Muslim-majority countries put pressure on Myanmar to solve Rohingya crisis as the UN warns of ethnic cleansing and regional destabilisation.

Myanmar State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi talks during a news conference with Indias Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Naypyitaw, Myanmar. September 6, 2017.
Myanmar State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi talks during a news conference with Indias Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Naypyitaw, Myanmar. September 6, 2017. (Reuters)

Myanmar's Aung San Suu Kyi on Wednesday blamed "terrorists" for "a huge iceberg of misinformation" on the violence in Rakhine state but made no mention of the nearly 150,000 Rohingya Muslims who have fled over the border to Bangladesh since August 25.

The leader of the Buddhist-majority country has come under pressure from countries with Muslim populations over the crisis, and on Tuesday UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned of the risk of ethnic cleansing and regional destabilisation.

Guterres urged the UN Security Council to press for restraint and calm, expressing concern that the violence that has raged for nearly two weeks in the northeastern state could spiral into a "humanitarian catastrophe."

TRT World's Kieran Burke has more. 

The UN chief said it's crucial that Myanmar's government immediately give Muslims either nationality or legal status so they can lead normal lives and freely move, find jobs, and get an education.                     

Guterres cited the longstanding history of "discrimination, hopelessness and extreme poverty" against Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine State and warned about possible ethnic cleansing.

The UN chief said the UN is receiving "constant reports of violence by Myanmar's security forces, including indiscriminate attacks." And he warned that it will further increase radicalization.

The latest violence in Rakhine state began on August 25 when Rohingya insurgents attacked dozens of police posts and an army base.         

The worst of the clashes erupted after the military's counter-offensive killed at least 400 people and triggered the exodus of villagers to Bangladesh. Human Rights Watch said Myanmar army adopted a "scorched earth" policy. 

Myanmar says most of those killed have been insurgents, but accounts from new arrivals in Bangladesh suggest reprisals by Myanmar security forces and Buddhists against Rohingya civilians who the government says are in cahoots with "extremist Bengali terrorists."

Blocking the UN's censure

Myanmar National Security Adviser Thaung Tun told a news conference in the capital, Naypyidaw that Myanmar was counting on China and Russia, both permanent members of the Security Council, to block a UN resolution on the crisis.

"We are negotiating with some friendly countries not to take it to the Security Council," he said. "China is our friend and we have a similar friendly relationship with Russia so it will not be possible for that issue to go forward."

Myanmar rejects accusations that its security forces are targeting civilians saying they are fighting "terrorists."

However, dozens of bodies, including those of women and children, have washed up on the Bangladesh side of a border river, many with bullet or knife wounds, according to Bangladesh border guards. Fishermen report seeing bodies floating in the river.

Reuters was shown one cadaver – what looked to be a teenage boy lying face up on the muddy river bank, a gaping wound on his face washed clean by the river.

At one river crossing, an aid worker seeking anonymity said, fighters from the Arakan Rohingya Solidarity Organization (ARSA) prevented ferries from crossing for half a day, telling civilians to return to their homes.       

ARSA has been held responsible for the recent escalation.       

Campaign group Fortify Rights has documented how ARSA has prevented men and boys from leaving the area.

The worker said the fighters backed down when villagers pleaded with them.

Rohingya exodus continues

Critics accuse Suu Kyi of not speaking out for the Rohingya Muslim minority that has long suffered persecution. Some have called for the Nobel Peace Prize she won in 1991 as a champion of democracy to be revoked.                      

Myanmar officials blame Rohingya militants for the burning of homes and civilian deaths. But rights monitors and Rohingya fleeing to neighbouring Bangladesh say the Myanmar army is trying to force them out with a campaign of arson and killings.

In Maungdaw, thousands of people are on the move. The Rohingya aid worker, who was in touch with Reuters during his flight, recorded video of the journey on his mobile phone.

"It's like something I've never seen before, not even in any film," the refugee said after his arrival in Cox's Bazar.

The footage appears to show hundreds of people lining up to cross a river in Laung Don village. Some swim across, as two small ferries run back and forth.

Vivian Tan, a spokeswoman for the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, said one camp in Bangladesh, Kutupalong, had reached "full capacity" and resources at others were being stretched.

The International Organization for Migration said humanitarian assistance needed to increase urgently and that it and partner agencies had an immediate funding gap of $18 million over the next three months to boost life-saving services for the new arrivals.

Approximately 210,000 is the number of Rohingya who have sought refuge in Bangladesh since last October, when Rohingya insurgents staged smaller attacks on security posts, triggering a major Myanmar army counter-offensive.

Landmines on border

Bangladesh lodged a protest after it said Myanmar had laid landmines near the border between the two countries, government officials said on Wednesday, amid growing tensions over the huge influx of Rohingya Muslims fleeing violence in Myanmar.

When asked whether Bangladesh had lodged the complaint, Foreign Secretary Shahidul Haque said "yes" without elaborating. 

Three other government sources confirmed that a protest note was faxed to Myanmar in the morning saying the Buddhist-majority country was violating international norms.

"Bangladesh has expressed great concern to Myanmar about the explosions very close to the border," a source with direct knowledge of the matter said, asking not to be named because of the sensitivity of the matter.

A Myanmar military source said landmines were laid along the border in the 1990s to prevent trespassing and the military had since tried to remove them. But none had been planted recently.

Two Bangladeshi sources said they believed Myanmar security forces were putting the landmines in their territory along the barbed-wire fence between a series of border pillars. Both sources said Bangladesh learned about the landmines mainly through photographic evidence and informers.

"Our forces have also seen three to four groups working near the barbed wire fence, putting something into the ground," one of the sources said. "We then confirmed with our informers that they were laying land mines."

The sources did not clarify if the groups were in uniform, but added that they were sure they were not Rohingya insurgents.

Manzurul Hassan Khan, a Bangladesh border guard officer, said that two blasts were heard on Tuesday on the Myanmar side, after two on Monday fuelled speculation that Myanmar forces had laid land mines.

One boy had his left leg blown off on Tuesday near a border crossing before being brought to Bangladesh for treatment, while another boy suffered minor injuries, Khan said, adding that the blast could have been a mine explosion.

A Rohingya refugee who went to the site of the blast on Monday  on a footpath near where civilians fleeing violence are huddled in a no-man's-land on the border - filmed what appeared to be a mine: a metal disc about 10 centimetres (4 inches) in diameter partially buried in the mud. He said he believed there were two more such devices buried in the ground.

Reuters was unable to independently verify that the planted devices were land mines and that there was any link to the Myanmar army.

The Myanmar army has not commented on the blasts near the border.

Source: Reuters