UN: Myanmar Clearance Operations Aim to Prevent Rohingya’s Return

Rohingya

The United Nations human rights office accused on Wednesday security forces in Myanmar of not only violently driving away Muslim Rohingya from their homes in Rakhine state, but of also implementing “clearance operations” to prevent their return.

The security forces have torched homes, crops and villages to prevent the Rohingya’s return. More than half a million have fled to neighboring Bangladesh to escape the brutal “systematic” crackdown, said the UN.

In a report based on 65 interviews with Rohingya, who have arrived in Bangladesh in the past month, the UN said that the clearance operations had begun before insurgent attacks on police posts on August 25 and included killings, torture and rape of children.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra‘ad al-Hussein – who has described the government operations as “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing” – said in a statement that the actions appeared to be “a cynical ploy to forcibly transfer large numbers of people without possibility of return”.

“Credible information indicates that the Myanmar security forces purposely destroyed the property of the Rohingyas, scorched their dwellings and entire villages in northern Rakhine State, not only to drive the population out in droves but also to prevent the fleeing Rohingya victims from returning to their homes,” the latest report by his Geneva office said.

The destruction by security forces, often joined by “mobs” of armed Rakhine Buddhists, of houses, fields, food stocks, crops, and livestock make the possibility of Rohingya returning to normal lives in northern Rakhine “almost impossible”.

Myanmar security forces are believed to have planted landmines along the border in an attempt to prevent Rohingya from returning, it said, adding: “There are indications that violence is still ongoing”.

Myanmar on Tuesday launched its first bid to improve relations between Buddhists and Muslims since the eruption of deadly violence inflamed communal tension and triggered an exodus of some 520,000 Muslims to Bangladesh. It held inter-faith prayers at a stadium in Yangon.

A team of UN human rights officials, who went to Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, from September 14-24, met victims and eyewitnesses and corroborated their accounts.

They documented Myanmar security forces “firing indiscriminately at Rohingya villagers, injuring and killing other innocent victims, setting houses on fire”, the report said.

“Almost all testimonies indicated that people were shot at close range and in the back while they tried to flee in panic,” it said. “Witness accounts attest to Rohingya victims, including children and elderly people, burned to death inside their houses.”

Several interviewees indicated that a “launcher”, most probably a rocket propelled grenade launcher, was used to set houses on fire, the report added.

Girls just five to seven years old had been raped, often in front of relatives, and sometimes by several men “all dressed in army uniforms”, it said.

The social welfare, relief and resettlement minister has been quoted as saying that “according to the law, burned land becomes government-managed land,” it said, noting the government has previously used this law to prevent the return of displaced.

Rohingya men under 40 were arrested up to a month before August 25 without charge, creating a “climate of intimidation and fear”.

“In some cases, before and during the attacks, megaphones were used to announce: ‘You do not belong here – go to Bangladesh. If you do not leave, we will torch your houses and kill you’,” the UN said.

Teachers as well as cultural, religious and community leaders have also been targeted in the latest crackdown “in an effort to diminish Rohingya history, culture and knowledge”, the report said.

“Efforts were taken to effectively erase signs of memorable landmarks in the geography of the Rohingya landscape and memory in such a way that a return to their lands would yield nothing but a desolate and unrecognizable terrain,” it added.

During the briefing on the report, a senior UN human rights official called on Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi to stop the violence and discrimination against the Rohingya.

“Our ask of Aung San Suu Kyi is certainly to immediately stop the violence,” Jyoti Sanghera, head of the Asia and Pacific region of the UN human rights office.

Sanghera voiced concern that Rohingya who have fled to Bangladesh might be “incarcerated or detained” on return to Myanmar, where she said they lacked citizenship and other civil and political rights.

Suu Kyi, Myanmar Government ‘Burying their Heads in the Sand’

Rohingya

In her first public remarks on the violence against Rohingya Muslims, Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi condemned on Tuesday any human rights violations in the turbulent Rakhine state as rights groups said a systematic purge was being committed against the minority ethnic group.

Suu Kyi added that anyone responsible for violations would face the law and that she felt deeply for the suffering of everyone caught up in the conflict there.

More than 410,000 Rohingya have been forced out of Myanmar in Bangladesh as government forces cracked down on insurgents, whose attack on a military post on August 25 sparked the unrest.

Western diplomats and aid officials attending the Suu Kyi’s national address welcomed her message, though some doubted if she had said enough to end the barrage of global criticism Myanmar has faced.

Human rights groups were dismissive. Amnesty International said Suu Kyi and her government were “burying their heads in the sand” for ignoring the role of the army in the violence.

