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A demonstration over identity cards at a Rohingya refugee camp in Bangladesh in April, 2018. Image: NurPhoto/SIPA USA/PA Images.

By Natalie Brinham | Published by Open Democracy on October 21, 2018

Wary of the past, Rohingya have frustrated the UN’s attempts to provide them with documentation.

In 2016, Nural, as a leader in a Rohingya village in Rathedaung, was called to a meeting by a high-ranking officer from the Myanmar Border Guard Police. There, Nural and the gathered village leaders were told all Rohingya must now accept identity cards, known as nationality verification cards (NVCs), or they would “no longer be allowed to remain in the country” and be “driven out”. Despite the risk of speaking out, Nural raised his voice in the meeting, “These NVC cards make us into foreigners who are supposed to apply for citizenship. We are already citizens of this country.” In his frustration and anger, he pounded his fist on the table three times. Four armed officers pointed their guns at his head, escorted him out of the room and handcuffed him to a chair. Fortunately, he was not among the 30 men who were arrested in the village that day. He was not the man who was shot dead while running away from the guards that came searching for his father-in-law. He was not the man who was sentenced to seven years in prison, or the one who was blinded in one eye by police beatings. His village escaped being burnt that day – only to be razed a year later.

Nural is only educated to primary level, but he knows well the history of his people. He knows his Rohingya forefathers have resided in the north Rakhine region centuries before the Burmese generals in power now, who are Johnny-come-latelies by comparison. He knows that his parents and grandparents carried the same citizenship cards and had the same rights as all other citizens of independent Myanmar. And that Rohingyas’ proof of citizenship and belonging has been systematically removed over the past thirty-five years through the confiscation, destruction, nullification, and targeted non-issuance of documents, all carried out by multiple civilian and military agencies under a single command. He is sure that NVCs are just the latest in a long-line of ID cards that attempt to recategorise Rohingya as foreigners, attack their group identity and remove their rights.

In all Rohingya communities, village chairmen and yar ein hmu (leaders of 100 households) like Nural were ordered to accept the cards. They were told if they did not, they would be dismissed from their positions and punished under the law. Some held out – others could not. Nural tells me with pride that his was one of eight villages in Rathedaung that stood united against the NVCs. He, himself, held out. He was just one of many Rohingya who resisted the destruction of their identity as a group indigenous to the Rakhine region by refusing the cards. 

Now, after having fled across the border into Bangladesh, Rohingya are facing a new chapter in their struggle against identity cards. But this time threat is coming from an unexpected source – the United Nations refugee agency – who have proposed a form of documentation which Rohingya claim is almost identical to the cards imposed by the Myanmar state.

Nationality verification and genocide

Between 2016 and 2017, villages were subjected to night-time “security” raids which villagers say were linked to the NVC cards. One man described with tears of anger and sadness that his older brother died after being bitten by a snake while hiding in the forest one night. As the men hid, they left behind women and girls who were repeatedly subjected to sexual violence at the hands of the security forces. “I cannot even speak of what happened to our women, while we hid.” he said.Across ten focus groups and multiple in-depth interviews, I have been told that without the NVCs, school children were not allowed to sit for final examinations, fishermen could no longer fish, cattle traders could no longer go to market, businessmen could no longer pass through checkpoints, parents could no longer register the births of their children, prisoners could not be released at the end of their sentences, sick people could not go to the hospital, and retirees could no longer draw their salaries. It became barely possible to eke out a living, support a family or survive. The attempted enforcement of identity cards was, and still is, aiding, what the Indian philosopher Amartya Sen has described as, a “slow genocide” in Myanmar. But still communities hold out. Rohingya accounts of the enforced issuance of NVCs are full of heroism, tragedy, unity, pride and occasionally shame, where they could no longer endure.

In focus groups, I have often heard NVCs refered to as "genocide cards" by Rohingyas. Following the outbreak of violence in August 2017, the vast majority of Rohingya fled their homelands; many were killed or driven out of the country by terror, their homes burned, and their lands stolen by the state. A nationality verification process, originally (and sometimes still) promoted by international agencies as “a pathway to citizenship” for “stateless” Rohingya, has compounded the physical, symbolic and cultural destruction of a group.

