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Rohingya crisis: UN aid call as '290,000 flee' Myanmar

The UN says 60,000 new shelters are needed (EPA)

September 9, 2017

Aid groups urgently need $77m (£58m) to help Rohingya Muslims who have fled Myanmar for Bangladesh since violence erupted two weeks ago, the UN says.

About 290,000 Rohingya are said to have fled Rakhine state and sought shelter in Bangladesh since 25 August.

There is a desperate need for food, water and health services for new arrivals in Cox's Bazaar, the UN added.

Those fleeing say Myanmar's military are burning their villages - something the military denies.

The violence began on 25 August when Rohingya militants attacked police posts in Myanmar's northern Rakhine state. 

Rohingya residents - a stateless, mostly Muslim minority in Buddhist-majority Myanmar - say the military and Rakhine Buddhists responded with a brutal campaign against them. 

Myanmar rejects this, saying its military is fighting against Rohingya "terrorists".

Aid agencies in Bangladesh's Cox's Bazaar say they are overwhelmed by the numbers fleeing, while reporters at the scene have described seeing thousands of Rohingya waiting at roadsides, begging and chasing food trucks.

An AP reporter saw one man collapsing from hunger while queuing at a food distribution point.

The UN Resident Co-ordinator in Bangladesh, Robert Watkins, said: "With the movement of people showing no signs of stopping, it is vital that agencies working in Cox's Bazaar have the resources they need to provide emergency assistance to incredibly vulnerable people who have been forced to flee their homes and have arrived in Bangladesh with nothing."

"There is now an urgent need for 60,000 new shelters, as well as food, clean water and health services, including specialist mental health services and support for survivors of sexual violence."

Those who have fled northern Rakhine state describe village burnings, beatings and killings at the hands of the security forces and Buddhist youths. 

The Myanmar government says it is the Rohingya militants and the Muslim villagers themselves who are burning their own homes and attacking non-Muslims - many of whom have also fled the violence.

But a BBC reporter in Rakhine state on Thursday saw a Muslim village being burned, apparently by a group of Rakhine Buddhists, contradicting the official version of events.

Also on Saturday, rights group Amnesty International accused Myanmar's military of planting landmines at the border with Bangladesh, where many Rohingya are fleeing.

Bangladeshi border guards and villagers have told the BBC that they witnessed more than a hundred Myanmar soldiers walking by and apparently planting landmines at the border.

Bangladeshi officials have said they believe Myanmar government forces are planting the landmines to stop the Rohingya returning to their villages. They have summoned the Myanmar ambassador in Dhaka to protest over the matter.

A Myanmar military source said no landmines had been planted recently, while a government spokesman told Reuters more information was needed, adding: "Who can surely say those mines were not laid by the terrorists?"

Aid groups say they are overwhelmed by the number of Rohingya fleeing Myanmar (AFP)

The Rohingya plight is sparking concern and protests in many nations, and Myanmar's de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi has been criticised for failing to protect them. 

Various world leaders have urged Ms Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace laureate who spent years under house arrest for her pro-democracy activism, to speak out on behalf of the Rohingya.

On Saturday, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said the Rohingya had received "no mercy" and been "tortured, discriminated, killed and raped". He added that the Myanmar government's lack of response was "disappointing". 

Meanwhile, the Pakistani government said it had summoned Myanmar's ambassador in protest at "the ongoing violence against the Rohingya Muslims".

Earlier in the week, Ms Suu Kyi - who faces strong anti-Rohingya sentiment in Myanmar - claimed the crisis in Rakhine state was being distorted by a "huge iceberg of misinformation".

She subsequently said that Myanmar had "to take care of everybody who is in our country, whether or not they are our citizens", and said Myanmar would "try our best" despite inadequate resources.

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