“This is the worst crisis in Rohingya history,” said Chris Lewa, founder of the Arakan Project, which works to improve conditions for the ethnic minority, citing the monumental size and speed of the exodus. “Security forces have been burning villages one by one, in a very systematic way. And it’s still ongoing.”

Using a network of monitors, Lewa and her agency are meticulously documenting tracts of villages that have been partially or completely burned down in three townships in northern Rakhine state, where the vast majority of Myanmar’s 1.1 million Rohingya once lived.

It’s a painstaking task because there are hundreds of them, and information is almost impossible to verify because the army has blocked access to the area. Satellite imagery released by Human Rights Watch on Tuesday shows massive swaths of scorched landscape and the near total destruction of 214 villages.

The United Nations has branded the military operation in the western state ethnic cleansing. Suu Kyi did not address that but said her government was committed to the rule of law.

“We condemn all human rights violations and unlawful violence. We are committed to the restoration of peace and stability and rule of law throughout the state,” Suu Kyi said in her address in the capital, Naypyitaw.

Long feted in the West for her role as champion of democracy in the Buddhist-majority country during years of military rule and house arrest, Suu Kyi has faced growing criticism for saying little about the abuses faced by the Rohingya.

“Action will be taken against all people regardless of their religion, race and political position, who go against the law of the land and violate human rights,” she said.

“We feel deeply for the suffering of all the people caught up in the conflict.”

The United States urged Myanmar on Monday to end military operations, grant humanitarian access, and commit to aiding the safe return of civilians to their homes.

Myanmar’s generals remain in full charge of security and Suu Kyi did not comment on the military operation, except to say that there had been “no armed clashes and there have been no clearance operations” since September 5.

“Nevertheless, we are concerned to hear that numbers of Muslims are fleeing across the border,” she said.

“We want to find out why.”

Rights monitors and fleeing Rohingya say the army and Rakhine Buddhist vigilantes have mounted a campaign of arson aimed at driving out the Muslim population.

Referring to Suu Kyi’s assertion that army clearance operations had ceased, Phil Robertson of Human Rights Watch asked: “If that is true, then who is burning all the villages we’ve seen in the past two weeks?”

He said it was time that Suu Kyi, the government and military faced the fact that the security forces “don’t follow a code of conduct and shoot and kill who they want” and burn villages.

Amnesty International said there was “overwhelming evidence” the security forces were engaged in ethnic cleansing.

“While it was positive to hear Aung San Suu Kyi condemn human rights violations in Rakhine state, she is still silent about the role of the security forces,” the group said.

While foreign critics raised doubts, thousands of Suu Kyi’s cheering supporters gathered in the main city of Yangon and other towns to watch her speech broadcast on big screens.

The ambassador of China, which vies with the United States for influence in Myanmar, welcomed Suu Kyi’s speech saying it would improve understanding. Russia’s ambassador said there was no evidence of ethnic cleaning.

Human Rights Watch Pushes for Sanctions against Myanmar Army

Human Rights Watch urged world leaders to impose sanctions on Myanmar’s military, which is accused of driving out more than 400,000 Rohingya Muslims in an orchestrated “ethnic cleansing” campaign.

The call from the rights group came as the United Nations General Assembly prepared to convene in New York.

Myanmar had hinted Sunday it would not take back all who had fled across the border, accusing those refugees of having links to the Rohingya militants whose raids on police posts in August triggered the army backlash.

Any moves to block the refugees’ return will likely inflame Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheik Hasina, who will urge the General Assembly to put more global pressure on Myanmar to take back all the Rohingya massing in shanty towns and camps near the border.

According to AFP,Human Rights Watch also called for the “safe and voluntary return” of the displaced as it urged governments around the globe to punish Myanmar’s army with sanctions for the “ongoing atrocities” against the Rohingya.

“The United Nations Security Council and concerned countries should impose targeted sanctions and an arms embargo on the Burmese military to end its ethnic cleansing campaign against Rohingya Muslims,” the group said in a statement.

It called on the General Assembly to make the crisis a priority, urging countries to impose travel bans and asset freezes on Myanmar officers implicated in the abuses, as well as to expand arms embargoes.

Myanmar’s army was hit with sanctions during its 50-year rule of the country. Most have been lifted in recent years as the generals have allowed a partial transition to democracy.

“Burma’s senior military commanders are more likely to heed the calls of the international community if they are suffering real economic consequences,” said John Sifton, HRW’s Asia advocacy director.

Myanmar’s civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi is preparing in a televised speech Tuesday to address the nation on the crisis for the first time.

