Suu Kyi under pressure as almost 125,000 Rohingya flee

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Rohingya refugees reach for food near Balukhali in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, on Monday. Reuters

SHAMLAPUR/DHAKA (Reuters) – Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi has come under pressure from countries with large Muslim populations including Bangladesh, Indonesia and Pakistan to halt violence against Rohingya Muslims after nearly 125,000 of them fled to Bangladesh.

Reporters saw hundreds of exhausted Rohingya arriving on boats near the village of Shamlapur in Bangladesh near the Myanmar border. The village, facing the Bay of Bengal, appears to have become the newest receiving point for the refugees after authorities cracked down on human traffickers in a different part of the Teknaf peninsula.

Indonesian foreign minister Retno Marsudi was due in the Bangladeshi capital, Dhaka, yesterday after meeting the Nobel peace laureate and army chief Min Aung Hlaing to urge that Myanmar halt the bloodshed.

“The security authorities need to immediately stop all forms of violence there and provide humanitarian assistance and development aid for the short and long term,” Ms Retno said after her meetings in the Myanmar capital.

“Indonesia is taking the lead, and ultimately there is a possibility of ASEAN countries joining in,” HT Imam, a political adviser to Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, said.

He was referring to the 10-member Association of South East Asian Nations that groups both Myanmar and Indonesia.

“If we can keep the pressure on Myanmar from ASEAN, from India as well, that will be good.”

Malaysia yesterday summoned Myanmar’s ambassador to express displeasure over the violence in Myanmar. Foreign Minister Anifah Aman said the latest incidents of violence showed that the Myanmar government had made “little, if any” progress in finding a peaceful solution to problems facing the Rohingya minority, most of whom live in the northwest Myanmar state near the Bangladeshi border.

“Given these developments, Malaysia believes that the matter of sustained violence and discrimination against the Rohingya should be elevated to a higher international forum,” Mr Anifah said.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was beginning a visit to Myanmar last night, during which he is to meet top officials, including Ms Suu Kyi.

“Modi is going there and our foreign secretary has already briefed the foreign secretary of India on this,” said Mr Imam. “If the international conscience is awakened that would put pressure on Myanmar.”

Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu will travel to Bangladesh from Baku tonight, sources from the ministry said. President Tayyip Erdogan has said the death of Rohingya Muslims constituted a genocide.

Pakistan, home to a large Rohingya community, has expressed “deep anguish” and urged the world body, the Organisation of Islamic Countries, to act.

New arrivals and residents in Shamlapur said hundreds of boats had arrived on Monday and yesterday with several thousand people, after a crackdown on traffickers at an island about 50km south.

Reporters saw men, women, children and their belongings, even live chickens, disembark from one boat. “We fled to a hill when the shooting started. The army set fire to houses,” said Salim Ullah, 28, a farmer from Myanmar’s village of Kyauk Pan Du, gripping a sack containing his few remaining belongings, as he gazed exhausted at the beach.

“We got on the boat at daybreak. I came with my mother, wife and two children. There were 40 people on a boat, including 25 women.”

The latest estimate of the numbers who have crossed the border into Bangladesh since August 25, based on calculations by UN workers in the south Asian country, is 123,600.

That takes to about 210,000 the number of Rohingya who have sought refuge in Bangladesh since October, when Rohingya insurgents staged much smaller attacks on security posts, triggering a major Myanmar army counteroffensive and sending about 87,000 people fleeing into Bangladesh.

The new arrivals – many sick or wounded with burns or bullet wounds – have strained the resources of aid agencies and communities already helping hundreds of thousands of refugees from previous spasms of violence in Myanmar.

“One camp, Kutapalong, has reached full capacity,” said Vivian Tan, the regional spokeswoman for the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR.

“Nayapara saw several hundred people arrive in one day. This is stretching resources. We are doing what we can, but will need to seek more resources.”

In Shamlapur, refugees said about 40 people were packed into the curved hulls of fishing vessels three metres long.

Fishermen were demanding payment of as much as 10,000 taka ($124) for each adult, with Rohingya who could not pay being detained, the refugees said.

Bangladesh pulled 53 dead from the Naf River separating it from Myanmar, and from the sea. Many more were suspected to have died on the journey.

Social worker Shahid Ullah said he feared another deadly capsize was inevitable, given the monsoon season.

“If just one boat sinks, we will have 30 or 40 people dead.”

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