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A Rohingya girl gestures while reciting a poem at a makeshift school at Balukhali Makeshift Refugee Camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh April 10, 2017. A UN report in February said Myanmar's security forces had committed mass killings and gang rapes against Rohingya during their campaign against the insurgents, which may amount to crimes against humanity. REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain

By Antara
April 29, 2017

Manila -- Indonesia will build a hospital on a four thousand square-meter plot of land as a form of long-term health assistance for the marginalized Rohingya community in Myanmar, according to Foreign Affairs Minister Retno Marsudi.

"We have already completed offering short-term assistance in the form of emergency humanitarian aid, and now, we are shifting to provide aid in the form of long- and medium-term projects in various fields, including health," the Indonesian foreign affairs minister informed newsmen here on Friday, a day before the ASEAN Summit in Manila.

Marsudi said almost all preparations for the construction of the hospital for the Rohingya community have been completed, from licensing, construction, and design to funds.

"We are in the process of securing some permits and will soon build the hospital," the minister noted.

Earlier on Friday, Marsudi had met Myanmar Deputy Foreign Minister Kyaw Tin to discuss the matter.

Moreover, President Joko Widodo will hold a bilateral meeting for the first time with Myanmar Foreign Minister Aung San Suu Kyi on the sidelines of the ASEAN Summit.

"In addition to the health sector, long- and medium-term assistance for the Rohingya community will also include education, human capacity building, and economic empowerment," Marsudi added.
Close talks: President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo with Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi. (JP/Haeril Halim)

By Haeril Halim
The Jakarta Post
April 29, 2017

State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi told President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo that Myanmar had partly complied with recommendations issued by the Advisory Committee for Rakhine State to solve humanitarian conflicts in the region.

She explained the progress achieved in the implementation of the recommendations during their bilateral meeting in Manila, the Philippines, on Saturday.

Foreign Minister Retno LP Marsudi, who accompanied Jokowi during the meeting, said the recommendations issued by the committee led by former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan were in line with the cause Indonesia had campaigned for in the past year on a solution to the Rohingya conflicts.

“We discussed reports from Kofi Annan’s commission. Some of the recommendations have been followed up [by Myanmar],” said the minister, without elaborating.

Jokowi took the chance to approach Suu Kyi to discuss about the Rohingya crisis on the sidelines of the 30th ASEAN Summit in Manila, which took place from April 26 to 29.

The Kofi Annan report proposed a series of measures to resolve the humanitarian crisis, including allowing humanitarian aid workers access to the affected areas in northern Rakhine and for an independent and impartial investigation into the allegations of crimes committed on and since Oct. 9, 2016.

It also urges the Myanmar government to grant protection of rights, freedom of movement and access to health and education for the Rohingya Muslim minority group, as well as the edification of Rakhine’s cultural heritage.

A report released by the London-based Burma Human Rights Network (BHRN) stated that at least 30,000 people in Rakhine have been internally displaced, while ongoing violence has led to shortages of food and aid for more than 70,000 people in the area.

In consultation: President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo and Foreign Minister Retno LP Marsudi talk on the sidelines of the 30th ASEAN Summit in Manila, the Philippines, on April 29. (Courtesy of the Presidential Office)

By Haeril Halim
April 29, 2017

Manila -- President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo has reminded State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi that leaving Myanmar’s Rohingya crisis unsolved would affect peace and stability both in her country and in the ASEAN region.

Jokowi conveyed his concerns during his meeting with Suu Kyi on the sidelines the 30th ASEAN Summit in Manila, the Philippines, on Saturday. In the meeting, they discussed conflicts that had affected the Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine, a state in Myanmar.

Foreign Minister Retno LP Marsudi said President Jokowi told Suu Kyi that stability in Myanmar was important not only for the country but also the region.

“The President expressed his view that peace and stability in Myanmar must be maintained,” Retno told journalists in Manila.

Jokowi used the ASEAN Summit to directly express Indonesia’s support for solutions to the Rohingya crisis as the two leaders had never met before.

A report released by the London-based Burma Human Rights Network (BHRN) states that at least 30,000 people in Rakhine have been internally displaced, while ongoing violence has led to shortages of food and aid for more than 70,000 people in the area.

To help solve the crisis, Retno said Indonesia had proposed mid- and long-term cooperation agreements with the Myanmar government in the fields of health and education, among others.

“The point is Indonesia wants to see Rakhine transform itself to become an inclusive region free from discrimination,” Retno said.

Indonesia would soon build a mosque for Rohingya people in Rakhine as Myanmar authorities had allowed the construction of houses of worship, she added.

Riot police officers provide security near the administrative office in Tharketa township in the outskirts of Yangon, Myanmar, Friday, April 28, 2017. Ultra-nationalist Buddhist monks and their supporters forced the closing of two Muslim school buildings in Yangon, claiming that they were built illegally, as tensions between the overwhelmingly Buddhist population and the Muslim minority continues after a violent conflict broke out in 2012 between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Muslim Rohingya. (AP Photo/Thein Zaw)

April 28, 2017

YANGON, Myanmar -- Ultra-nationalist Buddhist monks and their supporters have forced the closing of two Muslim schools in Yangon, Myanmar's biggest city, in a reminder that religious strife remains a threat to the country's stability.

About a dozen monks and scores of supporters gathered Friday afternoon near the two Muslim madrassas while police stood by as protesters demanded that local officials close the buildings. The raucous three-hour gathering ended when officials agreed to allow them to chain the entrances of the two buildings, which the protesters claim were built illegally.

Tensions between Myanmar's overwhelmingly Buddhist population and the Muslim minority spread after violent conflict broke out between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Muslim Rohingya in 2012 in western Rakhine state, where the Rohingya are accused of entering the country illegally from Bangladesh.

It appeared that the madrassas were chained shut largely to appease the protesters and defuse tension, but it was unclear what their long-term fate would be.

"What happened today was very, very sad to me," said Tin Shwe, a Muslim community leader. "I feel like they were bullying to our religious. This school has been built for like many years ago and all of our generations took care of it."

A militant organization of Buddhist monks known as Ma Ba Tha has spearheaded protests against Muslims. Its leaders have been accused of stirring up mob violence leading to the deaths of Muslims and destruction of their property around the country. Their movement surfaced latent prejudice against Muslims, and makes the nationalists a political force that cannot be ignored.