The Nobel peace laureate has angered the international community with her near-silence on the plight of the Rohingya and her failure to condemn the actions of the army, with whom she has a delicate power-sharing arrangement.

Speaking to the BBC over the weekend, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres called her upcoming address a “last chance” to stop the unfolding humanitarian calamity.

Bangladesh Starts Immunization of Rohingya Refugees amid Health Fears

Rohingya

Authorities in Bangladesh kicked off on Sunday an immunization campaign among Muslim Rohingya refugees as an aid group warned that many could die due to a lack of food, shelter and water.

The campaign started in a crowded border camp as the country struggled to take in more than 400,000 Rohingya, who have fled Myanmar in the last three weeks where they were victims of a government crackdown.

The UN has since described the crisis as ethnic cleansing.

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who lambasted Myanmar for “atrocities” during a visit to border camps last week, left Dhaka to address the annual UN gathering in New York.

Abdus Salam, the top government administrator in the Cox’s Bazar district hospital, said that some 150,000 children will be immunized over seven days for measles, rubella and polio. UN says there are some 240,000 children living in dire conditions.

“There are a lot of weak and malnourished children among the new arrivals,” UNICEF representative in Bangladesh, Edouard Beigbeder, said in an email. “If proper preventive measures are not taken, highly infectious diseases, especially measles, could even cause an outbreak.”

On the first day of the immunization campaign on Saturday, doctors treated some 9,000 children for rubella and nearly 5,000 for polio. Salam said that basic and emergency health services were being provided through 36 medical camps with focus on children and women.

“Many of them are suffering from diarrhea, dehydration and skin diseases. They are coming to hospitals with such complications,” he said.

As the weather fluctuates in Cox’s Bazar between rains and sunny and humid days, many children are suffering from flu and risk pneumonia, he said.

Two preexisting Rohingya camps were already beyond capacity and the new arrivals were staying in schools or huddling in makeshift settlements with no toilets along roadsides and in open fields.

The refugees began pouring from Myanmar’s Rakhine state after a Rohingya insurgent group launched attacks on security posts August 25, prompting Myanmar’s military to launch “clearance operations” to root out the rebels. Those fleeing have described indiscriminate attacks by security forces and Buddhist mobs.

The Myanmar government says hundreds have died, mostly “terrorists,” and that 176 out of 471 Rohingya villages have been abandoned. Myanmar has insisted that Rohingya insurgents and fleeing villagers themselves are destroying own homes. It has offered no proof to back these charges.

In a state hospital, a Rohingya man who identified himself as Rahmatullah was looking over his 10-year-old son recovering from a bullet that left a deep wound as it pierced his right leg.

“Why did they shoot him? What’s his crime? He is just a child,” Rahmatullah said. “It was 9 in the morning and I was visiting my neighbor’s home at my Baagguna village when they came and started shooting indiscriminately.” He said he fled with 10 of his family members.

“I started running for the hill, where I hid myself and later collected my son and others and left,” he said.

Eric P. Schwartz, head of the US-based charity Refugees International and a former assistant secretary of state for population, refugees and migration, said he couldn’t recall seeing so much misery in the camps and called for international pressure on Myanmar to stop the violence.

He said the US should re-impose sanctions on Myanmar that were in place before it made transition from military to civilian rule. But officials in Washington have been careful not to undermine the weak civilian government of Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, which took office last year, ending five decades of ruinous army rule. The military remains politically powerful and oversees security operations.

Suu Kyi is due to make her first address to the nation on the crisis on Tuesday.

Mark Pierce, Bangladesh country director for the Save the Children aid agency said in a statement: “Many people are arriving hungry, exhausted and with no food or water.”

“I’m particularly worried that the demand for food, shelter, water and basic hygiene support is not being met due to the sheer number of people in need. If families can’t meet their basic needs, the suffering will get even worse and lives could be lost.”

Pierce said the humanitarian response needed to be rapidly scaled up.

Bangladesh border guards said on Sunday the flow of refugees leaving Myanmar had eased off over the past day, apparently because bad weather had discouraged people from taking to boats to reach Bangladesh.

Human Rights Watch said satellite imagery showed 62 Rohingya villages had been torched since the violence erupted.

Myanmar’s Suu Kyi to Skip UN General Assembly as Aid Pours in for Rohingya

Myanmar

Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi will not attend next week’s United Nations General Assembly as international aid poured in to the Rohingya Muslims that have continued to flow into Bangladesh to escape the violence in their country.

Suu Kyi was skipping the assembly in order address domestic security issues, according to presidential office spokesman Zaw Htay. The meeting is set for September 25.

