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Myanmar preparing to crush 'militants' in Rakhine

Sydney Morning Herald - August 11, 2017

LIndsay Murdoch, Bangkok The Myanmar government has air-dropped hundreds of troops into the country's strife-torn western Rakhine state in preparation to crush accused Muslim rebels and insurgents, according to several reliable sources.

The United Nations has warned aid workers in the area of rising hostility and imminent protests from Buddhist residents, amid accusations that humanitarian agencies are supporting Rohingya Muslim militants.

The deployment of fresh troops to Rakhine will dramatically escalate tensions in the state that is home to more than one million Rohingya, whom the UN describes as among the world's most persecuted people.

The office of the UN's resident coordinator in Myanmar has confirmed as true a text message sent this week to 300 staff of UN agencies and non-governmental organisations working in Rakhine, warning of the "increased likelihood of civil unrest".

It warned the perception that UN agencies are supporting Muslim militants, and even their support to the broader Muslim community "fuelled social media rhetoric and incidents of expressed hostility by some more hardline elements".

Rakhine Buddhist politician Than Tun pointed to the discovery of World Food Program biscuits intended for malnourished children being found in a suspected militant camp on July 30 as evidence of the alleged support for militants.

"We cannot guarantee that there will not be violence like before," he said, adding that UN and non-government organisations should be careful "how they live and work"..
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Monks and community leaders met in the Rakhine capital Sittwe last Sunday and called on the government to ensure the security of non-Muslims in areas dominated by Rohingya.

Myanmar expert Larry Jagan posted on Facebook that Myanmar commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing did not consult the country's de facto civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi about the troop build-up.

"This is regarded as a military matter and doesn't need civilian approval," Mr Jagan wrote.

A UN report released in February documented atrocities including mass rapes, murders, forced disappearances, beatings and families locked in torched houses and burnt alive.

Entire villages, mosques, shops and schools were destroyed and tens of thousands of Rohingya fled to makeshift camps in Bangladesh after security forces unleashed a brutal security operation following an attack by Muslim militants that killed nine border police officers in October.

Tensions have been rising since late July when seven Buddhists were found hacked to death in mountains near the township of Maungdaw in northern Rakhine.

But the Myanmar government has blocked three UN-appointed experts from investigating the atrocities, prompting human rights groups to accuse it of covering up crimes against humanity.

A Myanmar appointed commission last week dismissed the UN report despite it being based on meticulously recorded interviews with 204 victims and witnesses.

"The commission's findings are just the latest attempt to sweep under the rug the massive abuses against Rohingya last year," said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. Australia is one of the biggest donors of aid to Rakhine.

Pe Than, an elected member of the hardline Buddhist Arakan National Party (ANP), told The Irrawaddy news outlet that his party asked Senior General Min Aung Hlaing to boost security in Rakhine on Wednesday.

"The army chief said the Tatmadaw [military] has large forces and that he would increase the troops if necessary," he said.

The Arakan National Party refuses to accept Rohingya as Myanmar citizens even though they have lived in Rakhine for decades, insisting they have the same religion, race and traditions as people in Bangladesh.

Ms Suu Kyi, a Noble laureate whose National League for Democracy was swept into office at historic elections in 2015, convened a high-level security meeting in the capital Naypyidaw on Wednesday to discuss security in Rakhine, state media said.

The daughter of Myanmar's independence hero Aung San has been widely criticised for her government's failure to protect the Rohingya, who are denied citizenship, freedom of travel and other basic rights.

Critics say she has either been unwilling or incapable of standing up to the military that have ruled the impoverished country with an iron-fist for half a century.

-- with Reuters

Source: http://www.smh.com.au/world/myanmar-preparing-to-crush-militants-in-rakhine-20170811-gxu2jf.html.

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