Most of the anti-Muslim activity has taken place outside of Yangon, the country's most cosmoplitan city. In what seemed to be a coordinated campaign, anti-Muslim activists last year pressured local officials to have Muslim institutional buildings declared illegal and torn down. In some cases the activists occupied and dismantled the structures themselves.

Friday's action against the madrassas was unusual because it occurred in Yangon, one of the rare times such forced closures have happened there.

The Ma Ba Tha movement had seemed to be in decline for the past few years, but the situation that fuelled its growth - the ethnic conflict in Rakhine state - remains unresolved.

More than 100,000 Muslim Rohingya live in squalid displacement camps where they were resettled after the 2012 violence. The government still refuses to grant citizenship to most of the estimated 1 million Rohingyas, even though in many cases, they have lived in Myanmar for generations.

Violence heated up late last year when a small armed Rohingya insurgency was launched, leading to massive retaliation by Myanmar's army, which was accused of carrying out severe human rights violations.



Published by HRW on April 27, 2017

Donald Tusk
President of the European Council
Rue de la Loi/Wetstraat 175
1048 Brussels

Federica Mogherini
High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy /
Vice-President of the European Commission
Rue de la Loi / Wetstraat 200
1049 Brussels

Brussels, 27 April 2017

Re: Aung San Suu Kyi’s visit and human rights in Burma
Dear President Tusk and High Representative / Vice-President Mogherini

We write to you to express our deep concern about ongoing and serious human rights abuses in Burma and to urge you to address these issues during the upcoming visit by State Counsellor and Foreign Minister Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

Our core concerns include: ensuring the Burmese government’s full cooperation with the Human Rights Council-mandated independent international fact-finding mission into recent human rights violations in the country; the serious human rights crisis faced by ethnic Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine State; international human rights and humanitarian law violations in Kachin and Shan States; and increasing numbers of political prisoners and continued restrictions on the right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, including as a result of the prosecution of peaceful protesters and critics of the government.

UN Mandated Fact-Finding Mission

The successful operation of the Fact-Finding Mission established, through a European Union (EU)-sponsored resolution, adopted by the United Nations Human Rights Council in March 2017 is critical to documenting abuses committed by Burmese security forces, creating accountability for these abuses, and preventing future abuses, particularly against the Rohingya. We urge you to press Aung San Suu Kyi, her government, and the Burmese military to fully cooperate with that mission.

The Fact-Finding Mission will be crucial to establishing the facts in Rakhine State following the October 9, 2016 attacks on three border guard posts in northern Rakhine State by militants from the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA). The United Nations, Human Rights Watch and other human rights organizations, and the media have reported that government security forces inflicted widespread and serious abuses against Rohingya civilians throughout northern Rakhine State in the wake of those attacks. Human Rights Watch has documented burnings of numerous Rohingya villages, extrajudicial killings, and systematic rape and other sexual violence. Untold numbers were killed in the several months-long “clearance operations” and, at its peak, more than 90,000 were displaced, over 70,000 of whom fled to Bangladesh. The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights released a report in February 2017 that concluded it was very likely that Burmese security forces committed crimes against humanity during those operations. Investigations by the Burmese government’s various domestic commissions have not been credible or impartial.

Full cooperation with the Fact-Finding Mission will indicate the Burmese government’s commitment to upholding the rule of law and to identifying and holding to account those responsible for abuses. It will also send a clear message to potential perpetrators of rights abuses in the future.

While the EU-sponsored resolution was adopted by consensus by the members of the Human Rights Council, the Burmese government has publicly disassociated itself from the resolution. However, it has not said it will not cooperate or allow access.

In addition to encouraging full cooperation with the Fact-Finding Mission, we urge you to call upon the Burmese authorities to immediately remove all restrictions on the provision of humanitarian aid in Rakhine State, including allowing for organizations to complete comprehensive humanitarian assessments. We also urge you to press the authorities to allow unfettered access to all parts of Rakhine State to independent human rights monitors and journalists.

Discriminatory Treatment of the Rohingya Population

Beyond the recent violence in northern Rakhine State, the Rohingya population has long faced systematic discrimination and denial of their human rights. We urge you to press the government to: (1) amend the discriminatory provisions of the 1982 Citizenship Law that effectively deny Rohingya citizenship and bring the law into line with international human rights standards; (2) end restrictions on freedom of movement that severely impact the Rohingya’s rights to health and livelihood in Rakhine State; (3) provide universal, non-discriminatory access to education; and (4) facilitate the safe and voluntary return of the 120,000 Rohingya who have been internally displaced since the June and October 2012 violence that Human Rights Watch research showed amounted to “ethnic cleansing” and crimes against humanity. Furthermore, while the government recently indicated its intention to close three camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Rakhine State, it has not yet indicated when or how it will do this. We urge you to encourage the government to ensure that all IDP camp closures are done with a view of protecting the human rights of the displaced and allowing the residents to freely decide whether to return to their original homes, with appropriate compensation and protection.

Abuses in Kachin and Shan States

Renewed fighting between the military and ethnic armed groups in Kachin and Shan States has imperiled civilians through human rights abuses allegedly committed by government forces and ethnic armed groups, successive instances of displacement, and the blockage of humanitarian assistance by the government. We urge you to press the government and military to adhere to international human rights and humanitarian law in Kachin and Shan States.

Violations of Freedom of Expression and Peaceful Assembly

Despite the significant improvements since 2011 in respect for freedom of expression in Burma, many repressive laws remain in effect. Large numbers of individuals continue to be jailed and prosecuted for peaceful speech and assembly. We urge you to press the government to: release all political prisoners; end the use of criminal laws, such as section 66(d) of the Telecommunications Act and sections 141-147 and 505 of the Penal Code, to penalize peaceful speech and assembly; and to repeal or amend other laws, as identified in Human Rights Watch’s 2016 report, to bring them into full compliance with international standards for the protection of the rights to freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly, and other fundamental rights.

We believe it is important to communicate to Aung San Suu Kyi that embracing the recommendations in the recent Human Rights Council resolution, including the Fact-Finding Mission. and taking steps to hold the military accountable for its actions would further her stated goals of amending the constitution to bring the military under civilian control, end the military’s right to dissolve the government, and remove the military’s power to appoint the ministers of defense, home affairs and border affairs. It is untenable for the elected civilian government to preside over key ministers who do not report to the civilian leadership. She should recognize that while the military is implicated in most of the abuses outlined above, unless the civilian government takes all possible steps to address and prevent them it will still bear considerable responsibility. It is very worrying that the Office of the State Counsellor and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs have repeatedly denied well-documented reports of extrajudicial killings, sexual violence and destruction of Rohingya villages, giving the impression of indifference or antipathy to a persecuted minority. 