Suu Kyi is not Myanmar’s president — her official titles are state counselor and foreign minister — but she effectively serves as leader of the Southeast Asian nation. Zaw Htay said that, with President Htin Kyaw hospitalized, the second vice president would attend the UN meeting.

“The first reason (Suu Kyi cannot attend) is because of the Rakhine terrorist attacks,” Zaw Htay said.

“The state counselor is focusing to calm the situation in Rakhine state. There are circumstances. The second reason is, there are people inciting riots in some areas. We are trying to take care of the security issue in many other places. The third is that we are hearing that there will be terrorist attacks and we are trying to address this issue.”

The crisis erupted on August 25, when an insurgent Rohingya group attacked on police outposts in Myanmar’s Rakhine state. That prompted Myanmar’s military to launch “clearance operations” against the rebels, setting off a wave of violence that have left hundreds dead and thousands of homes burned — mostly Rohingya in both cases.

The government blames Rohingya for the attacks, but journalists who visited the region found evidence that raises doubts about its claims that Rohingya set fire to their own homes.

Many of the Rohingya who flooded into refugee camps in Bangladesh told of Myanmar soldiers shooting indiscriminately, burning their homes and warning them to leave or die. Others said they were attacked by Buddhist mobs.

Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate who lived under house arrest for many years under a military junta that ultimately gave way to an elected government, has faced a torrent of international criticism and pressure since the crisis erupted.

UN human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein said the Rohingya were victims of what “seems a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”

Bangladesh has been overwhelmed with the massive influx of Rohingya, many of whom arrived hungry and traumatized after walking for days through jungles or being packed into rickety wooden boats.

Before August 25, Bangladesh had already been housing some 500,000 Rohingya refugees who fled earlier flashes of violence including anti-Muslim riots in 2012.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has pledged to help the new arrivals, but demanded that Myanmar “take their nationals back.”

With two pre-existing camps packed beyond capacity, the government said it would provide 2,000 acres (810 hectares) for a new camp in the border district of Cox’s Bazar. Many of the new arrivals were staying in schools, or were huddling under tarps in makeshift settlements along roads and in open fields.

Basic resources were scarce, including food, clean water and medical aid.

Dozens of foreign diplomats and aid agency officials were set to meet Rohingya refugees Wednesday near the Kutupalong refugee camp, according to Kazi Abdur Rahman, additional deputy commissioner in Cox’s Bazar district.

“A humanitarian crisis is going on here,” he said. The diplomats “will visit camps, talk to them, see their condition. We need to work together during such a serious crisis.”

The Organization of Islamic Cooperation, the world’s largest Muslim body, urged Myanmar to allow in UN monitors so they can investigate what it alleged was systematic brutality against the Rohingya. The UN Human Rights Council approved an investigative mission earlier this year, but Myanmar in June refused to allow it to enter. An envoy’s visit in July was met with protests.

Myanmar’s president office said a committee has been formed to implement recommendations for improving the security and livelihoods of the Rohingya.

Dubai’s ruler is sending a Boeing 747 cargo plane loaded with tents to shelter Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh.

The Foreign Ministry of the United Arab Emirates said the plane is carrying over 100 metric tons (110 tons) of tents made available by the United Nations refugee agency.

The ministry said Wednesday the plane sent by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum is the second to leave Dubai’s International Humanitarian City in recent days. Another UNHCR shipment carried jerrycans, sleeping mats, tarps, blankets and kitchen sets.

Four Hercules planes carrying 34 tons of aid for Rohinyga refugees have departed for Bangladesh from an air force base in the Indonesian capital.

Indonesia’s President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo has called for an immediate end to violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine state and promised significant humanitarian aid. He and other officials including his foreign minister and military chief inspected the relief operation before its departure from Halim Air Base.

Presidential spokesman Johan Budi says the planes are carrying rice, instant meals, family kits, tents, water tanks and blankets.

He said it is the first batch of aid from Indonesia following discussions with Myanmar and Bangladesh.

More International Pressure on Aung San Suu Kyi to End Rohingya Misery

Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi is coming under more pressure by the international community to end the violence against the minority Rohingya Muslims.

In the last two weeks alone some 290,000 mostly Rohingya civilians have fled to Bangladesh, overwhelming refugee camps that were already bursting at the seams, the UN has said.

Others have died trying to flee the fighting in Rakhine state, where witnesses say entire villages have been burned.

On the basis of witness testimonies and the pattern of previous outbreaks of violence, said Yanghee Lee, the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, “perhaps about a thousand or more are already dead”.

“This might be from both sides but it would be heavily concentrated on the Rohingya population.”

