Dhaka, Bangladesh
Strategy to instill fear, trauma: UN

Myanmar violence

Strategy to instill fear, trauma: UN

GENEVA, Oct 12: A report by the U.N. human rights office says attacks against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar point to a strategy to instill "widespread fear and trauma" and prevent them from ever returning to their homes, reports AP. The report released Wednesday is based on 65 interviews conducted in mid-September with Rohingya, individually and in groups, as more than half a million people from the ethnic group fled into Bangladesh during a violent crackdown in Myanmar. The attacks against Rohingya in Myanmar's northern Rakhine state by security forces and Buddhist mobs were "coordinated and systematic," with the intent of not only driving the population out of Myanmar but preventing them from returning, the report said. Some of those interviewed said that before and during attacks, megaphones were used to announce: "You do not belong here - go to Bangladesh. If you do not leave, we will torch your houses and kill you." According to the U.N. researchers, measures against the minority group began almost a month before the Aug. 25 attacks on police posts by Muslim militants that served as a pretext for what Myanmar's military called "clearance operations" in Rakhine. "Information we have received indicates that days and up to a month before the 25th of August, that the Myanmar security forces imposed further restrictions on access to markets, medical clinics, schools and religious sites," Karin Friedrich, who was part of the U.N. mission to Bangladesh, said at a news conference. "Rohingya men aged 15 to 40 were reportedly arrested by the Myanmar police" and detained without any charges, she said. U.N. human rights chief Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein said the Myanmar government's denial of rights, including citizenship, to the Rohingya appeared to be part of "a cynical ploy to forcibly transfer large numbers of people without possibility of return." He has also described the systematic attacks and widespread burning of villages as "textbook ethnic cleansing." The report said efforts were made to "effectively erase signs of memorable landmarks" in Rohingya areas to make the landscape unrecognizable. Myanmar's Buddhist majority denies that Rohingya Muslims are a separate ethnic group and regards them as illegal immigrants.Reuters adds: Rohingya Muslims are not native to Myanmar, the army chief told the US ambassador in a meeting in which he apparently did not address accusations of abuses by his men and said media was complicit in exaggerating the number of refugees fleeing. Senior General Min Aung Hlaing gave his most extensive account of the Rohingya refugee crisis aimed at an international audience in the meeting with Ambassador Scot Marciel, according to a report posted on his Facebook page. The general is the most powerful person in Buddhist-majority Myanmar and his apparently uncompromising stance would indicate little sensitivity about the military's image over a crisis that has drawn international condemnation and raised questions about a transition to democracy under Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. The military campaign is popular in Myanmar, where there is little sympathy for the Rohingyas, and where Buddhist nationalism has surged. Min Aung Hlaing, referring to Rohingyas by the term "Bengali", which they regard as derogatory, said British colonialists were responsible for the problem. "The Bengalis were not taken into the country by Myanmar, but by the colonialists," he told Marciel, according to the account of the meeting posted on Thursday. "They are not the natives, and the records prove that they were not even called Rohingya, but just Bengalis during the colonial period." The UN human rights office said on Wednesday Myanmar security forces had brutally driven out half a million Rohingyas from northern Rakhine state to Bangladesh, torching their homes, crops and villages to prevent them from returning. Coordinated Rohingya insurgent attacks on some 30 security posts on Aug 25 sparked a ferocious military response. The UN rights office said in its report, based on 65 interviews with Rohingyas who had arrived in Bangladesh, that abuses had begun before the Aug 25 attacks and included killings, torture and rape of children. US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley last month denounced what she called a "brutal, sustained campaign to cleanse the country of an ethnic minority" and called on countries to suspend providing weapons to Myanmar until its military puts sufficient accountability measures in place. The European Union and the United States are considering targeted sanctions against Myanmar's military leaders, officials familiar with the discussions said this week. Suu Kyi is due to make a speech on television later on Thursday. She was swept into office last year after winning an election, but the military holds immense power, including exclusive say over security. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein has described the government operations as "a textbook example of ethnic cleansing" and said the action appeared to be "a cynical ploy to forcibly transfer large numbers of people without possibility of return". Min Aung Hlaing did not refer to such accusations, according to the published account, but said the insurgents had killed 90 Hindus and 30 Rohingyas linked to the government. Insurgents' opposition to a citizenship verification campaign, which used the term Bengali, was behind the attacks, he said. "Local Bengalis were involved in the attacks under the leadership of ARSA. That is why they might have fled as they feel insecure," he said, referring to the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army insurgents. "The native place of Bengalis is really Bengal," he said. "They might have fled ... assuming that they would be safer there." He said it was an exaggeration to say the number fleeing to Bangladesh was "very large" and there had been "instigation and propaganda by using the media from behind the scene". He did not elaborate, or say how many people he thought had fled, but said the "real situation" had to be relayed to the international community. UN political affairs chief Jeffrey Feltman is due to visit Myanmar on Friday. Min Aung Hlaing repeated a promise from Suu Kyi that refugees would be accepted back under an agreement with Bangladesh in the early 1990s, adding that details were being worked out. Many refugees doubt their chances of going home fearing they will not be able to prove their right to return.

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