While Burma has made significant progress toward becoming a rights-respecting state, it is now at a critical juncture. Aung San Suu Kyi, as the de facto leader of the government, should urgently act to ensure that the human rights of all its people are respected and protected. Key donors like the EU, which are working to assist Burma’s political and economic development, should make it clear to Aung San Suu Kyi during her visit that the political transition away from military dictatorship and the country’s continued economic development will only succeed when human rights are respected. This should include offering the EU’s firm support if she takes the necessary and overdue steps to confront the behavior and role of the military.

Thank you for your consideration. Please do not hesitate to contact us for any further information you may wish.

Sincerely, 

Lotte Leicht 
EU Director 
Human Rights Watch 

Brad Adams
Executive Director, Asia Division
Human Rights Watch

Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar at a Bangladesh refugee camp. (AP: AM Ahad)

By Liam Cochrane
April 27, 2017

A top official in Myanmar has compared an attack last year by Muslim militants that killed nine police officers and sparked a brutal army crackdown to America's experience on September 11.

But a leading researcher in Buddhist-majority Myanmar says the army's heavy-handed response to the new insurgent threat has only increased the risk of radicalisation amongst one of the world's most persecuted minorities.

In October a Saudi-backed militant group of Rohingya Muslims — called Harakah al-Yaqin or Faith Movement — launched its first ever attack on the Myanmar-Bangladesh border, killing police and stealing weapons.

The resulting "clearance operation" by the military has led to accusations of extrajudicial killings, systematic rape and widespread arson, in what the UN has called possible "crimes against humanity" and Malaysia called "genocide". 

But Myanmar's Minister for Information has rejected the criticisms.

"This is like 9/11 in America, we were targeted and attacked in a huge way," Pe Myint said. 

"But the media is neglecting this and are only emphasising and reporting the counter-attacks, and by looking at the humanitarian point of view," he said in an interview this week.

The Reuters news agency released mobile phone footage on Tuesday showing the aftermath of the army crackdown — dead bodies in a field, moaning survivors and the charred human remains inside a burned house.

Heavy-handed tactics may backfire, analyst says

Rohingyas who have fled to Bangladesh have told horrific stories of soldiers killing children while gang raping their mothers and locking people inside houses that are then torched. 

About 70,000 Rohingyas fled to makeshift camps after the violence, just the most recent flair up in a long history of persecution.

Rohingya Muslims are denied citizenship in Myanmar, which considers them illegal migrants from Bangladesh, and most live in poverty under a form of state-sanctioned apartheid. 

"Clearly Myanmar and its security forces have an obligation to ensure security and stability and to respond to such an attack, however, this is not a license to indiscriminately attack a civilian population," Richard Horsey, an independent political analyst based in Yangon who has worked for the UN and the International Crisis Group, said.

He said the army's tactics may backfire. 

"From the perspective of counter-insurgency and counter-radicalisation, the response of the security forces has been very unhelpful," said Mr Horsey. 

"It's likely to make the situation worse, to increase the risks of radicalisation, and to increase the distrust between the Muslim community in that area and the Government."

Aung San Suu Kyi criticised for response

Just before the October attack, the Government led by Aung San Suu Kyi invited a special commission headed by former UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon to provide recommendations about the ethnic tensions. 

The Commission produced an interim report last month but it's work has largely been overshadowed by the militant attack and resulting crackdown. 

Many have criticised Ms Suu Kyi for not speaking out to defend the Rohingyas, while others have noted that she has no control over the still-powerful military and risks alienating her core Buddhist supporters. 

"This is a situation that's been festering for many decades ... an almost intractable problem that's been inherited by this Government, it's not the creation of this Government," Mr Horsey said.

"It will take a huge amount of effort and political investment to successfully implement those recommendations, some of which will not be easy at all."

Children recycle goods from the ruins of a market which was set on fire at a Rohingya village outside Maugndaw in Rakhine state, Myanmar, October 27, 2016. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun

Published by HRW on April 27, 2017

Urge the Burmese Government to Allow Unfettered Access

Dear Your Excellency,

We, the undersigned, call on States, including the United States, United Kingdom and the member states of the European Union, Association of Southeast Asian Nations, and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation to strongly encourage the Myanmar government to fully cooperate with the forthcoming Fact-Finding Mission into the human rights situation in Rakhine State, as well as active conflict areas in Kachin State and northern Shan State, as recently mandated by the United Nations Human Rights Council.

Following deadly attacks by a group later identified as the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) against three police outposts in Maungdaw and Rathedaung townships on October 9, 2016, military and police commenced a so-called “clearance operation” in selected areas of northern Rakhine State. Numerous observers and monitors, including signatories to this letter as well as the UN and news media, documented how state security forces targeted the civilian population and committed extrajudicial killings, torture including rapes and other sexual violence, systematic destruction of homes and looting of property, destruction of food, and obstructing humanitarian assistance, causing serious deprivation including among persons in the displaced civilian population. A report issued in early February 2017 by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights found that these human rights violations “seem to have been widespread as well as systematic, indicating the very likely commission of crimes against humanity.”

The Fact-Finding Mission is in the interests of the government of Myanmar as well as the people of the country because it would demonstrate the government’s willingness to uphold the rule of law, work collaboratively with the international community to help establish the facts, identify perpetrators, and deter future crimes by all parties to the conflict.

It is important to stress that the authorities in Myanmar commonly restrict access to certain parts of the country for monitors and others. High-level and sustained international engagement will be needed to ensure the authorities provide the Fact- Finding Mission with free and unfettered access to all the areas to which they are seeking access.

We believe the Fact-Finding Mission must be led by experts, including on international human rights and humanitarian law, who should receive free and unfettered access to ensure the process is thorough, equitable and capable of achieving its stated goals. The authorities must also ensure the safety of survivors and witnesses to speak freely without reprisals from state or non-state actors. The Fact-Finding Mission should also do its part to ensure the security of survivors, eyewitnesses, their families and others. The Fact-Finding Mission must be able to operate without government or military escort or interference that could limit access to witnesses and possibly endanger those who do come forward. The Fact-Finding Mission must be able to choose their own guides, fixers and interpreters to further ensure the independence, credibility and safety of their work. We also recommend the Fact-Finding Mission visit Bangladesh to interview victims and survivors who fled Rakhine State.