Many countries with large Muslim populations, including Pakistan and Turkey, have expressed concern over the
violence and called on Suu Kyi to act.

An online petition signed by more than 386,000 people on Change.org is calling for Suu Kyi to be stripped of her Peace Prize over the persecution of the Rohingya.

She received the award for “her non-violent struggle for democracy and human rights” while standing up against military rulers.

Bangladesh has struggled to cope with those fleeing the violence, which takes the number of Rohingya refugees in camps on its border with Myanmar to around 670,000.

Of these, nearly 357,000 — a third of Myanmar’s total Rohingya population — have left since October when the latest upsurge in violence began.

While the world has focused on Bangladesh, a serious humanitarian crisis is also unfolding on the Myanmar side, aid workers say.

The Red Cross organizations are scaling up operations in Myanmar’s violence-riven northwest, after the UN had to suspend activities there following government suggestions that its agency had supported Rohingya insurgents.

“The UN and INGOs have not been very welcome in Rakhine and…they are not able to operate and ensure the safety and security of their staff and volunteers,” said Joy Singhal of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC).

“In such an environment, the government has invited the Red Cross to assist them,” Singhal said.

Aung San Suu Kyi Seeks to Justify Campaign against the Rohingya

London- Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi has sought to defend the violence committed by her country’s army against the minority Rohingya Muslims.

Suu Kyi spoke by telephone on Tuesday with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, who has pressed world leaders to do more to help a population of roughly 1.1 million he says are facing genocide.

In a statement issued by her office on Facebook, Suu Kyi said the government had “already started defending all the
people in Rakhine State in the best way possible” and warned against misinformation that could mar relations with other countries.

Suu Kyi has come under increasing pressure from Arab and Muslim countries as the United Nations urged her to put an end to the violence that has forced around 125,000 Rohingya to flee to nearby Bangladesh.

The attacks on Rohingya Muslims represent the death of ethical values in the international system, the Muslim World League said on Wednesday.

The MWL called for immediate intervention and support for the Rohingya, at both local and international levels.

Global peace was at stake unless those involved in the violence were held to account, it said.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi condemned the violence against the Rohingya, saying it helps nurture terrorism and extremist thoughts.

He also urged Myanmar’s authorities to assume their responsibility in protecting the rights of the Muslim minority.

Jordan and Bahrain also condemned the crimes and brutal massacres committed against the Rohingya.

Erdogan Expresses to Suu Kyi Concern over Violence against Myanmar’s Rohingya

Rohingya

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan informed Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Tuesday that violence against the country’s Rohingya Muslims was a violation of human rights.

He told Suu Kyi in a telephone call that the violence was a deep concern to the Muslim world, adding that he will send his foreign minister to neighboring Bangladesh to discuss the fighting.

Myanmar has come under pressure from countries with large Muslim populations to stop violence against Rohingya Muslims after at least 400 people were killed and nearly 125,000 fled to Bangladesh in the deadliest bout of violence targeting the minority group in decades.

Erdogan, who has said that the violence against Rohingya Muslims constitutes genocide, discussed with Suu Kyi potential solutions to the fighting and means to deliver humanitarian aid to the region, presidential sources said.

They said Erdogan had condemned terrorism and operations targeting civilians, voicing concern that the developments could turn into a serious humanitarian crisis.

The latest violence in Myanmar’s northwestern Rakhine state began on August 25, when Rohingya insurgents attacked dozens of police posts and an army base. The ensuing clashes and a military counter-offensive have killed hundreds and triggered the exodus of villagers to Bangladesh.

On Friday, Erdogan said it was Turkey’s moral responsibility to take a stand over the events in Myanmar.

Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu will travel to Bangladesh on Wednesday evening and hold meetings on Thursday, the Turkish sources said.

Later on Tuesday, Malaysia summoned Myanmar’s ambassador to express displeasure over the violence in Rakhine State.

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 Rohingyas should be elevated to a higher international forum,” Anifah said in a statement.

Muslim-majority Malaysia has been particularly outspoken in its concern about the plight of the Rohingya.

Myanmar says its security forces are fighting a legitimate campaign against “terrorists” responsible for a string of attacks on police posts and the army since last October.

In a separate statement, Malaysia’s foreign affairs ministry issued a travel advisory asking Malaysians to defer all non-essential travel to Rakhine State, and for Malaysians in Myanmar to “take all necessary precautions” and be aware of the security situation.

Earlier on Tuesday, the independent Burma Human Rights Network said that the systematic persecution of minority Muslims is on the rise across Myanmar and not confined to Rakhine.