Unsurprisingly, the 800,000 Rohingya in Bangladesh’s refugee camps are insistent that among their conditions of return to Myanmar is the end of NVCs or NVC-like procedures.¹ They are demanding an end to being labelled “Bengalis”, “foreigners” or “stateless.” They want their citizenship to be recognised and to be called by their own name, Rohingya, as an indigenous group of Myanmar. It is not simply a matter of access to citizenship rights. It is also a matter of safety, security and survival.

Resistance to UNHCR’s “smart cards” in Bangladesh refugee camps

Displaced Rohingya are also uniting in their resistance to another kind of ID card – the “smart cards” being issued by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Despite a deep and tangible yearning to return home, they are resisting premature or forced repatriations by refusing to accept UNHCR-issued biometric “smart cards”. These cards are being issued following the memorandum of understanding between the UNHCR, the United Nations Development Programme and the Myanmar government relating to repatriations to Myanmar. Although the UNHCR and the Bangladesh government claim the cards will not lead to immediate repatriation, Rohingya are understandably wary. The UNHCR are in a predicament. Without issuing cards, they struggle to “be operational.” But Rohingya are resolute in their rejection – operations or not.

A demonstration during a UN Security visit at a Rohingya camp on 29 April, 2018. Image: NurPhoto/SIPA USA/PA Images

On a visit to a refugee camp in Bangladesh to ask people about citizenship in Myanmar, not smart cards, it soon becomes apparent that the two are linked. The small crowd that gathers around me as I sit in a small open-air shelter steadily grows as the conversation moves on to smart cards. “Please do something about the smart cards, please”, one young refugee begs of me.

Reports have been circulating for several months among the camp population that there may be shadowy organisations offering 500 Bangladeshi Taka to each family willing to break ranks and take the cards, or that beatings by security officers taking place outside the UNHCR office are doled out for those that refuse. There’s buzzing concern and a subdued sense of confusion and betrayal that a group of residents in another camp have reportedly accepted UNHCR’s smart cards. In almost all of my conversations with refugees over the past two months, the issue of “smart cards” has come up as a major concern related to safety and security on return to their homelands in Myanmar.

So, what’s wrong with the cards? Firstly, Rohingya are asking that they be recognised on the cards as “refugees”, a term the Bangladesh government is reluctant to entertain fearing it will contribute to the protracted nature of the Rohingya refugee issue in Bangladesh. For Rohingya, whose family and oral histories are ingrained with accounts of repatriations at gunpoint over the past 40 years and the confiscation, destruction and nullification of the documents that prove their citizenship on return, the term “refugee” offers some degree of international protection. It also offers proof that they crossed from their home in Myanmar. Myanmar has labelled past returnees “Bengalis” and the UNHCR, who has presided over the monitoring of returnees in the past, has been powerless to prevent further abuses.

Secondly, refugees are insisting that the UNHCR cards carry the term “Rohingya”, running contrary to the agency’s practice of not stating ethnic identities on ID cards, lest it result in discrimination. Rohingya demands for recording their identity as a group indigenous to the Rakhine region of Myanmar, relate not to international practices but to practices within Myanmar in which the only variety of citizenship worth having is one based on the membership of an ethnic group considered by the state to be pre-colonial or indigenous – one recorded on all documents. Since these refugees have been targeted for no other reason than their membership of a group, Rohingya understand that the public acknowledgement of their ethnic identity by the Myanmar state is absolutely essential in halting and preventing the ultimate crime against a group, genocide.

Thirdly, and most significantly, Rohingya repeatedly state that “the smart card is the same as the NVC card”. They have an important point here – smart cards may well not be so different from NVCs in terms of outcomes. All biometric and biographical information handed over to the UNHCR will be shared with the Myanmar government in the event of repatriations, and this can then be used, to produce the identification cards issued by the Myanmar state. But much more importantly, as one bright young refugee explains, jabbing aggressively with his finger at clause 15 of the leaked MOU between UNHCR, UNDP and Myanmar on repatriations, the agreement states after Myanmar has carried out the “necessary verifications” they will issue “appropriate identification papers” and provide a “pathway to citizenship to those eligible”. In short, the ID cards issued on return, using the data from the UNHCR smart cards, will either be NVC cards or something very similar, that require Rohingya to have their nationality verified by a government that has systematically removed evidence of their citizenship and evidence of Rohingya existence, as part of a 40-year genocidal process. If returnees are lucky, or perhaps unlucky, they may be provided with a citizenship document that labels and stigmatises them as “Bengali” – but certainly not “Rohingya”, not indigenous and not entitled to the same rights as other citizens.