We are deeply concerned that if the government of Myanmar fails to fully cooperate with the Fact-Finding Mission, the situation in Rakhine State may further deteriorate. Failure to provide accountability may further fuel frustrations among the Rohingya population. Emboldened by the lack of consequences for abuses during its military operations in response to the October 9 attacks, the Myanmar military may continue to punish the civilian population and carry out further atrocities under the pretext of maintaining national security.

On the other hand, we believe the government of Myanmar’s full cooperation with the Fact-Finding Mission would send a positive and important message to all stakeholders in Rakhine State and Myanmar, including to extremist-nationalists who have been reluctant to cooperate with such initiatives.

Similarly, a positive message can be sent, and the effects of the violence under investigation mitigated, by allowing unfettered and sustained humanitarian access to affected populations in Rakhine State and elsewhere in Myanmar. We encourage the government of Myanmar to allow this much needed access and for international actors to continue to urge it to do so.

Please urgently use your good offices to help ensure unfettered humanitarian access, the success of the Fact-Finding Mission and the full support and cooperation of the Myanmar authorities.

Sincerely,

Angkatan Belua Islam Malaysia (ABIM)
Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
ALTSEAN-Burma
Amnesty International
Burma Campaign UK (BCUK)
Burma Human Rights Network (BHRN)
Burmese Muslim Association (BMA)
Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW)
Civil Rights Defenders
FIDH – International Federation for Human Rights
Fortify Rights
Geutanyoe Foundation
Global Peace Mission Malaysia
Gusdurain Network Indonesia
Human Rights Now
Human Rights Watch (HRW)
International State Crime Initiative
Majlis Persundingan Pertubuhan Islam Malaysia (MAPIM) Malaysian Humanitarian Aid and Relief (MAHAR) Refugees International
Restless Beings
The Arakan Project
Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC)

A Rohingya refugee girl carries a baby inside a refugee camp in Sitwe, in the state of Rakhine, Myanmar March 4, 2017. Picture taken March 4, 2017. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun

By Simon Lewis and Wa Lone 
April 27, 2017

YANGON -- The United Nations' refugee agency has criticized a Myanmar government plan to resettle Rohingya Muslims displaced by recent violence in "camp-like" villages, saying it risks stoking tensions, according to a document seen by Reuters.

The plan - confirmed by a senior state-level official - has sparked fear among residents that they would end up penned into de facto refugee camps, the document produced by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Myanmar said.

Attacks on border guard posts in northwestern Myanmar in October last year by a Rohingya insurgent group ignited the biggest crisis of national leader Aung San Suu Kyi's year in power. Security forces stand accused of mass killings and gang rapes during the counterinsurgency operation that followed.

About 75,000 Rohingya fled across the border to Bangladesh to escape the violence, during which at least 1,500 houses across several villages were burned, while thousands more hid in forests and fields.

Some of those who fled have now returned and built temporary shelters, but the authorities have barred them from rebuilding their homes permanently citing "security restrictions", according to residents who spoke to Reuters and the UN document.

Instead, authorities have devised a plan to relocate some 1,152 households from 13 scattered hamlets into larger, more manageable "model villages".

In a three-page "advocacy note" dated April 25 and circulated among humanitarian agencies on Wednesday, the UNHCR warned the plan could "create further tensions" in villages recently scarred by the violence.

"Based on the information available on the model villages and concerns brought to our attention by affected villagers, UNHCR stressed the importance to allow displaced communities to return to their place of origin and have access to their previous source of livelihoods," UNHCR Myanmar spokesman Andrew Dusek said by email when reached for comment on the document.

More than 1 million Rohingya live in apartheid-like conditions in Myanmar's Rakhine State, where many in the Buddhist majority consider them interlopers from Bangladesh.

While Dusek said the UNHCR understood the plan was still at draft stage and may not have been finalised, Rakhine State government secretary Tin Maung Swe said the local administration had already started implementing it.

Tin Maung Swe said relocation was in the residents' interests as the "model villages" would be closer to government services. Rohingya villages in rural northern Rakhine were arranged "randomly" at present, he said.

"If these villages are not systematic, they will not develop and it will be hard to build hospitals, schools and police stations," said Tin Maung Swe. "Also we will have difficulties to take care of security in the region."

"MODEL VILLAGES"

According to the UNHCR document and residents, the government has begun clearing land for the "model villages", in which households would each get a 220-square-metre (2,400 sq ft) plot and about $150 to build a home.

Residents told UN staff they feared losing access to their farmland and fishing grounds, and becoming stuck in what would become "like IDP camps", the UNHCR document said.

"A forced relocation to the 'model villages' would not progress stabilization in these areas," the UNHCR document said.

About 120,000 Rohingya have lived in "internally displaced persons" camps in Rakhine, dependent of international aid, since communal violence in 2012. Suu Kyi has pledged to begin closing the camps, following recommendations from a commission led by former UN chief Kofi Annan.

Five people whose homes were destroyed in November told Reuters by telephone about the living conditions since the violence subsided, expressing their worries about the government's plans.

"The village here has completely changed because all of the houses were burned down," said a 32-year-old in Yae Khat Chaung Gwa Son village, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Reuters has previously interviewed dozens of refugees, residents and Myanmar security officials about the military operation in Rakhine. Witnesses said troops raped Rohingya women, killed civilians, and burned homes in a sweep through several villages in November.

Satellite imagery analyzed by New York-based Human Rights Watch showed massive fires that destroyed hundreds of homes.

Officials have denied most of the allegations and blamed insurgents and villagers themselves for the fires.

Myanmar has blocked independent media and observers from the area.

Residents said that, while the area is now relatively peaceful, checkpoints and a 9 p.m.-5 a.m. curfew remain in place and soldiers regularly patrol near villages, making it hard for them to reach their fields and shrimp farms or the area's basic health clinics.

Villagers also told Reuters they feared the plots in the new settlements would be too small for many households, which often comprise extended family groups of 30 people or more.

"The government told us their plan is for all of the villagers to huddle in one place, in one village near the main road," said a school teacher in Dar Gyi Zar village, who also spoke anonymously. "We want to live in our original place as before."