It said that persecution was backed by the government, elements among the country’s Buddhist monks, and ultra-nationalist civilian groups.

“The transition to democracy has allowed popular prejudices to influence how the new government rules, and has amplified a dangerous narrative that casts Muslims as an alien presence in Buddhist-majority Burma,” the group said in a report.

The report draws on more than 350 interviews in more than 46 towns and villages over an eight-month period since March 2016.

Myanmar’s government made no immediate response to the report.

Besides Rohingya Muslims, the report also examines the wider picture of Muslims of different ethnicities across Myanmar following waves of communal violence in 2012 and 2013.

The report says many Muslims of all ethnicities have been refused national identification cards, while access to Islamic places of worship has been blocked in some places.

At least 21 villages around Myanmar have declared themselves “no-go zones” for Muslims, backed by the authorities, it said.

The treatment of Myanmar’s roughly 1.1 million Rohingya is the biggest challenge facing Myanmar de facto leader Suu Kyi, who critics say have not done enough to protect the Muslim minority from persecution.

The London-based Burma Human Rights Network has been advocating among the international community for human rights in Myanmar since 2012, it says on its website.

Obama’s Myanmar Legacy in Trouble and it’s not Trump’s Fault

Myanmar

One of former President Barack Obama’s greatest foreign policy achievements is at risk, and it has nothing to do with his successor, said an Associated Press report on Sunday.

Myanmar, the Southeast Asian nation that Obama helped usher back to democracy, has been roiled by an explosion of violence between Rohingya Muslim insurgents and security forces. Four hundred have been killed in the past week. About 60,000 have arrived in neighboring Bangladesh, including tens of thousands crossing by boat and on foot in the past day, according to the United Nations’ refugee agency.

The crisis has attracted unprecedented criticism of Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s civilian leader who once assumed an almost saintly status in Washington and other Western capitals. She met Obama several times and was long championed by Democrats and Republicans in the US for her long, peaceful struggle against military rule that culminated in her rise to power a year and a half ago ago.

The Rohingya attacks have “in some ways empowered the military to assert themselves ‘as saviors of the country,’ which is how they like to see themselves,” said Derek Mitchell, who pushed for political change as Obama’s ambassador to Myanmar. “That’s not very helpful to the transition.”

Myanmar’s troubles involve many factors, but none involves President Donald Trump. While he has tried to erase much of Obama’s overseas legacy, Trump has largely ignored Myanmar.

Trump has yet to pick up the phone to speak with Suu Kyi. That has opened the door for northern neighbor China to exert greater influence. Beijing had ceded much of its sway to Washington after Obama, who visited twice, helped coax Myanmar’s generals to relinquish power.

David Mathieson, an independent analyst based in Myanmar, said Washington and other Western governments lost their leverage in the race to abandon economic penalties when the country started to open up. They did so although the military remained entrenched in business and politics, controlling key ministries responsible for security and retaining a guaranteed quota of one-quarter of parliamentary seats.

The military is now pushing for the president, who is subordinate to Suu Kyi, to convene a high-powered council with authority to grant it emergency powers to manage the crisis in western Rakhine state. Doing so raises further doubts about the country’s political direction.

Suu Kyi is taking diplomatic fire for failing to rein in security forces over which she has no formal control in her position as state counselor. She is also being pressed internationally to do more to protect the Rohingya, who are accused by majority Buddhists in Myanmar of being in the country illegally even though many have lived there for generations.

A former political prisoner, Suu Kyi opposed a UN fact-finding mission to investigate violence in Rakhine state. The UN Security Council this past week discussed the instability in Rakhine, from where civilians have fled across rivers and muddy rice fields, some on makeshift stretchers.

Trump’s UN ambassador, Nikki Haley, condemned recent coordinated attacks by Rohingya on security posts, but she pointedly said government forces have a responsibility to avoid abuses and allow in aid.

Katina Adams, a State Department spokeswoman, said the US was discussing the crisis with Myanmar “at the highest levels.”

Lawmakers are also paying attention in Washington as they consider an incremental expansion in military ties with Myanmar, long taboo because of human rights abuses.

“Ultimately, the root cause of tensions and strife in the Rakhine state is poverty and the systemic disenfranchisement of the Rohingya,” said Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s top Democrat. He decried accusations from Myanmar’s government that international aid groups have supported Rohingya, claims the UN human rights chief has branded “irresponsible.”

Still, US officials past and present remain sympathetic to Suu Kyi. She faces a political dilemma, both in confronting the military and dealing with the turmoil that she inherited from the army-led administration that preceded her. Beyond the latest violence, Rakhine’s 320,000 Rohingya have been targeted in sectarian attacks by hard-line Buddhists for the past five years and live in squalid camps.