The poisoned chalice of “pathways to citizenship” 

What is even more problematic for Rohingya is that the UNHCR along with other international agencies have since the 1990s promoted “pathways to citizenship” as the way to resolve what they have historically understood to be Rohingya’s de jure statelessness. The “temporary registration cards” or “white cards” issued to Rohingya from 1995 onwards, during the UNHCR’s time in the Rakhine state, gave material form to the international rhetoric that Rohingya were “stateless”. One high profile camp-based Rohingya activist claimed, “when UNHCR told us to accept these white cards in Myanmar, they effectively labelled us as stateless.” Since they had citizenship before the 1982 citizenship law, under the law, they should still be entitled to it.

Rohingya across five countries, have consistently told me how hurtful and harmful they find the label “stateless” as, for many, it suggests that they have never been recognised as citizens. “Pathways to citizenship” is generally a way for international agencies to mediate between a neglectful state and undocumented people. It is perhaps less appropriate in a situation of genocide with the wilful denial of the rights and the existence an indigenous people.

“The good news”, I tell the young guy angrily prodding a copy of the MOU, “is the UN Fact Finding Mission report is the first UN report that does not call you de jure stateless, but de facto stateless. Just like any other refugee in the world. They recommend the reinstatement of your full citizenship.” His smile flickers, but he doesn’t appear reassured.

We can only but hope that the change in discourse brought by the FFM report, which also describes the Rohingya persecution as “genocide”, will help to finally bury the idea of NVC cards as part of a solution for Rohingya. In the refugee camps, it is hard to miss the simmering anger and indelible mistrust of the UNHCR for its inability to ensure voluntariness, safety and rights during two previous rounds of forced repatriations in 1978-9 and 1993-4; and for its lack of refugee consultation and transparency in negotiating the conditions of potential Rohingya returns this year. Promoting smart cards for genocide survivors, as though ID cards can provide a neutral record of external facts about human beings, just isn’t going to wash this time. As one Rohingya political leader told me, “it is impossible for the UNHCR to ensure repatriations if they cannot even issue the smart cards on a voluntary basis.” It’s time to stop talking about “pathways” – treacherous as they have been for Rohingya – and to start listening to Rohingyas’ own understandings and interpretations of how the genocide has played out, including how they feel about the “genocide cards” and “smart cards”. Rohingyas know the significance of these cards, more than anyone else, UN included. The survivors voice must carry the greatest weight.

*Names have been changed to protect interviewees.

¹ See also the UN Special Rapporteur report on Human Rights in Myanmarfor conclusions regarding National Verification Cards.
² Some Rohingya mediahas reported the beatings.

About the author

Natalie Brinham is a PhD student at Queen Mary University of London researching statelessness. She has worked for many years in NGOs in the UK and Southeast Asia on forced migration, trafficking and statelessness in both frontline service provision roles and research and advocacy roles. She holds an MA from UCL Institute of Education and a BA from SOAS.

Buddhist Nationalism in Burma
Institutionalized racism against the Rohingya Muslims led Burma to genocide

By Maung Zarni

Rohingya are categorically darker-skinned people—sometimes called by the slur “Bengali kalar.” Indeed, the lighter-skinned Buddhists of Burma are not alone in their fear of dark-skinned people and belief that the paler the skin, the more desirable, respectable, and protected one is.


The Slow-Burning Genocide of Myanmar’s Rohingya

By Zarni, Maung; Cowley, Alice

Since 2012, the Rohingya have been subject to renewed waves of hate campaigns and accompanying violence, killings and ostracization that aim both to destroy the Rohingya and to permanently remove them from their ancestral homes in Rakhine State. Findings from the authors’ three-year research on the plight of the Rohingya lead us to conclude that Rohingya have been subject to a process of slow-burning genocide over the past thirty-five years. The destruction of the Rohingya is carried out both by civilian populations backed by the state and perpetrated directly by state actors and state institutions. Both the State in Burma and the local community have committed four out of five acts of genocide as spelled out by the 1948 Convention on the Punishment and Prevention of the Crime of Genocide. Despite growing evidence of genocide, the international community has so far avoided calling this large scale human suffering genocide because no powerful member states of the UN Security Council have any appetite to forego their commercial and strategic interests in Burma to address the slow-burning Rohingya genocide.