(Reporting by Simon Lewis and Wa Lone; Editing by Antoni Slodkowski and Alex Richardson)

Abdul Salam, a 47-year-old Rohingya Muslim, asks a friend in Malaysia for advice from an internet hut in Thae Chaung village, home to thousands of displaced Rohingya near Sittwe, Arakan State, on 29 January 2015. (Photo: Reuters)

April 25, 2017

"Revolutionary" app aims to increase public empathy toward the plight of refugees

KUALA LUMPUR - A ping on Kathijah's phone. The Rohingya girl picks up the message, it is from her brother Ishak in Myanmar.

"Kat, r u safe?" he writes. "It was a raid, they found us. Had to run," he said, before sending a video message of him running in a jungle that was abruptly cut off.

It was a conversation between Kathijah, a fictional character, and her brother in Myanmar on a new smartphone app that gives users a glimpse into the daily struggles of Rohingya refugees who flee political persecution back home.

The "Finding Home" app effectively takes over one's phone by recreating the mobile operating system of Kathijah's handset, prompting users to answer phone calls, text messages or scroll through her photo gallery.

Advertising agency Grey, which built the app in partnership with the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR, said the "revolutionary" app aims to increase public empathy toward the plight of refugees.

"We wanted to find a way of getting people to really empathise what these people go through, to feel it as if they were going through it," Graham Drew, Grey Malaysia executive creative director, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The app focuses not just on her life back home, but also on how the 16-year-old Kathijah is trying to build a new life in Malaysia.

One conversation involves her talking to a friend about how she is taking classes in English and Malay.

There are some 150,000 refugees in Malaysia, about a third of whom are Rohingya Muslims who have fled violence and apartheid-like conditions in western Rakhine state in Buddhist-majority Myanmar.

Many are children who experience struggles similar to Kathijah's.

"The refugee story is often a deeply personal one, and difficult for people to understand," UNHCR Malaysia representative Richard Towle said in a statement on the launch of the app on Tuesday.

"We hope that this application will allow a viewer to walk a mile in a refugee's shoes in order to understand what they go through every day in order to find safety."

The interactive conversations featured in the app were constructed based on interviews with refugees, according to Grey.

The plight of the Rohingya hit international headlines again in recent months after Myanmar security forces were accused of carrying out mass killings and gang rapes during their campaign against Rohingya insurgents. It sparked international criticism but a senior Myanmar government official denied there was any ethnic cleansing against Rohingya Muslims.

(Writing by Beh Lih Yi @behlihyi, Editing by Ros Russell)

Rohingya refugee children play at Balukhali Makeshift Refugee Camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh earlier this month. (REUTERS/MOHAMMAD PONIR HOSSAIN)

By Reuters 
April 25, 2017

Around 69,000 Rohingyas have fled to Bangladesh to escape violence in Buddhist-majority Myanmar since October.

DHAKA - China offered on Tuesday to help tackle a diplomatic row between Bangladesh and Myanmar over the flight of minority Rohingyas, two Bangladesh foreign ministry officials said.

Around 69,000 Rohingyas have fled to Bangladesh to escape violence in Buddhist-majority Myanmar since October, straining relations between the two neighbors who each see the stateless Muslim minority as the other nation's problem.

Chinese special envoy Sun Guoxiang, beginning a four-day trip to Bangladesh, urged Dhaka to resolve the row with Myanmar bilaterally, but also said Beijing stood ready to help in the matter, a foreign ministry official in Dhaka told Reuters.

Sun made the proposal during a meeting with Bangladesh Foreign Secretary Shahidul Haque, the official said. He declined to be named, saying he was not authorized to speak to the media.

"The envoy told us at the meeting that they were ready to help if necessary," the official said. Another foreign ministry official confirmed the information but also asked not to be named, citing the sensitivity of the matter.

China has strong ties with both Myanmar and Bangladesh, helping in infrastructure development in both countries. Relations with the former have warmed further since Myanmar President Htin Kyaw struck a deal in China on an oil pipeline between the neighbors after almost a decade of talks.

Beijing has established a strong presence in Bangladesh, building roads and power stations and supplying military hardware.

During the talks on Tuesday, Foreign Secretary Haque told Chinese envoy Sun that Bangladesh welcomed Chinese efforts to tackle its problems with Myanmar stemming from the influx of Rohingyas into Bangladesh, the officials said.

Dhaka has proposed that Sun travel to Cox's Bazar near the border with Myanmar to see the plight of the tens of thousands of people camped there. China's ambassador to Bangladesh, Ma Mingqiang, visited a Rohingya camp there in March.

Myanmar has faced growing international criticism over the latest eruption of violence against the Rohingyas. Myanmar's government has conceded some soldiers may have committed crimes but has rejected charges of ethnic cleansing.

(Reporting by Serajul Quadir; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani and Mark Trevelyan)

A woman who says she belongs to the Rohingya community from Myanmar, washes clothes in a New Delhi camp, September 13, 2014.

By Anjana Pasricha
April 25, 2017

NEW DELHI — Accessed from a dusty, unpaved path, a shanty type settlement housing about 70 Rohingya families on the outskirts of New Delhi presents a squalid but quiet picture as children play, women fill water from a tanker and an elderly man patiently sifts through piles of waste material to pick out strips of wood for the household stove.

But underneath the calm, tension runs high among the refugees following reports that authorities plan to identify and deport the mostly Muslim minority that fled Myanmar due to alleged persecution.

Nurfatimah, now 30, who crossed over into India a decade ago, fears the life she slowly pieced together here might again be about to fall apart.

Cramped but safe

Despite living in a cramped, dirty room with her three children who were born in India, she has no complaints because she feels safe. The fear of venturing out of her home in Myanmar, where Rohingya Muslims have been the victim of sectarian violence, has become a distant memory. “India is better for us,” she said.

In the New Delhi settlement, she and the other refugees live on a small patch of land given by a charity, the Zakat Foundation, and eke out a living working mostly as daily wage laborers.

People from the Burmese Rohingya Community from Myanmar, sit in an open air madrasa, or a religious school, at a camp in New Delhi May 14, 2012.

Rohingyas fear deportation

But amid growing calls from Hindu groups for their deportation, uncertainty hangs over her and the estimated 40,000 Rohingya Muslims scattered through several Indian cities. 

“Everyone is thinking what to do. I keep thinking why did this happen to me? Why is this in our destiny?” she asked in despair.

Less security further north

Apprehension is even higher among the approximately 6,000 Rohingya refugees who have settled in the northern city of Jammu, where calls to oust them have been the loudest.

After several shacks of Rohingya Muslims in Jammu were burned in recent days, a deep sense of insecurity has gripped the refugees.