“Most of the responsibility for the current situation lies with the previous government,” said Mitchell. “The current government could have done more, but it’s not an easy issue when 90 percent of the people are pushing the other way.”

Myanmar has faced ethnic rebellions in its border regions since winning independence from Britain nearly 70 years ago. Suu Kyi’s government also has struggled to peacefully end rebellions in the northern states of Kachin and Shan, targeted in military operations that have displaced tens of thousands, reported the AP.

While her failure to call out military abuses has damaged her reputation, Suu Kyi, 72, remains popular at home. Journalists have been periodically jailed, and Suu Kyi herself has acquired a reputation for being aloof and controlling of information. But the country also known as Burma is far more open now than it was before its democratic transition.

Its first free elections in a generation were won by Suu Kyi’s party in 2015. Hundreds of nongovernment groups involved in health, education and development have emerged. Young officials and economists are advocating changes.

Daniel Russel, former top US diplomat for East Asia, said international disenchantment with Myanmar’s civilian leadership would only hurt what he described as a reform process. In Rakhine state, isolating Suu Kyi’s government would “make a difficult situation a lot worse.”

Mitchell’s greatest fear is foreign extremists capitalizing on the turmoil and fanning a worse conflict, giving the military a pretext to assert more control.

“That’s a recipe for ruin,” he said.

Former Loyalists Lose Faith in Suu Kyi after Myanmar’s Oppression of Rohingya Muslims

Kyi

As Aung San Suu Kyi launched a national struggle against decades of harsh military rule, one medical student worked tirelessly at her side, facing down gun-wielding soldiers trying to crush the surging pro-democracy movement. For her activism and loyalty, Ma Thida suffered six years of mostly solitary imprisonment and nearly died of illnesses.

Now a medical doctor, novelist and recipient of international human rights awards, Ma Thida has few kind words for the former mentor she once called “my sister who always remained in my heart,” said an Associated Press report on Tuesday.

The criticism by Ma Thida and other formerly ardent supporters is manifold: they accuse Suu Kyi of ignoring state violence against ethnic minorities and Muslims, continuing to jail journalists and activists, cowing to Myanmar’s still-powerful generals, and failing to nurture democratic leaders who could step in when she, now 72, exits the scene. Instead, they say her government is creating a power vacuum that could be filled again by the military.

Some conclude that Suu Kyi, who espoused democracy with such passion, always possessed an authoritarian streak which only emerged once she gained power.

“We can’t expect her to change the whole country in one-and-a-half years, but we expect a strong human rights-based approach,” Ma Thida says of the Nobel Peace Prize winner once hailed as “Myanmar’s Joan of Arc” and spoken of in the same breath as South Africa’s Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi of India.

International criticism has focused on Suu Kyi’s lack of action or condemnation of violence targeting the country’s approximately 1 million Rohingya Muslims, who have been brutalized since 2012 by security forces and zealots among the Buddhist majority in western Myanmar.

More than 1,000 Rohingya have been killed, while some 320,000 are living in squalid camps in Myanmar and neighboring Bangladesh, according to estimates by the US-based Human Rights Watch and the United Nations. Thousands more embarked on perilous sea voyages to other Southeast Asian countries.

After a new wave of violence and humanitarian crisis erupted last week, with ethnic Rohingya militants attacking police posts and leaving 12 security personnel and 77 Rohingya Muslims dead, her office said military and border police had launched “clearance operations.” She herself condemned the militants for what she called “a calculated attempt to undermine the efforts of those seeking to build peace and harmony in Rakhine state.”

As usual, she did not address the insurgents’ counter-allegations — that the attacks were aimed at protecting Rohingya villagers from “intensified atrocities” perpetrated by “brutal soldiers,” noted the AP.

“The violence against the Rohingya is not an isolated event,” says Stella Naw, an analyst from the ethnic Kachin minority focusing on national reconciliation. “We know the game the army is playing. But as a politician elected by the people, she is accountable for her inaction and failure to condemn the army.”

Suu Kyi’s government has banned a UN investigation team from entering the afflicted region, and earlier this month rejected the world body’s assertion that the regime’s actions “very likely” amounted to crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing. The February report alleged security forces had perpetrated mass killings, hurled children into fires and gang raped Muslim women. The government has mostly blamed the latest round of blood-letting on extremist militants. Suu Kyi’s official Facebook page last year flashed a message reading “Fake Rape.”