By Maung Zarni 
March 14, 2017

The 1.33 million Rohingya Muslims may be “too many to kill,” but that has not stopped the state security forces or the local ultra-nationalist Rakhine from carrying out waves of pogroms against the Rohingya. The state's racist draconian policies make life so unbearable that the Rohingya would rather risk their lives on voyages across the high seas than wait like sitting ducks to be slaughtered in their ghettos or “open-air prisons,” as the BBC put it. 


An Evolution of Rohingya Persecution in Myanmar: From Strategic Embrace to Genocide

By Alice Cowley and Maung Zarni 
April 20, 2017

“Send us as many birth control pills as you can. They (Myanmar troops) are gang-raping our women. They are arresting and killing all our men. There is nothing else you can do. Just pray to Allah and to wish us speedy deaths! This is just simply unbearable,” said a Rohingya woman talking from her mobile phone from Myanmar’s predominantly Rohingya region of Northern Rakhine State bordering Bangladesh.


Waves of Genocidal Terror against Rohingyas by Myanmar and the Resultant Exodus Since 1978

By Maung Zarni and Natalie Brinham
November 14, 2017

International lawyers, U.N. officials and world leaders may and do debate as to whether Myanmar’s mass atrocities constitute the crime of all crimes, a genocide. But over one million Rohingya refugees, displaced in Bangladesh, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Malaysia, India and other countries and the smaller number that are being trapped inside Northern Rakhine State between the unwelcoming world and the hateful Burmese society do not have the luxury of deciding what to call the crimes they have been subjected to for nearly 40 years. 


Maung Zarni -- Myanmar's Slow-Burning Genocide of the Rohingya People

By Euan McKirdy
April 7, 2018

As tens of millions of Americans come to grips with revelations that data from Facebook may have been used to sway the 2016 presidential election, on the other side of the world, rights groups say hatemongers have taken advantage of the social network to widely disseminate inflammatory, anti-Muslim speech in Myanmar.

The rhetoric is aimed almost exclusively at the disenfranchised Rohingya Muslim minority, a group which has been the target of a sustained campaign of violence and abuse by the Myanmar military, which claims it is targeting terrorists.

Human rights activists inside the country and out tell CNN that posts range from recirculated news articles from pro-government outlets, to misrepresented or faked photos and anti-Rohingya cartoons.

A Rohingya refugee looks out from a school window at Kutupalong refugee camp in Bangladesh's Ukhia district.

In response to the flood of hate-filled posts, a cross-Myanmar group of tech firms and NGOs has written an open letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, lambasting what they term the "inadequate response of the Facebook team" to escalating rhetoric on the platform in Myanmar.

Citing conversations the group says it unearthed on Facebook's Messenger service, which issue calls to arms against Muslims over a fabricated "jihad" planned for September 2017, it stated that the examples show "clear examples of (Facebook) tools being used to incite real harm.

Facebook Messenger conversations, screenshotted and included with an open letter to Mark Zuckerberg from Myanmar tech companies.

"Far from being stopped, they spread in an unprecedented way, reaching country-wide and causing widespread fear and at least three violent incidents in the process."

The letter cited an interview Zuckerberg did with Vox's Ezra Klein, in which he said Facebook's "systems detected" the hate speech. The letter surmised that by "systems" Zuckerberg meant the signatories of the letter -- third party vendors in Myanmar which, the letter admits, were "far from systematic" in their detection of hate speech.

Calling it "the opposite of effective moderation," the group also chided Facebook for what it called a lack of proper mechanisms for emergency escalation, a reticence to engage local stakeholders and a lack of transparency.

Zuckerberg told Vox hate speech is "a real issue, and we want to make sure that all of the tools that we're bringing to bear on eliminating hate speech, inciting violence, and basically protecting the integrity of civil discussions that we're doing in places like Myanmar, as well as places like the US that do get a disproportionate amount of the attention."

