19 March 2018 08:13 AM



Myanmar Army Admits to Killing “10” Rohingya Muslims, Suu Kyi Looks West For Applause

UN resolution brings Myanmar Under Pressure

In a startling statement, the Myanmar military had admitted that its soldiers were involved in killing 10 captured Rohingya Muslims. National League for Democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi called it a positive development that the army was taking responsibility for its actions and said it was a new step for Myanmar.

Aung San Suu Kyi’s iconic lustre had been fading rapidly primarily because of what seemed to be her disinclination or incapability to stem the army’s onslaught in Rakhine state against the Rohingyas. Even while there was continuing international condemnation of the rape, murder and torture of the Rohingyas.

The situation was termed “ ethnic cleansing” and “ genocide at international fora and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein had said that Aung San Suu Kyi and head of the armed forces Gen. Aung Min Hlaing could potentially face genocide charges in the future.

Aung San Suu Kyi had in an interview to the New York Times in 2013 upheld the military’s view that the Rohingya were illegally squatting in Myanmar. She also denied that there was any ethnic cleansing. Aa meeting of the UN Security Council on the worsening refugee crisis in Myanmar, China alone voiced support for a military crackdown

Once the lauded darling of the west for her determination to restore democracy in Myanmar, Suu Kyi’s position on the Rohingya issue had changed western attitudes. British Prime Minister Theresa May had said Burma's treatment of its Rohingya Muslim minority "looks like ethnic cleansing" and the country's military and governing authorities "must take full responsibility". There had been calls to revoke Aung San Suu Kyi’s Nobel Peace Prize and she had been stripped of accolades like the Freedom of Oxford and the Freedom of Dublin City award.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) had released its own Press Oppressors awards lumping Suu Kyi along with the likes of Xi Jinping of China, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey and Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt. Even her once ardent followers like medical doctor, novelist and recipient of international human rights awards, Ma Thida said that Suu Kyi was ignoring state violence against ethnic minorities and Muslims, continuing to jail journalists and activists, cowing to Myanmar’s still-powerful generals, and failing to nurture democratic leaders. They said that she possessed an authoritarian streak which only emerged once she gained power.

The offensive against the Rohingyas had been launched in August 2017 with the authorities claiming that armed Muslim terrorists belonging to the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, led by Karachi born Ataullah , who grew up in Saudi Arabia, were responsible for attacks on police and army posts. In the ensuing army onslaught it was estimated that over 6000 Rohingya had been killed in one month and that over 600000 had fled to Bangladesh.

The media and human rights organisations had been denied access to the region and Myanmar had ordered its embassies not to issue visas to UN investigators. Though access had been granted to the Red Cross and the World Food Programme in Rakhine State UN Special Rapporteur Yanghee Lee who had been due to visit Myanmar in January to assess the state of human rights across the country had been banned. Her comment was that the ban suggested that something "awful"was happening in Rakhine state.

Suu Kyi had appointed a commission headed by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. In its recommendations the nine member commission had said that perpetrators of rights abuses should be held accountable. The commission had warned that if human rights were not respected and the population remained politically and economically marginalized – northern Rakhine State might provide fertile ground for radicalisation, as local communities might become increasingly vulnerable to recruitment by extremists. There were no signs suggesting that despite assurances the government had taken any steps to implement the recommendations.

Bangladesh had set up camps for the displaced Rohingya with plans to develop an isolated flood prone island in the Bay of Bengal for them. An agreement had been signed with Myanmar in November 2017 to repatriate the Rohingya back to Myanmar. The European Union had said implementation of the Rohingya repatriation agreement would have “to be accompanied and monitored extremely carefully” by the international community.

A joint working group had been set up and was to meet in Myanmar’s capital to hammer out the details of the repatriation. The group comprised civil servants from both countries. Reports cited two senior Bangladesh officials who were involved in the talks stating that much was left to be resolved and it was unclear when the first refugees could actually return.

One of the key issues to be worked out was how the process for jointly verifying the identities of returnees would work. Interviews with the displaced Rohingya reported by the media suggested that while there was a desire to return home, many were afraid that they would again be subjected to the horrors that had forced them to flee.