“We don’t have a second choice. People still support her party and government. People must lower their expectations because the problems are so deeply rooted,” says Thant Thaw Kaung, executive director of the Myanmar Book Aid and Preservation Foundation, an initiative to improve the country’s woeful education system.

For years, Suu Kyi had courageously defied the military, suffering 15 years of house arrest and separation from her British husband and two sons to helm her National League for Democracy to a landslide victory in 2015 elections. Often referred to as “The Lady,” she retains popularity among the general public as the liberator from half a century of military oppression.

“When she was in the opposition she was so articulate, so vocal, but suddenly now we are faced with silence. Now that Myanmar is back on the democratic path, everyone expects that there should be more openness, but this has not happened,” says Khin Zaw Win, a political prisoner for 11 years who now heads the Tampadipa Institute, a civil society think tank.

Since assuming office in April 2016, Suu Kyi has earned a reputation for being aloof and controlling of information.

Explanations for why she’s changed, or faltered in upholding previously avowed goals, are starkly disparate: she is variously cast as a tragic heroine fighting impossible odds, and a closet authoritarian with a soft spot for the military, reported the AP.

Suu Kyi herself has often said she inherited an affinity for the armed forces from her father General Aung San, a military hero who fought for independence from Britain.

Reflecting this puzzlement, a satirical Internet site called Burma Tha Din Network joked that the Suu Kyi in office now was a clone created by Russian geneticists hired by Myanmar’s generals to remove her democratic genes, and that the real Suu Kyi was being held by the military and wondering, “How the hell can people believe I’d do that?”

Perhaps the most widespread view is that she simply can’t push her democratic agenda or human rights demands, lest the military oust her from power. Although her post as government leader places her above the president, the military retains its grip on three key ministries controlling law enforcement, local administration and embattled frontier areas as well as a mandated 25 percent of seats in Parliament.

“She may shake hands with the military across a table, but under it they are kicking her,” says That Thaw Kaung.

Some disagree, and say her popular mandate gives her the force to challenge the generals who are unlikely to upset an arrangement that still allows them to wield power with seeming impunity while also being able to blame problems on Suu Kyi’s civilian government.

“The litany, the excuse that is repeated, ‘Oh, the military is still in politics, still dominates the Constitution … so we are hamstrung.’ I don’t buy that argument,” says Khin Zaw Win. “She is not a prisoner of the military.” What is lacking, he says, is moral courage in addressing human rights and the ability to tackle other problems outside the power grid of the military, such as the economy.

Meanwhile, the military is preparing itself for the 2020 elections.

Mark Farmaner of the human rights group Burma Campaign UK says that while Suu Kyi may be constrained by the political situation, there are many areas where she has the freedom to act and has not done so.

“There are problems which will take years to resolve, but freeing political prisoners, repealing repressive laws and ending aid restrictions to displaced Rohingya can be done now,” he says. The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners reported that 225 persons were still in prison or awaiting trial last month for political activities.

Suu Kyi has often stressed that her highest priority is ending decades of warfare between the central government and a welter of ethnic minorities. Last week, her government welcomed a report from a commission led by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan recommending rapid economic development and social justice to counter the deadly violence between Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine state.

But Suu Kyi has also publicly ignored the army’s continuing attacks and atrocities against ethnic groups in the Kachin and Shan states, further eroding their trust in her government.

“Her concept of national reconciliation seems to focus mostly on the relationship between the military and her party, with the ethnic minorities being an inconvenient side-issue,” says Ashley South, an expert on Myanmar’s ethnic minorities. Farmaner contends Suu Kyi views Myanmar principally as a country of the ethnic Burman Buddhist majority, rather than a multi-ethnic, multi-religious nation.

Some critics say Suu Kyi is trapped not by the generals, but by her own history and that of Myanmar, which has endured centuries of kings, British colonials and military dictators. By contrast, the country has experienced a mere 15 years of democracy.

Suu Kyi has expelled dissident party members, neglected to groom successors, spoken rarely to the press and apparently made command decisions rather than seeking help from capable advisers.

Khin Zaw Win notes that General Ne Win, who ruled with an iron fist for 26 years, initially enjoyed some connection with the populace but grew increasingly remote and autocratic, surrounding himself with “yes men.”

“She seems to be following almost exactly in his footsteps,” he says. “I call it the ‘courtier mentality’ and that is exactly what is happening now.” Having reached the pinnacle of power, he says, Suu Kyi believes she can go it alone.

“It is such a tragedy,” says Naw, the Kachin analyst. “She has lost so much, her family, her years under arrest, and to have come to a stage where she has disconnected herself from people who went to prison for her, who would have given their lives for her — it breaks their hearts to see what she has become.”