellow members of the ASEAN family of Myanmar’s efforts in ensuring peace, security, and development in the Rakhine state,” the statement said. “It was also intended to strengthen ASEAN unity and solidarity.”

Aung San Suu Kyi, who called for the meeting, said the government is committed to resolving the Rakhine crisis, but needs time, and stressed the importance of clearing up differences among ASEAN members through friendly consultations, it said.

Following the security crackdown to find attackers believed to be Rohingya militants, reports about Myanmar army soldiers committing extrajudicial killings, torturing villagers, raping women and burning down homes in Rohingya communities have sparked protests by Muslims in Malaysia, Indonesia, Bangladesh, and Pakistan, as well as accusations of human rights abuses and genocide by some international organizations, Western governments, and the United Nations.

The government, which has denied the allegations, has a few backers among the international community.

Priscilla Clapp, a retired U.S. diplomat who was the charge d’affaires at the American embassy in Myanmar from 1999 to 2002, questioned the veracity of the accusations by outside nongovernmental organizations and others.

She told RFA’s Myanmar Service on Dec. 12 that those who support such charges “don’t known what the situation is.”

“They don’t understand the language, and people make things up,” she said. “They make things up just to spread rumors.”

Most urgent matter

Foreign Minister Anifah Aman of Malaysia, whose leaders have been critical of Myanmar’s handling of the Rakhine dispute, called on the regional bloc to coordinate humanitarian efforts to assist people uprooted by violence in Rakhine state as well as establish an independent body to probe allegations of human rights abuses in the area.

“[T]he most urgent matter is the humanitarian conditions of the people in the affected areas,” he said.

“Like others, we call for unimpeded humanitarian access to the affected areas,” he said, in a reference to security forces barring international humanitarian groups from entering northern Rakhine to deliver aid.

“We further propose that ASEAN coordinates the humanitarian assistance to Rakhine state, as we did during Cyclone Nargis in 2008,”Anifah said, referring to Myanmar’s worst natural disaster in its recorded history.

Malaysia, a predominantly Muslim country in Southeast Asia, irked officials in Myanmar after Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak participated in a protest rally in Kuala Lumpur on Dec. 4 during which he called on the United Nations to end “ethnic cleansing” targeting Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine state.

Anifah proposed that ASEAN establish its own independent group of experts or eminent persons to investigate and verify the situation in Rakhine and provide recommendations to the foreign ministers about how the situation should be dealt with.

He also called on Myanmar to uphold the rights of all people living with the boundaries of the state in the western part of the country.

“[M]yanmar must take steps to build confidence and reassurance among the local population, and to also protect all residents regardless of their ethnicity, religious beliefs, or status,” Anifah said. “Although Myanmar may not recognize the Rohingya as its citizens, we must not forget that they too deserve basic human rights.”

An inclusive approach

Retno L.P. Marsudi, minister of foreign affairs of Muslim-majority Indonesia, echoed the sentiments of her Malaysian counterpart.

“Human rights protection and respect for all communities, including Muslim communities in Rakhine state, must be done by using an inclusive approach,” she said at the meeting.

“I urge all members of ASEAN to continue to constructively support and assist Myanmar in addressing the complex situation in Rakhine state,” said Retno who will travel to Bangladesh for bilateral talks about the Rohingya issue on Tuesday.

The meeting of the ASEAN foreign ministers came just days after international rights group Amnesty International released a report on the Rakhine crisis about what it calls the persecution of Rohingya in Myanmar, the neglect they face in Bangladesh, and abuses that may constitute “crimes against humanity.”

In the Dec. 16 report entitled “We Are at a Breaking Point,” Amnesty International says it has found that government security forces did commit atrocities against Rohingya villagers in Rakhine based on mostly phone interviews from outside the country with 55 victims, eyewitnesses, human rights monitors, humanitarian workers, journalists, and Rohingya leaders in October, November and December.

The violence in northern Rakhine state has forced more than 27,000 Rohingya to flee to southeastern Bangladesh since early October.

Border guards report that Bangladeshi authorities turned back 306 boats carrying Rohingya across the Naaf River, which separates the two countries, between early October and Dec. 15.

On Monday, border guard officials told BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service, that they had turned back another 40 Rohingya as they tried to cross the border at Ukhia and Teknaf, two subdistricts in southeastern Cox’s Bazar district.

