Asean ignores Rohingya exodus but Myanmar quietly removes general in charge of Rakhine crackdown
The Rohingya have fled to refugee camps in Bangladesh since military clearance operations were launched in response to attacks by Rohingya militants on August 25
A draft of the statement to be issued after the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) summit made no mention of the flight of Rohingya from military operations in Myanmar’s Rakhine state that the United Nations has described as ethnic cleansing.
However, Myanmar’s army yesterday replaced the general in charge of Rakhine state following the military crackdown that has driven more than 600,000 Rohingya Muslims into neighbouring Bangladesh amid reports of mass rape, torture and other crimes against humanity.
One paragraph of the Asean statement mentioned fleetingly the importance of humanitarian relief for “affected communities” in Rakhine state.
The statement was drawn up by the Philippines, current chair of the 10-member Asean, which includes Myanmar.
It did not use the term Rohingya for the persecuted Muslim minority, which Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi has asked foreign leaders to avoid. The government in mostly Buddhist Myanmar regards the Rohingya as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and does not recognise the term.
The Rohingya have fled to refugee camps in Bangladesh since military clearance operations were launched in response to attacks by Rohingya militants on August 25.
The plight of the Rohingya has brought outrage from around the world and there have been calls for democracy champion Suu Kyi to be stripped of the Nobel Peace Prize she won in 1991 because she has not condemned the military’s actions.
Some Asean countries, particularly Muslim-majority Malaysia, have voiced strong concern over the issue recently. However, in keeping with Asean’s principle of non-interference in each others’ internal affairs, it appeared to have been put aside at the summit.
“With Myanmar having ethnically cleansed 600,000 Rohingya Muslims in just two months, it’s time for Asean to transcend its do-nothing approach to atrocities among its members,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, in a Twitter message.
No reason was given for the decision to remove Major General Maung Maung Soe as the head of Western Command in Rakhine, where Myanmar’s military, known as the Tatmadaw, launched the sweeping counter-insurgency.
“I don’t know the reason why he was transferred,” said Major General Aye Lwin, deputy director of the psychological warfare and public relations department at the Ministry of Defence. “He wasn’t moved into any position at present, he has been put in reserve.”
The change was implemented ahead of visit on Wednesday by US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who is expected to deliver a stern message to Myanmar’s generals, over whom Suu Kyi has little control.
Maung Maung Soe’s transfer was ordered on Friday and Brigadier General Soe Tint Naing had been appointed as the new head of Western Command. Soe Tint Naing’s previous role was as a director for logistics.
A senior UN official has described the army’s actions in Rakhine as a textbook example of ethnic cleansing. Myanmar says the clearance operation was necessary for national security after Rohingya militants attacked 30 security posts and an army base in the state on August 25.
On Sunday, another UN official accused Myanmar’s military of conducting organised rape and other crimes against humanity, and said she would raise the matter with the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
“When I return to New York, I will brief and raise the issue with the prosecutor and president of the ICC whether they [Myanmar’s military] can be held responsible for these atrocities,” said Pramila Patten, special representative of the secretary general on sexual violence in conflict.
“Sexual violence is being commanded, orchestrated and perpetrated by the Armed Forces of Myanmar. Rape is an act and a weapon of genocide.”
Refugees have accused Myanmar soldiers and Buddhist vigilantes of torching their villages, murdering their families and raping women.
Patten said brutal acts of sexual violence had occurred in the context of collective persecution that included the killing of adults and children, torture, mutilation and the burning and looting of villages.
“The forms of sexual violence we consistently heard about from survivors include gang-rape by multiple soldiers, forced public nudity and humiliation, and sexual slavery in military captivity. One survivor was in captivity for 45 days by the Myanmar army,” Patten said.
Additional reporting by Associated Press