By Prabasi Nepali
Myanmar/Rakhine State: Horrific Humanitarian Crisis
The Rohingya in Rakhine State in north-eastern Myanmar (former Burma), have been branded as illegal immigrants from neighbouring Bangladesh. They have been mostly denied citizenship in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, which has many other ethnic minorities. In the continuing period of violence, 40,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh, according to the United Nations, and erupting an unprecedented humanitarian crisis for which the Myanmar military is primarily responsible. The government led by Nobel-Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi denies any culpability and has lost much respect around the world. In spite of the heavy pressure in a member state, the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) has only been a mute spectator.
Tens of thousands of Rohingya refugees have been turned away by Bangladeshi border officials, while hundreds have died trying to cross the Naf river (south of Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh), which divides the two countries in the farthest north-east, in makeshift boats and even on floating detritus. Last week, Myanmar’s army chief conceded that nearly 400 people have died in the violence, among them 370 Rohingya militants, while an additional 11,000 ethnic Rakhine Buddhists, Hindus and other minority groups have been internally displaced.
Because of the upheaval in Rakhine State, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) has suspended food aid in this violence-scorched area. The humanitarian situation is rapidly deteriorating with a surging death toll and tens of thousands of both Rohingya Muslims and other ethnic groups being displaced from their homes. Relief agencies, including WFP, have repeatedly been accused by the Myanmar government of allowing their food supplies to fall into the hands of Rohingya militants, whose attacks on police posts on August 25 sparked the current bout of violence. Around 120,000 Rohingya Muslims and others in refugee camps have been dependent on humanitarian aid since 2012, when religious riots flared up and hundreds were killed and sparked a crisis which is still on going. Over the last five years Rakhine State has been divided on ethnic and religious lines, but the current violence has reached a new high. The Myanmar government/military shows no appetite to defuse the raging crisis.
Aid agencies are regularly accused of a pro-Rohingya bias by the Myanmar authorities, and the new upsurge of unrest in Rakhine State has again raised safety concerns, prompting relief help to be (hopefully temporarily) cut short. The WFP has announced that all “food assistance in Rakhine State have been suspended due to insecurity . . . affecting 250,000 internally displaced and other most vulnerable populations.” Furthermore: “We are coordinating with the authorities to resume distributions for all affected communities as soon as possible, including for any people newly affected by the current unrest.”
Myanmar authorities have rejected help offered by foreign aid organizations for the displaced ethnic groups of Rakhine State, according to a statement by the European Commission’s relief assistance department. Apparently the government does not want the world to access information about the real situation in the area. As army clearance operations continue, access to northern Rakhine remained “cut off”. Meanwhile, according to the “European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations” an “anti-UN/NGO propaganda campaign on Myanmar social media continues.”
In an open letter to Aung San Suu Kyi, nearly a dozen of her fellow Nobel Peace Prize laureates (including Malala Yousafzai of Pakistan) labeled last October’s military offensive “a human tragedy amounting to ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.” Not only that, “Some international experts have warned of the potential for genocide” and in addition “it has all the hallmarks of recent past tragedies: Rwanda, Darfur, Bosnia, Kosovo.”
Accounts from Rohingya survivors in Bangladesh and Buddhists who fled to Sittwe, the Rakhine State capital, indicate that the death toll could be much higher than officially indicated. The worse-hit areas are not accessible to the media. However, informal information indicates that there has been tit-for-tat mass killings and entire villages being burnt by both the army and the militants. How much longer is the Myanmar government to remain silent in the face of such death and destruction in their own country?
North Korea Threatens the Neighbourhood & the World
On Sunday, North Korea conducted its sixth nuclear test, further raising tensions in the region. The ramifications are yet to unfold. Judging by the blast it seems that other than in previous tests in this instance a hydrogen bomb has been tested. It was without doubt, an extraordinary show of defiance by the country’s tyrant, Kim Jong-un. At an emergency UN
Security Council meeting this Monday, US Ambassador Nikki Haley said threateningly that North Korea was “begging for war.”
Last week on Tuesday, North Korea had fired a ballistic missile over Japan’s northern Hokkaido island. According to South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, the missile flew a distance of more than 2,700 km, reaching a height of 550 km before breaking into three pieces and falling into the northern Pacific Ocean 1,180 km from the Japanese coast. The tested Hwaasong-12 intermediate range ballistic missile (IRBM) has a range of 4,800 km and can, therefore, easily reach all of North-East Asia, including China and Russia and Mongolia, as well as, northern South Asia (including Nepal) and the major part of South-East Asia. It is the same missile that North Korea recently threatened to fire into waters near the US territory Guam (north-east of the Philippines), which hosts a major US military base. The latest test demonstrates that the rogue state could follow through with the warning, if it chooses to do so.
The launch is the first to cross over Japan since 2009. Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called the test an “unprecedented” threat to his country. It appeared to be the North’s longest-ever missile test. It was its 13th ballistic missile launch this year and comes a month after its second flight test of a KN-14 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), which analysts say could reach deep into the US mainland when perfected. It will probably only take a year or two for Pyongyang to perfect to operate this ICBM reliably and accurately in combat, and to incorporate whatever design modifications are needed, according to “38 North” (the latitude that separates the two Koreas), the US-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University.
Japan is now debating whether to develop a limited pre-emptive strike capability and buy cruise missiles – a move that was anathema in the pacifist country before the North Korea missile threat which has intensified fear. Japan’s ‘self-defence only’ principle under the country’s war-renouncing constitution prohibits its military from making a first strike, and officials discussing a limited pre-emptive strike are calling it a “strike-back” instead. North Korea’s secretive, diversified and mobile launch system makes it extremely difficult to track down and incapacitate the weapons with Japan’s current limited cruise missile options, according to security expert Ken Jimbo at Keio University.
Japan currently has a two-step missile defence system. First, Standard Missile-3 interceptors on Aegis destroyers in the Sea of Japan (between the Koreas and the Japanese islands) would shoot down projectiles mid-flight and if that fails, surface-to-air PAC-3s would intercept them from within a 20-kilometer range. Technically, the set-up can handle falling debris or missile heading to Japan, but it’s not good enough for missiles on a very high trajectory (like the recent missile), those with multiple warheads or simultaneous multiple attacks, according to experts. A pre-emptive strike, by Japanese definition, is a step preceding the two-tier defence. Cruise missile, such as the “Tomahawk”, fired from a Aegis destroyer or fighter jets would attack the enemy missile clearly waiting to be fired, or just after blast-off from a North Korean launch site, before it approaches Japan. However, this has not been tried out yet, and time is running short.
Massacre in Myanmar
By Prabasi Nepali