Nobel peace laureate Malala Yousafzai and mainly Muslim countries in Asia led a growing chorus of criticism on Monday aimed at Myanmar and its civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi over the plight of the Rohingya Muslim minority, reported AFP.
Nearly 90,000 Rohingya have flooded into Bangladesh in the past 10 days following an uptick in fighting between militants and Myanmar's military in strife-torn western Rakhine state.
The recent violence, which began last October when a small Rohingya militant group ambushed border posts, is the worst Rakhine has witnessed in years, with the UN saying Myanmar's army may have committed ethnic cleansing in its response.
Suu Kyi, a former political prisoner of Myanmar's junta, has come under increasing fire over her perceived unwillingness to speak out against the treatment of the Rohingya or chastise the military.
She has made no public comment since the latest fighting broke out on August 25.
"Every time I see the news, my heart breaks at the suffering of the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar," Pakistani activist Yousafzai said in a statement on Twitter.
"Over the last several years I have repeatedly condemned this tragic and shameful treatment. I am still waiting for my fellow Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi to do the same," she added.
Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman also questioned Suu Kyi's silence.
"Very frankly, I am dissatisfied with Aung San Suu Kyi," Anifah told AFP.
"(Previously) she stood up for the principles of human rights. Now it seems she is doing nothing."
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan last week accused Myanmar of "genocide" against the Rohingya.
On Monday he said: "Unfortunately large massacres have taken place in Myanmar. Humanity has remained silent..." He added that Turkish aid organisations were giving help and that he would take the issue to the UN General Assembly later this month.
AFP reported that the growing crisis threatens Myanmar's diplomatic relations, particularly with Muslim-majority countries in Southeast Asia such as Malaysia and Indonesia where there is profound public anger over the treatment of the Rohingya.
The Maldives announced on Monday that it was severing all trade ties with the country "until the government of Myanmar takes measures to prevent the atrocities being committed against Rohingya Muslims", the foreign ministry said in a statement.
Indonesia's Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi met Suu Kyi as well as Myanmar's army chief General Min Aung Hlaing in Naypyidaw on Monday in a bid to pressure the government to do more to alleviate the crisis.
"Once again, violence, this humanitarian crisis has to stop immediately," Indonesian President Joko Widodo told reporters on Sunday as he announced Retno's mission.
Pakistan's foreign ministry said it was "deeply concerned over reports of growing number of deaths and forced displacement of Rohingya Muslims" and urged Myanmar to investigate reports of atrocities against the community.
Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif added in a recent tweet: "Global silence on continuing violence against #Rohingya Muslims. Int'l action crucial to prevent further ethnic cleansing - UN must rally."
Thousands gathered in Russia's Chechnya region Monday for an officially staged rally over the plight of the Rohingya.
“THE SITUATION IS DIRE”
Last week, Fortify Rights, a Bangkok-based rights body said Myanmar state security forces and armed locals committed mass killing of Rohingyas, including children and women, and burned down their villages in northern Rakhine state.
Survivors and witnesses described horrific scenes of beheading children, burning Rohingyas alive, setting fire on villages by Myanmar Army, police, “security guards”, riot police, and local armed-civilians, forcing tens of thousands to flee to Bangladesh.
“The situation is dire,” said Matthew Smith, Chief Executive Officer of Fortify Rights in a statement on September 1.
Fortify Rights interviewed 24 survivors and eyewitnesses of attacks in the last week from 17 villages in three townships of northern Rakhine State—Maungdaw, Buthidaung and Rathedaung.
Abdul Rahman, a 41-year-old survivor of the attacks on Chut Pyin village of Rathedaung, said, "My brother was killed—[Myanmar Army soldiers] burned him with the group. We found [my other family members] in the fields."
"My two nephews, their heads were off. One was six-years old and the other was nine-years old. My sister-in-law was shot with a gun."
Witnesses and survivors said armed residents from a nearby village and Myanmar Army entered Chut Pyin village around 2 pm on August 27, shooting and killing several residents and, in some cases, beheading Rohingya residents, including children.
Soldiers reportedly arrested a large group of Rohingya men, marched them into a nearby bamboo hut, and set it on fire, burning them to death, witnesses told Fortify Rights.
Survivors from Chut Pyin said soldiers and armed residents burned every house in the village.
After the army and local armed-residents left the village, Rohingya survivors returned to the village to assess damage, at great personal risk, and to count the dead. Survivors estimated the death toll to be more than 200.
The killing spree lasted for approximately five hours—from 2:00 pm to 7:00 pm on August 27, they said.
Fortify Rights fears a “massive influx” of tens of thousands of other Rohingyas into Bangladesh in the next several days. It urged Bangladesh to open the border to the refugees and coordinate with humanitarian organisations.
Fortify Rights also documented how militants with the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) are also accused of killing civilians—suspected government “informants”—in recent days and months as well as preventing men and boys from fleeing Maungdaw.
A Rohingya man from Kha Maung Seik village in northern Maungdaw Township told Fortify Rights that Rohingya militants stopped him and a large group of displaced civilians for two hours. He told Fortify Rights: “They didn't beat us but they beat our guide who was showing us the way. They said we all had to go back and fight against the government.”
Members of ARSA must respect the rights of the civilian population, including the right to freedom of movement, Fortify Rights said.
"We can't stress enough the urgency of the situation. The Myanmar authorities are failing to protect civilians and save lives,” said Matthew Smith, referring to Myanmar blocking access to affected areas in Maungdaw, Buthidaung, and Rathedaung townships.
UN AID AGENCIES BLOCKED
Myanmar has blocked all UN aid agencies from delivering vital supplies of food, water and medicine to thousands of desperate civilians at the centre of a bloody military campaign in Myanmar's Rakhine state.
The Office of the UN Resident Coordinator in Myanmar told The Guardian that deliveries were suspended “because the security situation and government field-visit restrictions rendered us unable to distribute assistance”, suggesting authorities were not providing permission to operate.
Staff from the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), didn't conduct any field work in northern Rakhine for more than a week, a dangerous halt to life-saving relief that will affect poor Buddhist residents as well as Rohingyas.
The UN World Food Programme (WFP) said it also had to suspend distributions to other parts of the state, leaving a quarter of a million people without regular access to food, The Guardian reported yesterday.
Sixteen major non-government aid organisations, including Oxfam and Save the Children, have also complained that the government has restricted access to the conflict area.
Humanitarian organisations are “deeply concerned about the fate of thousands of people affected by the ongoing violence” in northern Rakhine, said Pierre Peron, spokesman for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Myanmar.
In a statement yesterday, the UNHCR warned of “true crisis” as Rohingyas seek safety in already strained Bangladesh refugee camps.
Meanwhile, the UN's special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar criticised the country's de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, for failing to protect the Rohingya Muslim minority.
Yanghee Lee said the situation in Rakhine was "really grave" and it was time for Ms Suu Kyi to "step in", reports BBC.
In a separate development, Myanmar government approved the military's request to designate the entire Maungdaw district in northern Rakhine State as an operational area, President's Office spokesperson U Zaw Htay confirmed to news portal The Irrawaddy yesterday.
According to Police Major Ko Ko Soe of the border guard police headquarters in Maungdaw's Kyee Kan Pyin, five areas in northern Rakhine -- Buthidaung, Maungdaw, Rathedaung townships, and Taungpyoletwe and Myinlut sub-townships -- have been designated as operational areas as of August 25.