Bangladesh to plead for global help on Rohingya crisis at UN; warns Myanmar over alleged airspace violations

Rohingya refugees waiting in line to register at the Kutupalong refugee camp after arriving in Bangladesh from Myanmar, on Sept 15, 2017.
Rohingya refugees waiting in line to register at the Kutupalong refugee camp after arriving in Bangladesh from Myanmar, on Sept 15, 2017.PHOTO: AFP

DHAKA (AFP, REUTERS) - Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina headed for the UN General Assembly on Saturday (Sept 16) to plead for global help coping with the Rohingya crisis,  as her country accused Myanmar of repeatedly violating its air space and warned that any more "provocative acts" could have "unwarranted consequences".

The prime minister left a day after her government summoned the Myanmar ambassador for the third time to protest over its neighbour’s actions. Her office said Hasina would demand more pressure on Myanmar during talks in New York.

Bangladesh has been overwhelmed by Rohingya Muslims since violence erupted in western Myanmar’s Rakhine state on Aug 25.  Some 400,000 Rohingya Muslims have crossed into Bangladesh, fleeing the Myanmar government offensive against Rohingya insurgents who had attacked about 30 police posts and an army camp, killing a dozen people.

Conditions are worsening by the day in the border town of Cox’s Bazar where the influx has added to pressures on Rohingya camps already overwhelmed with over 300,000 people from earlier refugee waves.

“Sheikh Hasina will raise the Rohingya issue during her speech at the United Nations General Assembly. She will seek immediate cessation of violence in Rakhine state and ask the UN secretary general to send a fact-finding missing to Rakhine,” a spokesman for the prime minister, Nazrul Islam, told AFP.  

“She will also call the international community and the UN to put pressure on Myanmar for the repatriation of all the Rohingya refugees to their homeland in Myanmar,” he said. 

The Bangladeshi government has also protested to the embassy over the planting of landmines near their border, which has killed several Rohingya, and the treatment of the refugees.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has said Myanmar’s treatment of the Rohingya could amount to ethnic cleansing.

Amid mounting tensions between the two countries, Bangladesh's foreign ministry on Friday (Sept 15) summoned the Myanmar charge d’affaires in Dhaka to protest alleged violations of its airspace by Myanmar drones and helicopter.

Bangladesh said Myanmar drones and helicopters had violated its air space three times - on Sept 10, 12 and 14.

"Bangladesh expressed deep concern at the repetition of such acts of provocation and demanded that Myanmar takes immediate measures to ensure that such violation of sovereignty does not occur again," the ministry said in statement late on Friday.

"These provocative acts may lead to unwarranted consequences," it said.

A Myanmar government spokesman said he did not have information about the incidents Bangladesh had complained about, but Myanmar had denied an earlier accusation.

The spokesman, Zaw Htay, said Myanmar would check any information that Bangladesh provided. "At this time, our two countries are facing the refugee crisis. We need to collaborate with good understanding," Zaw Htay told Reuters on Saturday.

Bangladesh has for decades faced influxes of Rohingya fleeing persecution in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, where the Rohingya are regarded as illegal migrants and denied citizenship.

The latest conflict has led to a humanitarian crisis on both sides of the border and raised questions about Myanmar's path under the leadership of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi after nearly 50 years of strict military rule.

The generals still control national security policy but nevertheless, Suu Kyi has been widely criticised abroad for not stopping or condemning the violence.

There is little sympathy for the Rohingya in a country where the end of military rule has unleashed old animosities and the military campaign in Rakhine State is widely supported.

'STRONGHOLD'

Myanmar rejects UN accusations of "ethnic cleansing", saying its security forces are carrying out clearance operations to defend against the insurgents of the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (Arsa), which claimed responsibility for the Aug 25 attacks and similar, though smaller, attacks in October.

The government has declared Arsa a terrorist organisation and accused it of setting the fires and attacking civilians.

The Arsa says it is fighting for the rights of Rohingya and has denied links to foreign militants.

Myanmar's army chief, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, said the violence - 93 clashes since Aug 25 - was a bid by the insurgents to "build a stronghold", according to speech to officer trainees, posted on a military Facebook page.

Min Aung Hlaing called on the military to abide by all laws and regulations, including the Geneva Conventions, and said the media should be united and the people should not "rely on foreign organisations". He did not elaborate.

More than 430 people have been killed, most of them insurgents, and about 30,000 non-Muslim villagers have been displaced, the government said. Dozens of places have been burned and nearly half of the 471 villages in the north of Rakhine had been completely or partly deserted, it said.

The United States has called for the protection of civilians and a deputy assistant secretary of state, Patrick Murphy, is due in Myanmar next week.

China, which also vies for influence in Myanmar, joined a UN Security Council call for an end to the violence while its ambassador in Myanmar expressed his support for the government's action, Myanmar media reported.

Ethnic cleansing is not recognised as a separate crime under international law but allegations of ethnic cleansing as part of wider, systematic human rights violations have been heard in international courts.

Separately, the Committee to Protect Journalists has called on Bangladesh to release two Myanmar journalists detained last week while covering the refugee crisis. A police official told Reuters the two were found to be working on tourist visas and police were investigating.