Myanmar conducts ‘final phase’ of ethnic cleansing

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A Rohingya refugee carries an elderly woman toward a makeshift shelter at Kutupalong refugee camp in the Bangladeshi district of Ukhia yesterday. AFP photo

SHAMSUDDIN ILLIUS back from Cox’s Bazar
Publication Date: 27 October, 2017 00:00 00 AM
Media: The Independent
Original Link: Myanmar conducts ‘final phase’ of ethnic cleansing
Epaper Link: Published date (October 27, 2017)

A systematic campaign against Rohingyas, an ethnic minority in Myanmar’s northern Rakhine state of Myanmar, is now in its final stages with ongoing Army operations, bringing to a head a drive that commenced in 1962. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), 604,000 Rohingyas have crossed over to Bangladesh to save their lives since the recent spell of military crackdown began in August 25, following a coordinated attack on police posts by Rohingya insurgents. Local people say the number of refugees is likely to have crossed 700,000 and more are coming in as the exodus continues.

According to their estimates, 87,000 Rohingyas had entered Bangladesh after the military crackdown on September 9, 2016, in Rakhine. As per UNHCR calculation, 911,500 Rohingyas are now in Cox’s Bazar out of the 1,100,000 Rohingyas living in Rakhine.

Experts and Rohingya leaders said that the systematic plan of the Myanmar military is to drive out the remaining Rohingyas into Bangladesh. The drive is currently in the final stages, the opined. When contacted, UNHCR Bangladesh spokesperson Joseph Tripura told The Independent: “As per our estimates, 604,000 Rohingyas have entered Bangladesh so far after the August 25 crackdown. The number is adding to some 307,000, who had entered before the August influx.”

“As per different estimates there are 1.1 million Rohingyas in Rakhine state. but there is no accurate census,” he added.

When contacted, Maj. (retd) Emdadul Islam, former diplomat and security expert, told The Independent: “As per a longstanding plan of the Myanmar military, General Ne Win first started Operation Nagamin (Dragon King) in 1977 to dissolve Rohingya social and political organisations and drive the minortiies out of that country. Then, successive governments conducted the other drives.”

“In accordance with their plan, they are successfully driving out Rohingyas from Myanmar out of the fear that they might demand independence like other large ethnic groups of Myanmar. To execute their plan, they also created a sense of nationalism among Buddhists to turn them against Muslims in Myanamr.”

General Ne Win, the Myanmar military commander and politician, had designed the campaign to drive out the Rohingyas from Rakhine state (formerly Arakan state) in 1962 after usurping the power by staging a military coup. When he came to power in 1962, the status of Myanmar Muslims started changing. Among his first steps was to oust Muslims from the Myanmar army.

Since Burma’s independence in 1948, Rohingyas there have been denied many rights in their homeland. Since then successive Burmese governments inflicted about 15 systematic military crackdowns (including in 1975, 1978, 1989, 1991–92, 2002, 2016 and 2017) to drive Rohingyas out of the country. These military operations forced hundreds of thousands of Rohingya people to seek refuge in Bangladesh, Thailand, India, Pakistan, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

By May 1978, more than 200,000 Rohingya had fled to Bangladesh, while in 1991 and 1992 more than 250,000 Rohingya refugees fled forced labour, rape and religious persecution at the hands of the Myanmar army. With the help of UNHCR, some 230,000 refugees returned to Rakhine state between 1993 and 1997.

In 2001, sectarian violence between Buddhists and Muslims forced several thousand Rohingyas to flee, while an eruption of violence in 2012 drove 120,000 Rohingyas to take shelter in internment camps in Myanmar.

As part of the systematic plan, Myanmar government forces have confiscated the land of Rohingyas, driven then out of their homes, burned down mosques, looted their valuables, and unleashed arson and rape as weapon to evict those who did not leave.  Besides, the raids by government forces, Rohingyas are subjected to forced labour, extortion, shifted to internally displaced camps. Local Buddhists are being relocated in the land of the Rohingyas.

After driving out all Rohingyas, the government forces hoist a signboard proclaiming “It is a Muslims-free village”, though the Rohingyas have been living in the Arakan (now Rakhine) from time immemorial.

The citizenship law of 1982 made Rohingyas stateless by denying them their voting rights and stripping them of their citizenship. Under the law, Rohingyas are not recognised as one of the country’s 135 ethnic groups. Rohingyas are tagged as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, although they exercised their right to vote in all elections held in Myanmar from the time of the British colonial rule up to the 1990.

Earlier, many Rohingyas were elected Members of Parliament (MPs), ministers, and parliamentary secretaries in Myanmar.

Myanmar, formerly Burma, was colonised by the British for over 100 years (1824–1948). During the British colonisation, there was a significant migration of migration of labourers from India to Myanmar. This migration was considered an internal movement of people, as Myanmar and India were both under British rule.

When contacted Ashraful Azad, assistant professor, department of International Relations of Chittagong University told The Indepedent that “Facing persecution, Rohingya people have been leaving Myanmar since late 1970s. The Myanmar government and radical Buddhists became successful to force most of the Rohingyas out of the country. Today, far more Rohingyas live overseas than in their ancestral home.”

“Recent violence has displaced half of them who joined previously displaced large Rohingya refugee population living in Bangladesh and other countries. There are more Rohingya in Bangladesh than in Myanmar. This is a clear example of ‘ethnic cleansing’ and genocide perpetrated against a minority group,” added Azad.

Published Date: Friday, October 27, 2017
Shamsuddin Illius
Shamsuddin Illius is a print and online media journalist. He has been working in the field (fulltime) of journalism since 2010. He is very much passionate about journalism since his early age. Currently he is the Bureau Chief-Chittagong at The Business Standard.

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