Random acts of violence

In a separate incident, a community leader, Karimullah, alleges his little shop where he had kept scrap to sell was set on fire, some of his family members were beaten by unidentified men and his landlord is pressuring them to vacate their small rooms.

The incidents have shaken the Rohingya refugees. Wondering why they suddenly became unwanted, Karimullah said, “It is the first time in 10 years that I have faced this. After this I am really scared,” 

Police say they are investigating the incidents.

Chamber of Commerce

Among those calling for their eviction is the Jammu Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which fears the presence of the Muslim minority poses a security threat in a region that has long grappled with Islamic militancy. 

The head of the industry body, Rakesh Gupta, said they are pushing for their deportation because of worries that “they can be used by militants or anti-national forces to create communal atmosphere… The chamber wants peace because the economy depends on peace.”

Gupta was quoted earlier as warning they will launch an “identify and kill” movement if the refugees are not deported, but later retracted, saying his remarks were taken out of context.

Security analyst Ajay Sahni at the Institute of Conflict Management in New Delhi said there are fears that the Muslim minority may be radicalized by Pakistan-based terror groups. “This is our concern, this is our problem.” However he added, “We have not seen as yet any major or significant attempt by Rohingya Muslims to engage in any kind of terrorist activities in India.” 

Sahni said the refugees are being identified as “part of a broad movement against all illegal migrants in the country,” but added the move so far “has been hugely unsuccessful.”

A struggle for Rohingyas in India

The United Nations Refugee Agency in New Delhi has given identity cards to about 14,000 Rohingya refugees, making it possible for them to send their children to school. But Elsa Sherin Mathews at UNHCR points out that being poor and unskilled, the refugees only find low-skilled jobs and sometimes face exploitation.

She also said they often live in poor and unsanitary conditions with limited access to water, toilets and electricity.

However, at the camp in New Delhi, the refugees are prepared to cope with squalor and poverty because they enjoy a sense of freedom.

A Rohingya refugee girl wipes her eyes as she cries at Leda Unregistered Refugee Camp in Teknaf, Bangladesh, Feb. 15, 2017.

But India is better than Bangladesh

For some of them, their first stop was Bangladesh, where tens of thousands of Rohingyas have fled. But tough conditions in that country prompted them to cross over into India. 

“I could not roam around outside the camp, they would put us in jail, the camp was overcrowded, so we came here,” said 27-year-old Jafar Alam. “I want to live in India”, he said. “People (in Myanmar) are still being persecuted, they are in trouble. Rather than leave us there, it is better to put us in jail, punish us here.”

The eldest resident of the camp, 60-year-old Amanullah, also questioned where they will go if the government presses ahead with plans to deport them. Myanmar does not recognize the Rohingyas as its citizens, calling them illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. However, it has long denied allegations of widespread abuse and mistreatment of the Muslim minority. 

He said although 70 families are now cramped in a plot that would have accommodated only two families back in his village, they have been content so far because they feel secure. Amanullah, who often spends time ensuring that the refugees live in harmony, said, “We can only go back if there is peace.”

TAKE WHAT YOU CAN: Rohingya children rummaged last October through the ruins of a village market that was set on fire during the army's "clearance operation" in Rakhine state. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun

By Antoni Slodkowski, Wa Lone, Simon Lewis and Krishna Das
April 25, 2017

In November, Myanmar's army swept through Rohingya villages in Rakhine state. Hundreds of Rohingya were killed and some 75,000 fled to Bangladesh. The violence has presented Aung San Suu Kyi with a major crisis.

BALUKHALI CAMP, Bangladesh – When army helicopters fired on Rahim’s village in northwest Myanmar one day last November, the Rohingya schoolteacher told his pregnant wife to take their three young daughters and leave. He stayed behind with his 72-year-old mother.

At dawn the next morning soldiers encircled and then entered the village. Rahim and his mother crept into a rice field. Crouching, Rahim said they saw the soldiers set fire to homes and shoot fleeing villagers.

“I thought we were going to die that day,” said Rahim, who like many Rohingya identifies by a single name. “We kept hearing gunshots. I saw several people shot dead.”

His account, told in a Bangladesh refugee camp where thousands of Rohingya are sheltering, was corroborated by four people from his village.

The attack on Rahim’s village, Dar Gyi Zar, on Nov. 12-13, claimed dozens of lives, Rohingya elders said. The killings marked the start of a two-week military onslaught across about 10 Rohingya villages in northwest Rakhine State, a Reuters reconstruction of events has found.

Rohingya elders estimate some 600 people were killed. A United Nations report from February said the likely toll was hundreds. At least 1,500 homes were destroyed, Human Rights Watch satellite imagery shows. Countless women were raped, eyewitnesses and aid workers said. Doctors in Bangladesh told Reuters they treated women who had been raped.

It was the latest round of ethnic bloodletting in Myanmar, a majority Buddhist country where the roughly one million Muslim Rohingya are marginalised, often living in camps, denied access to healthcare and education and uprooted and killed in pogroms.

Myanmar’s march to democracy, beginning in 2011, uncorked long-suppressed ethnic and religious tensions between Rakhine’s Buddhists and the Rohingya. Clashes between the two communities in 2012 killed at least 192 people and displaced 140,000, mostly Rohingya.

This latest eruption of violence drove some 75,000 Rohingya across the border into Bangladesh, the United Nations said. Myanmar's government has conceded some soldiers may have committed crimes but has rejected charges of “ethnic cleansing.” It has promised to prosecute any officers where there is evidence of wrongdoing.

The military assault involving a little under 2,000 soldiers has presented Aung San Suu Kyi with the first major crisis since her party won elections in late 2015. Many hoped Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, would bring a new era of tolerance after five decades of military rule. While generals remain in control of a significant part of the government, she now faces accusations of failing to oppose human rights abuses.

Suu Kyi’s National Security Adviser Thaung Tun said some individuals may have committed abuses “in the heat of the confrontation.” But he stressed the government did not approve of such conduct. Suu Kyi did not respond to detailed questions from Reuters about events in Rakhine.

The army began its “clearance operation” in Rakhine after Rohingya militants attacked border posts there on Oct. 9. For a month, it tried to pressure villagers to hand over the rebels, without success. That approach changed on Nov. 12-13 in Dar Gyi Zar and the neighbouring village Yae Khat Chaung Gwa Son, marking a sharp escalation of the military operation.

