Rohingya flee as Suu Kyi runs summit gauntlet

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Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi arrives for the Apec summit in Danang yesterday. Reuters

COX’S BAZAR/YANGON (Reuters) – Blessed by calmer seas, several hundred more Rohingya Muslims yesterday joined a multitude of refugees in Bangladesh, as calls grew for upcoming regional summits to exert more pressure on Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi to stem the crisis.

A Myanmar military operation has driven out more than 600,000 Rohingya since late August and the latest refugees to find sanctuary in predominantly Muslim Bangladesh say many thousands more are still trying to leave.

Ariful Islam, of Bangladesh’s Border Guard, said about 200 people arrived yesterday morning on the stretch of coast he commands at Teknaf, at the southern tip of Cox’s Bazar district.

More than 200 Rohingya have drowned in the strong currents and high surf trying to reach Bangladesh from Buddhist-majority Myanmar over the past two months.

But the sea was fairly flat yesterday as Abdus Sabir came ashore at Shamlapur along with a large group of Rohingya after
a six-hour boat journey to complete an escape begun weeks ago.

“We fled because the military is still burning our houses,” Mr Abdus, who had abandoned his home in the Rathedaung region of Myanmar’s Rakhine state, said.

Nearby, Husain Shorif, from the Buthidaung region, said he had rowed for four hours to help bring across 56 people on a raft cobbled together from bamboo and plastic jerrycans.

“Some boatmen were asking for huge money we didn’t have. So we made our own boat and came,” Mr Shorif said, adding that thousands more Rohingya were still stranded at Pa Nyaung Pin Gyi at the mouth of the Naf river.

Reuters was unable to verify that claim as Myanmar’s military has restricted access to northern parts of Rakhine.

The storm of opprobrium over the humanitarian crisis will expose Myanmar to more diplomatic pressure, at least from leaders of Muslim-majority countries and the US, during three summits hosted by Vietnam and the Philippines.

Ms Suu Kyi, the de facto leader of Myanmar’s less than two-year-old civilian administration, left yesterday to attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) summit in Danang, Vietnam.

After today’s Apec gathering, Ms Suu Kyi will meet Asean leaders in Manila on Sunday, followed by an East Asia Summit in Angeles, just north of the Philippine capital.

Setting up a regional trade block, and concerns over North Korea’s ambitions to become a nuclear-armed state are priorities, but New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) beseeched the Asian leaders to ensure stronger action by Myanmar to end the crisis.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will meet Ms Suu Kyi on Wednesday for talks on the Rohingya crisis, and they are expected to hold a joint news conference.

“World leaders shouldn’t return home from these summits without agreeing to targeted sanctions to pressure Burma to end its abuses and allow in independent observers and aid groups,” Brad Adams, Asia director of HRW, said in a statement that referred to Myanmar by its old name.

Desperate for help to cope with the massive influx of people, Bangladesh is lobbying furiously for pressure to be put on Myanmar.

“We want international communities to continue building pressure on Myanmar. Otherwise, they won’t resolve the crisis,” a foreign ministry official in Dhaka said, adding that ministers from Germany, China, Japan and Sweden were expected to visit both countries later this month.

HRW’s Mr Adams said leaders meeting in Asia should discuss how to investigate alleged rights abuses and atrocities in Rakhine, and refer them to the International Criminal Court in the Hague.

The rights group also urged the Security Council to impose an arms embargo, economic sanctions and travel bans targeting Myanmar military officials.

Some US senators are pressing for the US to impose its own sanctions, also targeting the military.

The Security Council this week opted for a strongly worded statement scolding Myanmar, as diplomats said China and Russia would have vetoed any resolution.

China has publicly supported the Myanmar government’s efforts to “maintain stability” in Rakhine. The stance taken by China and other Southeast Asian governments fighting insurgencies by Muslim militants should spare Myanmar from any harsh spotlight in the summits’ final communiques.

“On the Rohingya, the leaders will agree that there is no quick fix to the long-standing inter-communal problem with deep historical roots that needs to be carefully managed,” an Asean diplomat said, adding the group aimed to deliver $500,000 of relief supplies to Myanmar.

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