Dhaka – European Parliament lawmakers urged Myanmar to end the violence against the Rohingya Muslim minority as the UN said the number of refugees who had fled to Bangladesh climbed to 400,000.
The latest UN estimate was 30,000 higher than Wednesday’s count. An estimated 60 per cent of them are children, according to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
The UN has started delivering water and sanitation supplies to the Bangladeshi fishing port of Cox’s Bazar, which has been overwhelmed with refugee arrivals.
“There are acute shortages of everything, most critically shelter, food and clean water,” Edouard Beigbeder, UNICEF’s representative in Bangladesh, said.
“Conditions on the ground place children at high risk of water-borne diseases. We have a monumental task ahead of us to protect these extremely vulnerable children,” he added.
International pressure to end the crisis
Earlier in the day, Bangladeshi police said that two people drowned after a boat carrying Rohingyas capsized in the Naf River separating the two countries.
Most of the 35 passengers aboard the boat managed to swim ashore but the bodies of a woman and a child were found in the river, police officer Mainuddin Khan said.
The boat might have capsized after midnight at Nayapara in Teknaf, the southern-most tip of Bangladesh bordering Myanmar, Khan said.
More than 100 Rohingyas have drowned trying the cross the river since violence erupted in Myanmar’s Rakhine state last month.
As international pressure mounts on Myanmar to end the crisis, the country’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi will address the nation in a televised address on Tuesday, government spokesman Zaw Htay said.
Suu Kyi will do so for the sake of “national reconciliation and peace,” her spokesman said.
Suu Kyi, who rules Myanmar as state counsellor, is skipping the UN General Assembly next week to “manage humanitarian assistance” and “security concerns,” Zaw Htay said.
But European Parliament lawmakers insisted that Suu Kyi “condemn unequivocally all incitement to racial or religious hatred,” against the Rohingya minority.
They reminded Suu Kyi, who was awarded the parliament’s Sakharov Prize in 1990, “that this prize is awarded to those who defend human rights, safeguard the rights of minorities and respect international law.”
Deputies questioned if the Sakharov Prize could be revoked in cases where laureates violate those criteria.
The humanitarian situation is catastrophic
The parliamentary resolution urged Suu Kyi to “combat social discrimination and hostilities,” and called upon the military “to immediately cease the killings, harassment and rape of the Rohingya people, and the burning of their homes.”
On Wednesday, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres urged Burmese authorities to suspend military action in Rakhine, uphold the rule of law and recognize the rights of Rohingyas to re-enter the country.
“The humanitarian situation is catastrophic,” he said at a news conference in New York. “This is a dramatic tragedy, people are dying and suffering in horrible numbers and this needs to stop.”
Guterres, who used to be the head of the UN’s refugee agency, said he had spoken to Suu Kyi several times about the crisis, which was triggered on August 25 when Rohingya militants attacked police outposts in the Buddhist-majority country.
The government has dubbed the Rohingya militants “extremist terrorists,” and with the army has warned of attacks in major cities.
The group, the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), says it does not target civilians and is trying to restore rights for Rohingya, a persecuted minority.
ARSA on Thursday rejected a call to arms by al-Qaeda, which a day earlier promoted the waging of “jihad” in Myanmar.
“ARSA feels that it is necessary to make it clear that it has no links with al-Qaeda,” it wrote on Twitter, in a statement that also said it had no ties to Islamic State, Lashkar-e-Taiba or “any transnational terrorist group.”
“We do not welcome the involvement of these groups in the Arakan conflict,” it added, using Rakhine’s former name. “ARSA calls on states in the region to intercept and prevent terrorists from entering Arakan and making a bad situation worse.”