There was also the question of the Buddhist reaction to any mass repatriation of the Muslims. Nationalist monks and their supporters had been calling for the overthrow of the National League for Democracy (NLD) government, which they said had not dealt effectively with national interest and race issues and had failed to protect the majority Burman nationality and the predominant Buddhist religion.

On the ethnic front the government’s National Peace Initiative had also stalled. The Thein Sein Government initiated the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement NCA on 15 October 2015. Only eight out of Myanmar’s 21 ethnic armed groups signed the accord at its inception. They were the KNU, the PNLO, the Chin National Front (CNF), the Arakan Liberation Party (ALP), the All Burma Students’ Democratic Front (ABSDF), the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS), Karen National Union/Karen National Liberation Army (Peace Council) (KNU/KNLA PC), the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA).

The United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC) had been constituted with seven ethnic armed groups that had not yet signed the nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA). Recently the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) and the Wa National Organization (WNO) had resigned from the UNFC amid a growing rift among ethnic armed groups over the signing of the NCA.

A faction formed under the United Wa State Army (UWSA) was pushing for a rejection of the NCA, and a redrafting of the ceasefire agreement. In a released copy of its resignation letter, the WNA said that it was difficult to cooperate with allied ethnic armed organizations at the moment due to on-going political and military changes. Four of the ethnic armed group leaders, including from the KIA, had created the Union Peace Dialogue Committee, a new bloc for negotiating a solution for peace outside the NCA.

Myanmar's military had said it would not accept any revisions or amendments to he nationwide cease-fire agreement it signed in October 2015 with eight ethnic armed groups in order to accommodate remaining militias that had refused to sign or had been excluded from the pact.

Vice-Senior General Soe Win said "Asking ethnic armed groups to sign the NCA is not asking them to abandon their weapons, but some groups have misunderstood this,.. I want the leaders from the groups that have signed the NCA to explain this point to the people from non-NCA groups who have misunderstood this or who pretend not to understand it."

Two years since its initiation the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement had brought few improvements to the lives of the people affected by the conflicts. The return of refugees and Internally Displaced Persons was one of the key points in the NCA. But with continued fighting in Kanchin and Shan states there were over 100000 people still in camps with little hope of returning home.

While the signatories might be happy that they had achieved something the agreement had resulted in little institutionalisation of the peace process. It appeared, given the present situation, that the NCA might just end up being an intellectual exercise with little prospect of actually bringing peace to the country through specific measures.

Myanmar remained very sensitive to reporting about the situation in Rakhine state. The latest episode involved the arrest of two Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo for violating the country's Official Secrets Act. The pair were arrested on December 12 after they were allegedly given classified documents by two policemen over dinner. The judge refused bail, but promised to make a decision at the next hearing, scheduled for January 23.

Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo had covered the unrest in Myanmar's northwestern Rakhine state. Reuters President and Editor-in-Chief Stephen Adler issued a statement calling the pair's arrest 'a wholly unwarranted, blatant attack on press freedom.' The arrests had created an outcry throughout the international community. The United Nations, the United States, Britain, Sweden and Bangladesh were among those who had called for the release of the two journalists. Both men faced up to 14 years in prison if convicted under the colonial era Official Secrets Act..

Myanmar had also just recently freed two journalists for Turkey's state broadcaster, their local interpreter and a driver after they completed a two-month jail sentence for violating an aircraft law by filming with a drone. Cameraman Lau Hon Meng from Singapore, reporter Mok Choy Lin from Malaysia, Aung Naing Soe - a local journalist who was interpreting for the pair - and driver Hla Tin were on assignment for the TRT World television station when they attempted to fly a drone near Myanmar's parliament building.

A court had sentenced them to two months in prison under the colonial-era Anti-Aircraft Act. All four were also facing an additional charge for importing the drone, and the two foreigners were also facing immigration charges. They were released because the immigration charge was dropped.

With the ethnic armed groups still active and the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement nowhere near achieving its goals; with the Rohingya still under pressure and the army following its own course; and with Suu Kyi not appearing to be particularly sympathetic to the plight of the Muslim Rohingya; it appeared that with the latest resolution on human rights in Myanmar adopted by the UN General Assembly with even Iran voting for it, Myanmar was set to come under pressure not only from Suu Kyi’s one time admirers in the west but the Islamic world as well.