SWEEP: A graphic showing the progression of the army operation. Click here

This article pieces together how events unfolded, drawing on interviews with Rohingya refugees, diplomats, aid workers and Myanmar government officials. Reuters also gained rare access to Myanmar security officials and spoke with a Rohingya militant leader.

The reconstruction of the military operation contains previously unreported details about army negotiations with villagers over the insurgents, a shift in military strategy and the army units involved. Reuters also learned new details about investigations into alleged atrocities that are being conducted by Myanmar's army and by the home affairs ministry.

The violence was brutal. A 16-year-old girl assaulted in the village of Kyar Gaung Taung, said two soldiers raped her. Speaking in a Bangladesh refugee camp, she said she still suffers anxiety and trauma after the attack.

“I am angry with myself for being Rohingya,” said the teen, whose name Reuters is withholding. “If I had been Bangladeshi or American, I would never have been raped. But they did it to me because I was born Rohingya.”

The army has denied there were widespread abuses and said it was carrying out a legitimate counterinsurgency operation. The army and the ministry of home affairs did not respond to detailed questions from Reuters about events in Rakhine.

“It is possible that individual security officers or individual policemen may have reacted in an excessive manner,” Thaung Tun, the security adviser, said. “But what we want to make clear is that it’s not the policy of the government to condone these excesses.”

After years of persecution, some Rohingya have begun to fight back. A militant group called Harakah al-Yaqin, or “Faith Movement”, was formed by Rohingya living in Saudi Arabia after the 2012 violence, according to the International Crisis Group. Its leader, Ata Ullah, said hundreds of young Rohingya men have joined the ranks of the group, which now wants to be known as the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army. Myanmar’s government estimates it has about 400 fighters.

“In 2012, they killed us and we understood at that time, they would not give us our rights,” said Ata Ullah, speaking by video link from an undisclosed location in Myanmar.

Before dawn on Oct. 9, Rohingya militants staged attacks on border police. The army set about trying to capture the rebels. For a month, it attempted to pressure villagers to give up the insurgents, according to Rohingya elders and villagers.

The village of Kyet Yoe Pyin, located on the main road north to Bangladesh in northwest Rakhine, was one of the first to draw the army’s attention on Oct. 13, according to a military intelligence source. Insurgents had used logs to erect roadblocks near the settlement of 1,300 houses, blocking the way for military vehicles, residents and the military intelligence source said. In retaliation, about 400 soldiers burned down a part of Kyet Yoe Pyin and shot several people, according to four villagers. Officials have blamed insurgents and villagers themselves for the burning of homes.

After a few days of trying unsuccessfully to capture the insurgents, the soldiers asked village elders to negotiate. The meeting took place in western Kyet Yoe Pyin. About 300 soldiers crowded the road while four commanders led the talks with five Rohingya men, according to a village elder who attended the meeting. The talks, confirmed by the military intelligence source, were an example of the army's attempts in those early weeks to pressure the villagers to help identify the rebels.

“Their first question was: ‘Who cut the trees?’ We told them we didn’t know,” the village elder recounted. “They told us: ‘We will give you a chance: You can either give us the names of the insurgents, or we will kill you’.”

The officers visited Kyet Yoe Pyin on several further occasions, asking about insurgents and taking money in exchange for leaving the remaining houses untouched, the villagers said. A variation of this scene was repeated in other villages in the weeks leading up to Nov. 12, residents said.

TWO WEEKS

On Nov. 12, this low-grade violence escalated abruptly when the army clashed with rebels north of two villages in northwestern Rakhine – Rahim’s village Dar Gyi Zar, a settlement of more than 400 houses, and Yae Khat Chaung Gwa Son, with some 600 houses.

Muhammad Ismail, another Rohingya teacher from Dar Gyi Zar, said the army spotted insurgents a few kilometres to the north of his village at around 4 a.m. After a two-hour shootout, the militants fled towards neighbouring Yae Khat Chaung Gwa Son, where fighting resumed in the afternoon. The area is densely forested, and residents could not say how many militants there were.

The leader of the insurgents, Ata Ullah, said he and his men found themselves surrounded. “We had to fight,” he told Reuters. He did not say how many insurgents were involved in the clash.

During a day-long battle, some villagers joined the insurgents, fighting the security forces with knives and sticks, according to Ata Ullah and the military. A senior officer was killed and the army brought in two helicopters mounted with guns as back-up, according to official accounts, which described the incident as an ambush by the insurgents.

The helicopters swooped in around 4 p.m., hovering low over the road connecting Dar Gyi Zar and Yae Khat Chaung Gwa Son, according to eyewitnesses. The villagers dispersed in panic as one of the helicopters sprayed the insurgents with bullets. The other helicopter fired indiscriminately on those fleeing, five eyewitnesses said. The military intelligence source confirmed that the helicopters dispersed the crowd but denied they shot at civilians.

LABOUR: Rohingya refugee workers carrying bags of salt this month in a processing yard in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh. REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain

It marked the start of an offensive across a section of northwest Rakhine that lasted about two weeks, according to villagers, aid workers and human rights monitors and a review of satellite imagery from Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. Security and administrative officials confirmed the scope of the sweep but said they were not aware of abuses.

Whole communities fled north towards larger villages and then west to Bangladesh, pursued by the army. Women who were raped said the soldiers shouted “go to Bangladesh.”

Three doctors from small clinics near refugee camps in Bangladesh have described treating some three dozen cases of Rohingya women whom they say were raped.

“I treated one woman. She was so badly raped she had lost sensation in her lower limbs,” said John Sarkar, 40, a Bangladeshi doctor who has worked with Rohingya refugees for eight years.

National Security Adviser Thaung Tun said a commission, set up by Suu Kyi in December and chaired by vice president Myint Swe, a former head of military intelligence, needed time to investigate.

“We find it really difficult to believe that the Myanmar military would use (sexual violence) as a tool, sex slaves or rape as a weapon. In Myanmar this is repulsive, it’s not acceptable,” he said.

The Suu Kyi appointed investigation is one of several. The army is conducting an internal probe and the ministry of home affairs, which is controlled by the army, is also carrying out an inquiry. Separately, the United Nations has ordered a fact-finding mission to examine allegations of human rights abuses.

A senior government source and a senior military source said the commander of the army division that led the operation, Major General Khin Maung Soe, had been questioned by investigators in the army probe. The army did not respond to Reuters questions about Khin Maung Soe’s role and Reuters was unable to contact him directly.