Copyright (copyright) 1998-2016, RFA. Used with the permission of Radio Free Asia, 2025 M St. NW, Suite 300, Washington DC 20036

Myanmar’s Rakhine Commission Wraps up Visit to Maungdaw as Grim New Report Surfaces

A Myanmar government-appointed investigation commission wrapped a five-day visit to the northern part of Rakhine state on Tuesday in which the members stopped in 10 villages in Maungdaw township where violence had occurred last month.

Led by Vice President Myint Swe, the 13-member group was formed by President Htin Kyaw on Dec. 1 to examine the situation that led to deadly border guard station attacks on Oct. 9 and subsequent violence on Nov. 12-13 in Maungdaw.

The commission is also tasked with verifying allegations by Rohingya Muslims who have accused national army soldiers of arson, torture, rape, and murder during the security operations.

Commission members Aung Kyi and Thet Zin met Muslim women and children in Kyet-yo-byin village and asked about any rapes and child murders that may have occurred there, as reported in Britain’s The Guardian.

The villagers said they had only heard rumors about such crimes and did not know any further details.

The commission members also met with detainees arrested in connection with the Maungdaw violence who are being held in prisons in neighboring Buthidaung township and in Rakhine’s capital Sittwe.

“We met with detainees in Buthidaung prison who were arrested during the violence, as well as those in Sittwe prison during our visit, and asked them how the incidents started,” commission member Saw Thalay said.

Authorities have detained about 600 people in connection with the violence during a security sweep of Maungdaw and Buthidaung townships when army soldiers and border police searched for those involved in a deadly border guard attack on Oct. 9.

Security forces, who blamed the attack on Rohingya Muslim militants, locked down Rohingya communities where residents who were forced to flee have accused them of arson, rape and murder.

As the commission’s visit ended, New York-based rights group Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the Myanmar army burned at least 1,500 structures in Rohingya Muslim villages during their security sweep of the area.

Satellite imagery of the villages and interviews with refugees “place responsibility for burnings of Rohingya villagessquarely with the Burmese military,” which have driven thousands from their homes, HRW said in a statement.

The Myanmar government has yet to respond to the latest HRW report, but has been dismissive of early statements by the group, and the army has not permitted independent observers or media to visit the conflict zone.

The military and the Myanmar government have denied that national army soldiers burned homes or committed extrajudicial killings, torture, and rape during their lockdown of Maungdaw township as they searched for those involved in the Oct. 9 attacks. Instead, soldiers blamed the Rohingya for setting their own homes on fire.

Nearly 90 people have been confirmed killed, and more than 30,000 displaced, including over 20,000 Rohingya who fled their homes to neighboring, Muslim-majority Bangladesh.

“The new findings refute the Burmese military and government’s claims that Rohingya militants were responsible for burning down their own villages,” said Brad Adams, HRW’s Asia director. “The satellite imagery and eyewitness interviews clearly point the finger at the military for setting these buildings ablaze.”

The new satellite imagery analysis of villages in Maungdaw township reveals four new elements, HRW said, with the number of destroyed buildings rising to 1,500 as of Nov. 23 and the pattern of arson suggesting government responsibility as military forces moved westward.

The group also pointed out that its documentation of building destruction in villages on three occasions after government forces reportedly came under attack there suggested multiple arson in the same place, and that imagery indicated the presence of security forces in a border guard post next to Wa Peik village, which was almost entirely burned down in three waves over a month.

“It’s difficult to believe that militants burned down over 300 buildings in Wa Peik over a one-month period while Burmese security forces stood there and watched,” Adams said. “Burmese government officials have been caught out by this satellite imagery, and it’s time they recognize their continued denials lack credibility.”

Previous satellite images

On Oct. 31, HRW first issued satellite imagery recorded on Oct. 22 that presented evidence of fire-related destruction in at least three Maungdaw villages. It also reviewed thermal anomaly data collected by an environmental satellite sensor that detected the presence of multiple burning fires in two of the same villages on Oct. 14.

Two weeks later, the group issued fresh high-definition satellite imagery showing widespread fire-related destruction in ethnic Rohingya villages that was even greater than it had first thought.

HRW said it had identified 430 destroyed buildings, large burn scars, and destroyed tree cover in three villages of northern Maungdaw township.

High resolution satellite imagery recorded on the mornings of Oct. 22, Nov. 3, and Nov. 10 showed 85 buildings were destroyed in the village of Pyaung Pyit, 245 in Kyet Yoe Pyin, and 100 in Wa Peik, it said.

Though the Myanmar government has not yet issued a response to HRW’s most recent statement, it held a press conference on Nov. 16, refuting HRW’s findings, and saying only that 155 buildings had been burned by militants.

