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UN Official: Rohingya in Myanmar Facing 'Ethnic Cleansing'

Kifawet Ullah is helped by other newly arrived Rohingya after he collapsed while waiting to have his token validated in order to collect a bag of rice distributed by aid agencies in Kutupalong, Bangladesh, Sept. 9, 2017.
Kifawet Ullah is helped by other newly arrived Rohingya after he collapsed while waiting to have his token validated in order to collect a bag of rice distributed by aid agencies in Kutupalong, Bangladesh, Sept. 9, 2017.
UN Official: Rohingya in Myanmar Facing 'Ethnic Cleansing'
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The United Nations’ human rights chief has joined a growing group of international voices condemning the government in Myanmar.

The group blames the government for the wave of violence that has forced thousands of Rohingya Muslims to flee to neighboring Bangladesh.

The United Nations official, Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein, spoke on Monday to a meeting of the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland. He said his office has received many reports and satellite images of the violence. He said they provide evidence of Myanmar security forces and militias carrying out extrajudicial killings and burning entire Rohingya villages.

Zeid also noted reports of Myanmar troops placing landmines along the border with Bangladesh.

"Because Myanmar has refused access to human rights investigators, the current situation cannot yet be fully assessed," he told the council, "but the situation seems a textbook example of ethnic cleansing."

On Sunday, Amnesty International accused Myanmar of placing landmines along the roads that Rohingya refugees use to enter Bangladesh. The group reported two landmine explosions on Sunday. One explosion reportedly blew off a young man's leg while he was guarding cattle near the border.

Zeid made his report a day after Rohingya fighters called for a month-long cease-fire. The fighters said they want humanitarian aid to be able to reach all victims of the conflict.

The rebels are calling themselves the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army. They launched an attack on several police positions and an army base late last month. The attacks and resulting fighting led to the displacement of more than 300,000 people.

The U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., Nikki Haley, sent a message to Myanmar last Friday. It said the U.S. government supports the fight against violence in Rakhine state. But the statement added that humanitarian aid must reach those in need.

Fleeing violence

Myanmar is a Buddhist-majority nation. The Rohingya are one of the country’s many ethnic minorities. The government considers the Rohingya to be economic migrants from Bangladesh. It has never given them citizenship. Yet most Rohingya can prove their families have lived for generations in the country, also called Burma.

The latest violence and a military campaign killed at least 400 people. It also led to the latest mass movement of Rohingya villagers to Bangladesh.

Vivian Tan is the U.N. Refugee Agency Asia Director in Bangladesh. She told VOA Burmese that aid workers believe there are about 164,000 new arrivals in Bangladesh.

The United Nations reported that about 146,000 people have crossed the border into Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazaar district since August 25.

Officials with the World Food Program said they have provided tens of thousands of people with food. The U.N. agency added that it needs $11.3 million to support the new arrivals, as well as the refugees already living in camps.

Criticism of Aung San Suu Kyi

Aung San Suu Kyi is the de facto leader of Myanmar and the winner of the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize. But critics have condemned her reaction to the violence.

Many observers say Aung San Suu Kyi has tried to dismiss reports of the Burmese military's violent treatment of Rohingya civilians. She says there has been a lot of misinformation about the Rohingya crisis and violence in Rakhine following the attacks on security forces.

Aung San Suu Kyi used the word “terrorists” to describe the Rohingya fighters. And she said “fake information” was used to support their interests.

A number of other Nobel Prize winners have made statements asking her to personally intervene and end the violence. They include the exiled Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai.

Every year, the U.S. Department of State lists all the crises that it considers the most important human rights issues around the world. In 2016, it listed abuses against and restrictions on members of the Rohingya population as one of the leading human rights problems in Myanmar.

I’m Caty Weaver.

And I'm Ashley Thompson.

Joshua Fatzick and Richard Green reported this for VOA News. Pete Musto adapted it for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

We want to hear from you. How should Aung San Suu Kyi respond to the violence against the Rohingya? Are there any ethnic minorities that the government treats poorly in your country? Write to us in the Comments Section or on our Facebook page.


Words in This Story

extrajudicialadj. not legally authorized

accessn. a way of being able to use or get something

assess - v. to make a judgment about (something)​

textbookadj. very typical

cattlen. cows, bulls, or steers that are kept on a farm or ranch for meat or milk

migrant(s) – n. a person who goes from one place to another especially to find work

districtn. an area or section of a country, city, or town

de factoadj. used to describe something that exists but that is not officially accepted or recognized

fakeadj. not true or real