UN chief warns of ethnic cleansing risk in Myanmar

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The UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres in a rare letter to the Security Council on Tuesday expressed concern that the violence could spiral into a “humanitarian catastrophe” and warned there was a risk of ethnic cleansing in Myanmar that could destabilize the region.

Guterres said it’s crucial that Myanmar’s government immediately reverse its longstanding policy and give Rohingya Muslims either nationality or legal status so they can lead normal lives and freely move, find jobs, and get an education, Reuters reported.

Guterres cited the longstanding history of “discrimination, hopelessness and extreme poverty” in Myanmar’s western Rakhine State and appealed to the country’s civilian and military authorities to end the current violence.

“The grievances and unresolved plight of the Rohingya have festered for far too long and are becoming an undeniable factor in regional destabilization,” he warned.

An army crackdown triggered by an attack on Aug. 25 by Rohingya insurgents on Myanmar security forces has led to the killing of at least 400 people and the exodus of nearly 125,000 Rohingya to Bangladesh, leading to a major humanitarian crisis.

The Rohingya Muslim ethnic minority in Rakhine has faced systematic persecution for decades at the hands of Myanmar’s Buddhist majority, who consider most of them to be illegal immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh. The military junta that ruled the nation for decades stripped them of their citizenship and rights.

The Rohingya were the targets of violence in 2012 that killed hundreds and drove about 140,000 people — predominantly Muslims — from their homes to camps for the internally displaced, where many remain in squalor.

Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi  is under increasing pressure for her silence over Rohingya plight in the country. IN in a statement, she made no mention of the Rohingya who have fled.

Also on Wednesday, Bangladesh lodged a protest after it said Myanmar had laid landmines near the border between the two countries, government officials said, amid growing tensions over the huge influx of Rohingya Muslims fleeing violence in Myanmar.

When asked whether Bangladesh had lodged the complaint, Foreign Secretary Shahidul Haque said “yes” without elaborating. Three other government sources confirmed that a protest note was faxed to Myanmar in the morning saying the Buddhist-majority country was violating international norms.

“Bangladesh has expressed great concern to Myanmar about the explosions very close to the border,” a source with direct knowledge of the matter told Reuters. The source asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the matter.

Two Bangladeshi sources said they believed Myanmar security forces were putting the landmines in their territory along the barbed-wire fence between a series of border pillars. Both sources said Bangladesh learned about the landmines mainly through photographic evidence and informers.

Myanmar, which was under military rule until recently and is one of the most heavily mined countries in the world, is one of the few countries that have not signed the 1997 UN Mine Ban Treaty.

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