Copyright (copyright) 1998-2016, RFA. Used with the permission of Radio Free Asia, 2025 M St. NW, Suite 300, Washington DC 20036

Myanmar Muslim Groups Condemn Protest by Malaysian Leader Over Rohingya Crisis

A coalition of Muslim civil society groups in Myanmar has condemned protests led by Malaysia’s prime minister against the Southeast Asian nation’s treatment of the stateless Rohingya minority group, which has been subject to a recent security crackdown in Rakhine state.

The groups took Muslim-majority Malaysia’s ruling United Malays National Organsation (UMNO) party to task over a Dec. 4 rally in the capital Kuala Lumpur, expressing disapproval of Prime Minister Najib Razak’s participation in the protest for what they called political purposes, said the open letter dated Dec. 5.

The groups sent the letter to the Malaysian embassy and submitted a copy to Myanmar’s Ministry of Information and Ministry of Culture and Religious Affairs.

“We feel that Najib did this for his political interest,” said Darli Myint a member of the civil society aid organization Social Alliance.

“According to the ASEAN [Association of Southeast Asian Nations] charter, a country can’t interfere in the internal affairs of another member state. What he did caused us concern about the broken unity of ASEAN. That’s why we released the statement.”

Some in Myanmar believe that Najib Razak is using the Rohingya issue to deflect corruption allegations surrounding his involvement in the taking billions of dollars of public money from a state investment fund.

“We find the rally led by Malaysian Prime Minister [Najib] was nothing but aiming at the political interest of Malaysia’s ruling party,” the letter said. “We affirm that the unfortunate situation facing Myanmar needs not, and should not, be exploited for self-interest and political purposes.”

Muslims in Malaysia, Indonesia, and Bangladesh staged demonstrations last week to protest State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi’s failure to stop what they call “genocide” of the Rohingya who are at the center of the latest crackdown in the northern part of Rakhine State.

Security forces that swept into the area after a deadly raid on three border guard states on Oct. 9 have been accused of killing and raping Rohingya Muslims and burning down their homes as they searched for the attackers. The violence, which the armed forces have denied participating in, left nearly 90 dead and forced tens of thousands of Rohingya to flee to neighboring Bangladesh.

The Myanmar Muslim groups also said they disapproved of Najib’s linking of the situation to a religious cause.

“We hereby assert that the Muslim community in Myanmar do not take it as a religious persecution, but a controversial ethnic issue,” the letter said.

Myanmar views the 1.1 million Rohingya, most of whom live in Rakhine state, as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, though many have lived there for generations. They are denied citizenship and access to jobs, health care, and education. More than 120,000 Rohingya are currently living in refugee camps after being displaced by communal violence with Rakhine Buddhists in 2012.

The letter went on to say that the Myanmar government has taken steps to address the issue, including the appointment of former United Nations chief Kofi Annan to lead a Rakhine Advisory Commission to examine conflict resolution, humanitarian assistance, and development issues in the divided and impoverished state.

President Htin Kyaw on Nov. 3 formed an investigative commission to examine the situation that led to the border guard station attacks and subsequent violence, as well as to verify allegations of rights abuses during security operations.

On Tuesday, Annan told a press conference in the commercial capital Yangon that he and the other members of the Rakhine Advisory Commission remain “deeply concerned about reports of alleged human rights abuses.”

Annan also cautioned that the use of the word “genocide” to describe the situation in Rakhine is a serious charge that requires legal review and not something that can be “thrown around loosely.”

“We stressed in all our meetings that wherever security operations might be necessary, civilians must be protected at all times, and I urge the security services to act in full compliance with the rule of law,” Annan wrote in a post on the website of the Kofi Annan Foundation.

“We also stressed that security operations must not impede humanitarian access to the population,” he said. “We have been given the assurance that humanitarian assistance is allowed access and trust that all communities in need will receive the assistance they require.”

Annan also said he met with Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi and military commander-in-chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing on Tuesday to discuss reconciliation among Rakhine communities, citizen verification, freedom of movement, and the economic and social development of Rakhine.

During her meeting with the commission in the capital Naypyidaw, Aung San Suu Kyi appealed to the international community to give Myanmar time to resolve the problems in Rakhine, according to an announcement by the State Counselor’s Office.

Border Affairs Minister Lieutenant General Ye Aung and Immigration Minister Thein Swe also attended the meeting.

Copyright (copyright) 1998-2016, RFA. Used with the permission of Radio Free Asia, 2025 M St. NW, Suite 300, Washington DC 20036

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