Retired South African cleric and anti-apartheid campaigner Archbishop Desmond Tutu is urging Myanmar leader and fellow Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi to intervene to help Rohingya Muslims fleeing her country.
Western critics have accused Suu Kyi of not speaking out for the Rohingya, who have been fleeing to neighbouring Bangladesh, following an army counter-offensive against militant attacks.
On Thursday Tutu said in an open letter to Suu Kyi that: “I am now elderly, decrepit and formally retired, but breaking my vow to remain silent on public affairs out of profound sadness about the plight of the Muslim minority in your country, the Rohingya.
“My dear sister: If the political price of your ascension to the highest office in Myanmar is your silence, the price is surely too steep … We pray for you to speak out for justice, human rights and the unity of your people. We pray for you to intervene,” Tutu wrote.
People belonging to the ethnic minority Rohingyas of Myanmar (Burma) cross the Bangladesh border to arrive at the Balukhali camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh newzulu长沙桑拿按摩论坛,
Tutu, 85, has been living with prostate cancer for nearly two decades and has largely withdrawn from public life.
The Rohingya comprise some 1.1 million people who have long complained of persecution and are seen by many in Buddhist-majority Myanmar as illegal migrants from Bangladesh.
“We have to take care of our citizens, we have to take care of everybody who is in our country, whether or not they are our citizens,” Suu Kyi said earlier on Thursday in comments to Reuters Television’s Indian partner, Asian News International.
Suu Kyi on Tuesday blamed “terrorists” for “a huge iceberg of misinformation” on the strife in the northwestern state of Rakhine but made no mention of the Rohingya who have fled.
Suu Kyi, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 as a champion of democracy, did not refer specifically to the exodus of the minority Rohingya.
She has come under increasing pressure from countries with Muslim populations, and this week UN Security Council Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned there was a risk of ethnic cleansing in Myanmar that could destabilize the region.
0:00 Rohingya demonstration held in Sydney Share Rohingya demonstration held in Sydney
In Washington, the US State Department on Thursday voiced its concern “following serious allegations of human rights abuses including mass burnings of Rohingya villages and violence conducted by security forces and also armed civilians”.
“We urge all in Burma including in the Rakhine state to avoid actions that exacerbate tensions there,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told reporters.
The US ambassador has met Myanmar officials to discuss “allegations of violence conducted by both the security forces and civilians” and access for humanitarian groups, she said.
People belonging to the ethnic minority Rohingyas of Myanmar (Burma) cross the Bangladesh border to arrive at the Balukhali camp in Cox’s Bazar, BangladeshAAP
‘We need to wipe out terrorism’
Myanmar has said it is negotiating with China and Russia to ensure they block any Security Council censure over the crisis.
Suu Kyi said the situation in Rakhine has been difficult for many decades and so it was “a little unreasonable” to expect her administration, which has been in power for 18 months, to have resolved it already.
Myanmar says its forces are fighting a legitimate campaign against terrorists responsible for a string of attacks on the police and army since last October. Officials blame Rohingya militants for killing non-Muslims and burning their homes.
“We need to wipe out the threat of the terrorism in those regions,” Ko Ko Hlaing, a presidential adviser of the previous government said on Thursday at a forum arranged by military-owned media to discuss the crisis.
He said rehabilitation and development are important and the citizenship issue must be settled, but the first priority needed to be “the detoxification of dangerous ideology of extremism”.
Suu Kyi’s spokesman, Zaw Htay, on Thursday posted what he said were “photos of Bengalis setting fire to their houses”.
Houses are on fire in Gawdu Zara village, northern Rakhine state, Myanmar, Thursday, Sept. 7, 2017. AAP
The pictures of several sword-wielding women wearing headscarfs and men in Islamic prayer caps, or “Kufi”, setting a house on fire, which were published in one of the country’s leading newspapers, were also shared widely by the military.
“These photos showing that Bengalis are torching their houses emerge at a time when international media have made groundless accusations of setting fire to Bengali houses by the government security forces and the killings of Bengalis,” said the Eleven Media daily
But the photographs sparked controversy on social media with many people who identified themselves as Myanmar Muslims saying they appeared staged
Exodus could reach 300,000
Rights monitors and Rohingya fleeing to Bangladesh say the Myanmar army has been trying to force them out of Rakhine state with a campaign of arson and killings.
Boatloads of exhausted Rohingya continued to arrive in the Cox’s Bazar region of neighboring Bangladesh on Thursday. The latest estimate by UN workers operating there put arrivals in just 13 days at 164,000, up from 146,000 from the day before.
UN officials in Bangladesh now believe the total number of refugees from Myanmar since Aug. 25 could reach 300,000, said Dipayan Bhattacharyya, who is Bangladesh spokesman for the World Food Programme (WFP).
The surge of refugees – many sick or wounded – has strained the resources of aid agencies and communities already helping hundreds of thousands from previous spasms of violence in Myanmar. Many have no shelter, and aid agencies are racing to provide clean water, sanitation and food.
“Many refugees are stranded in no-man’s land between the border with Myanmar,” medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) said in a statement.
“Even prior to the most recent influx, many Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh lived in unsafe, overcrowded and unhygienic conditions, with little protection from the elements.”
It said more nurses, midwives and doctors had been brought in to tackle violence-related injuries, severely infected wounds and obstetric complications.