Young men browse Facebook on their smartphones as they sit in a street in Yangon.

Sudden surge

New research suggests Facebook played a key role as extremists sought to escalate the conflict in Myanmar.

Data analyst Raymond Serrato looked at posts from Myanmar citizens over the course of 2017, determining that there was a massive spike in hate-speech posts following an August military campaign in the country's western Rakhine state, home to the majority of the country's Rohingya.

The campaign was initially sparked when an insurgent group, the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, called for an uprising -- one which was easily quelled by the government.

The failed attempt led to the large-scale purge, which the UN has called "ethnic cleansing," and a subsequent refugee crisis, which has seen 700,000 Rohingya forced from their homes and across the border into neighboring Bangladesh. Myanmar denies the intentional killing of civilians, and insists that operations targeted terrorists.

Serrato said he was "surprised by the intensity" and frequency of the anti-Rohingya posts.

"In August, when ARSA called on the Rohingya to rise up, (we were) surprised by the speed at which (anti-Rohingya voices) weaponized social media."

Facebook has 'turned into a beast'

In March, Facebook was accused by the UN of "substantively" contributing to the "level of acrimony" against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar.

Marzuki Darusman, the chair of a United Nations probe into human rights in Myanmar, said "hate speech and incitement to violence on social media is rampant, particularly on Facebook" and largely "goes unchecked."

His colleague, the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, added that "we know ultra-nationalist Buddhists... are really inciting a lot of violence and a lot of hatred against the Rohingya or other ethnic minorities.

"I'm afraid that Facebook has now turned into a beast, and not what it originally intended" to be, she said.

Instrument of 'hate and racism'

Human rights activist Zarni, who like some in the country, goes by only one name, told CNN the platform is neutral, but "what is toxic is the state. (Lee) said Facebook has turned into a beast, (but in fact) the beasts are using Facebook."

He says the main provocateurs are "operating in very powerful institutions -- the military and monastic networks; the two major pillars of Burmese society." Among the offenders, at least until his ban from the platform, was the infamous ultra-nationalist monk Wirathu.

Controversial Myanmar monk Wirathu speaking during an interview at a monastery in Myanmar's second biggest city of Mandalay.

In 2015, he told CNN that Muslims "take many wives and they have many children. And when their population grows they threaten us." "And," he concluded, "they are violent."

Thaw Parka, a spokesman for Ma Ba Tha, a Buddhist nationalist group associated with the controversial monk, says critics "cherry pick (Wirathu's) extreme words."

A Facebook spokesperson told Reuters it suspends and sometimes removes anyone that "consistently shares content promoting hate," in response to a question about Wirathu's account.

Others are not letting the social media giant off the hook. It would be "superficial" to "ignore the conflict between ethnicities," Serrato says, "but Facebook has definitely facilitated it."

Jes Kaliebe Petersen, CEO of Myanmar-based startup accelerator Phandeeyar, says while there is a lot of racist content shared on the platform, "there are also moderate voices that are doing good work not only countering this but spreading moderate narrative, but "get drowned out."

New users, new problems

Myanmar's relative callowness in engaging online is part of the reason the rhetoric has exploded, and been so influential.

The country experienced a "digital leapfrog effect," says Petersen. "Until 2014, there was less than 5% mobile phone penetration, but overnight, SIM cards were offered for (as little as) $1.50," allowing a much greater number of people to buy smartphones.

Myanmar has a "whole new generation of internet users, just coming to terms with what you can do online," he says.

Facebook's ubiquity in the country -- the UN's Darusman says, in Myanmar, "social media is Facebook, and Facebook is social media" -- only serves to multiply hate speech's virality.

Activist Sein Thein says the burden of responsibility for the online rhetoric should not fall entirely on Facebook's shoulders, and that Myanmar's citizens "need to be mature" when they are online.

Facebook: We're combating hate

In order to combat the platform being used for hate speech against the Muslim minority, Facebook said it has "invested significantly in technology and local language expertise" in Myanmar following the UN accusations.

"There is no place for hate speech or content that promotes violence on Facebook, and we work hard to keep it off our platform," a spokesperson told CNN.