The ministry of home affairs, meanwhile, is examining 21 cases, including five suspected murders, six rapes, two cases of looting and one case of arson and seven unexplained deaths, according to police colonel Shwe Thaung. Investigators were seeking the army’s cooperation to interrogate soldiers.

LEFT BEHIND

When the sun went down on the villages of Dar Gyi Zar and Yae Khat Chaung Gwa Son on Nov. 12, the fighting stopped. “The night was tense. Some people sneaked out to neighbouring villages. Others were preparing to move first thing in the morning,” said Muhammad Ismail, the Rohingya teacher who witnessed fighting.

But at dawn the next day, soldiers encircled the two villages and set the houses on fire, five eyewitnesses said.

Those who could, fled. But the elderly and the infirm stayed. From the rice field where he hid, Rahim said he saw soldiers shooting indiscriminately.

Police reports from the period confirm that security forces focused their attention on about 10 villages - Dar Gyi Zar, Yae Khat Chaung Gwa Son and other settlements nearby. They detained nearly 400 people between Nov. 12 and 30, according to a senior administrator in the state capital of Sittwe who received the daily dispatches.

The administrator, who briefed Reuters on condition of anonymity, said the reports described a lawful counterinsurgency operation.

One of the villages that bore the brunt of the post-Nov. 12 crackdown was Kyar Gaung Taung, a settlement of about 300 houses in northwest Rakhine.

Residents say that for five days starting around Nov. 16, security forces swooped in, searching for men. As in neighbouring villages, they arrested or killed most working-age men, and gathered the women in groups, carrying out invasive body searches.

Reuters talked to 17 people from Kyar Gaung Taung from November through March by telephone and in person in Bangladeshi camps, including five rape victims, three close relatives of those raped and several village elders. They corroborated one another’s accounts.

Shamshida, a 30-year-old mother of six, was ordered to come out of her house.

ASSAULTED: Shamshida, 30, a rape victim, puts on a Burqa before going outside this month at a refugee camp in Bangladesh. REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain

“One of the soldiers put a machete to my chest and bit me on the back. Then, they started picking women from the group gathered on the road. I was selected and pulled inside the house. I knelt down thinking that may help and the last thing I remember was one of the soldiers kicking me in the head,” said Shamshida, who identifies with a single name.

When her husband and her sister found her several hours later, she was stripped naked, unconscious, covered in bruises and bleeding from her mouth and her vagina.

They carried her to the neighbouring village of U Shey Kya several hundred metres away, where she regained consciousness, was showered and taken care of by a village doctor.

After eight days, she returned to her village, where there were no men left and many houses were burned down.

Doctors in Bangladesh said the Rohingya women they treated had torn vaginal tissue and scars inside their mouths from having guns inserted. In some cases, the women couldn’t walk and had to be carried by relatives to the clinics. Many were covered in bruises and bite marks.

Sarkar, the Bangladeshi doctor, and others administered abortion-inducing kits, painkillers and antibiotics. In cases where the kits didn’t work, they referred the women to regional hospitals for abortions.

As thousands of Rohingya were fleeing across the river border to Bangladesh, Suu Kyi was not in the country. In early December she went to Singapore, attending meetings and a ceremony to have a purple orchid named after her in the city-state’s botanic gardens.

POWERFUL GENERALS: Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, Myanmar's commander-in-chief, shakes hands with National League for Democracy party leader Aung San Suu Kyi in December 2015. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun

Suu Kyi’s defenders, including some Western diplomats, say she is hamstrung by a military-drafted constitution that left the army in control of key security ministries and much of the apparatus of the state. Suu Kyi may be playing a long game, these diplomats said - back the military for now and coax the generals into accepting a rewriting of the constitution to reduce their power.

During her trip, Suu Kyi gave an interview to state broadcaster Channel News Asia, in which she accused the international community of “always drumming up cause for bigger fires of resentment,” adding it didn’t help “if everybody is just concentrating on the negative side of the situation.” She appealed for understanding of her nation’s ethnic complexities, and said the world should not forget that the military operation was launched in response to the Rohingya insurgents’ attacks on border posts.

Rahim, the village schoolteacher, and his family were among thousands of Rohingya who made the 2 kilometer (1.2 mile) river crossing to Bangladesh.

On April 8, in a Bangladesh refugee camp, Rahim’s wife Rasheda gave birth to their first boy, Futu, or “little son.” Rahim doesn’t know whether Futu will ever see his homeland.

Simon Lewis and Wa Lone reported from Naypyitaw  

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Command structure of the Myanmar army’s operation in Rakhine

By Wa Lone

On the ground, the military operation in Rakhine State has been overseen by Major General Maung Maung Soe, the chief of the army’s Western Command, one of 14 regional commands operating across Myanmar, said a military intelligence source and a senior army officer familiar with the operation.

The Western Command is overseen in turn by the Bureau of Special Operations in the capital city of Naypyitaw, which reports to the office of the Commander in Chief of the military, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing.

The office of the Commander in Chief did not respond to detailed questions from Reuters about the Rakhine operation.

The Western Command is divided into three main divisions. One of these divisions, the 15 Light Infantry Division (15 LID), is stationed in the region of Buthidaung, next to the Maungdaw region where the army’s “clearance operation” has taken place. The 15 LID has led the fighting, said the army officer and the military intelligence source.

That division is further broken down into 10 battalions, each with an estimated fighting force of about 400 soldiers.

Each of the battalions has four companies and one artillery section and is led by a commander in the rank of lieutenant colonel, the senior army source said. Each battalion also consists of units in charge of first aid, logistics, transportation, communications, engineering and construction.

The key groups leading the operation against the Rohingya have been battalions Nos. 352, 551, 564 and 345, the sources said. The senior army source said a little under 2,000 soldiers operated in the area.

A senior government source and the senior army source said the commander of 15 LID, Major General Khin Maung Soe, had been questioned by investigators conducting an internal military probe into alleged abuses.

The army did not respond to a question about Khin Maung Soe’s role and Reuters was unable to contact him directly.

The senior army source said military investigators have also questioned the general’s deputy and other soldiers with key responsibilities on the ground. The source cautioned that investigators were still gathering preliminary information and no charges have been brought against Khin Maung Soe and others.


Rohingya Exodus
By Antoni Slodkowski, Wa Lone, Simon Lewis and Krishna Das
Photo editing: Thomas White
Graphics: Simon Scarr, Weiyi Cai, Wen Foo and Jin Wu
Design: Catherine Tai
Edited by Janet McBride, Peter Hirschberg and Richard Woods

Rohingya Exodus