The spokesperson said the company has worked with experts in Myanmar for several years to produce a community standards page for Myanmar "and regular training sessions for civil society and local community groups across the country."

It is hard for Facebook to monitor the rise of hate speech in the country, Petersen says, partly due to language difficulties.

"There's an intention to enforce them but it's not being followed." Petersen says his company, Phandeeyar, helped Facebook translate its community standards into Burmese.

In response to the March UN accusations, Myanmar government spokesman Zaw Htay said his government and Facebook are "promoting cooperation and coordination for the Myanmar people to understand the community standards of Facebook."

On Facebook he said supporters of the Rohingya were also using social media to "spread... disinformation around the world."

The group that sent the open letter to Zuckerberg, co-signed by Phandeeyar, urged the tech mogul "to invest more into moderation -- particularly in countries, such as Myanmar, where Facebook has rapidly come to play a dominant role in how information is accessed and communicated."

Long history

Zarni says the country has a "long ideological tradition by which genocides are acceptable," which can partially be explained by support of the enemies of the then-British empire, including the Nazis, in resistance to British rule in the 1930s and 40s.

"I came from that society, I grew up with it. In the 1930s, we were quoting Hitler left and right in Burma," he said, using the colonial-era name for the country.

"What really has emboldened the Burmese public behavior in terms of their social media interactions is the military -- the military has taken up an entirely new function, it's not only the (defense of what it sees as its) territory, but defense of culture, society, religion and race."

Silence condemned

The country's de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, has been criticized for her silence in the face of the country's treatment of the minority.

"She will not do anything (to defend the Rohingya) -- she struggled more than 15 years to get this position," Rohingya rights defender Nay San Lwin says.

"She will never speak for any minority. If she (sympathizes with) the oppressed people, she will lose her position. She's never been a human rights defender, she's a politician."

Suu Kyi and her supporters meanwhile have accused the international press of exaggerating the crisis and constructing a "huge iceberg of misinformation" which is negatively affecting her ability to run the country.

However in September 2017 she acknowledged the issue, saying her administration also wanted to "find out what the real problems were," according to the Financial Times, and agreed to implement the recommendations of the UN-led Rakhine Advisory Commission.

CNN's Angus Watson and Bex Wright contributed to this report.

You've gotta love former British Ambassador Derek Tonkin!

Genocidal Khmer Rouge chaps were "delightful". 

Berlin Conference organisers are "Fakes".

Apartheid was 'very complex', anti-apartheid activism was useless.

Former British Ambassador Derek Tonkin has shown no conscience, compassion or wisdom, despite his age (almost 90) and Oxford education. 

No wonder Myanmar Governments quote him extensively.

He calls organisers of the upcoming Berlin Conference "fake".

He described Khmer Rouge diplomats who had lunch with "delightful" - despite the deep knowledge of 2 million deaths.

He argued anti-apartheid movement made not the slightest difference.

He described apartheid as "very complex" which only he understood, having been a pro-apartheid British diplomat in Pretoria at its height. 

He wrote a rather nasty blog on his Network Myanmar, a front for commercial advisory work with those interested in doing business with the Burmese military, about the Oslo Conference held at the Norwegian Nobel Institute in May 2015 as "she·nan·i·gans" - dishonest activities.

- Zarni

The Rt. Hon. Theresa May,

MP Prime Minister Government of the United Kingdom
10 Downing Street, London SW1A 2AA

Berlin, 30th January 2018

Your Excellency

I am Khin Maung Saw, a retired lecturer in the Department of Burma Studies, Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Humboldt University, Berlin, Germany. I used to work also as a 'Scholar in Residence' at Ohio University, Athens, Ohio, U.S..A. Currently, I am elected as a patron and an advisor of the World Arakanese Organisation (WAO), Europe Branch.

As a historian, let me approach the current affairs of the Northern Rakhine State of Myanmar from the historical point of view.

I. Are the Rohingyas an ethnic group of Myanmar (Burma)?

There are eight major ethnic groups in Myanmar (Burma) such as Bama (Burman or Burmese), Chin, Kachin, Karen, Kayah (Karenni), Mon, Rakhine (Arakanese) and other small native ethnic groups, all together 135. The name 'Rohingya' is not the name of an ethnic group in Burma, instead it is an invented name.

Since some parts of Burma, particularly Arakan, was a British Colony from 1826 to 1947, the British authorities then made very proper administrative records. Please check in the British Archives whether the name 'Rohingyas' was ever mentioned there or not. The name 'Rohingya' was neither recorded in Burmese History nor in Indian History written by British, Portuguese, Dutch and native historians. All British Colonial Archives had proven that there was no such an ethnic group called 'Rohingya', neither in British Burma nor in the British Indian Empire.

In 1971 the Independence War in East Pakistan broke out. It started on 26th March 1971 and ended on 16th December in the same year. At that time, according to BBC news, there were about one and a half million to two million East Pakistani war refugees in Arakan Division of Burma. In the mean time, there were more than ten million war refugees on Indian soil. In 1975 the Bangladeshi ambassador in Burma, K.N. Kaiser, admitted to the then British ambassador to Burma, Mr. T.J. O’Brien that there were still about five hundred thousand illegal Bangladeshi immigrants inside Burma. That report can be seen in the National Archives in London, Folio 35 on File FCO 15/2041.

Another factor is the population explosion in Bangladesh. When the nation of Bangladesh was established in 1971, it's population was only 65 million but now it reached 170 million. Because of this population explosion, there is no longer enough space in their motherland and Bengali Muslims from Bangladesh are immigrating illegally into two of her neignbours, namely India and Myanmar (Burma), by crossing the porous border either secretly or due to the corruption of border authorities. The communal riots with blood bath in the Indian State of Assam is an evidence.

Since these 'Rohingya' people confess polygamy do not use birth control methods and contraceptives their population growth is much higher than other ethnic groups. In this way, they became 95% of the population in Maungdaw District. That means, they are the majorities and NOT minorities. Because of their men waves Rakhaings (Arakanese) unfortunately became a minority in their native soil, Northern Arakan.

These Chittagonian Bengali Muslims have created the term “Rohingya" which has a meaning “the natives of Arakan” in Bengali language Chittagaung dialect (Rohan = Arakan and “Gya” or “Ja” means “Native”). That’s why the real Arakanese (Rakhaings) as well as the whole populace cannot accept that term.

The majority of the so-called Rohingyas cannot speak Burmese. They speak only their mother tongue which is Bengali Chittagong Dialect. They cannot communicate with any natives of Myanmar (Burma) because of language barrier, however, when they are in Bangladesh they do not have any communication difficulty. When they are in a third country they normally asked for a Bengali interpreter. It will be very obvious if some people who claim to be British but cannot speak English instead ask for a Polish interpreter!

Derek Tonkin with Myanmar Ambassador (Photo: Embassy Magazine)

In his work, Derek Tonkin, a former British Ambassador, wrote in "The 'Rohingya' Identity: The British Experience in Arakan 1826 – 1948": "But supporters of Rakhine Muslims overseas should at the same time acknowledge that the particular designation 'Rohingya' had no serious historical validity prior to independence in 1948".

In the interview with the Irrawaddy Magazine on July 9th 2012 Dr. Jacques Leider, an Arakan expert, answered very clearly:

Jacques P. Leider

Q: Are the Rohingya an ethnic group of Burma?

A: My answer is that Rohingya is not an ethnic concept. Okay, they can stand up and say we are an ethnic group inside Myanmar. But I think that is not the best way. When you argue we are Muslims and we have been living in Rakhine for several generations, nobody can deny it. For me, Rohingya is the term, which is an old word that has been claimed as above all as a political label after the independence of Myanmar. For the moment, I do not see that all the people there readily submit to one and a single label. When I was in Bangladesh, people pointed out Muslims to me who originally lived in Rakhine. They have now moved to Bangladesh and when you ask them, “Are you Rohingya coming from Rakhine?” they say, “No, we are Muslims who lived in Rakhine, we do not take for us the label Rohingya.”

Let me emphasize some points:

It is the nature of peoples living at the borders.

(1) There are Karens & Shans in Burma. These peoples are also in Thailand.
(2) There are Kachins & Shans in Burma. These peoples can be found also in China.
(3) Nagas & Chins can be found in Burma. There are Nagas & Chins also in India.
(4) Rakhaings & Saks inhabit in Burma. These peoples live also in Bangladesh and in India.

However, is it not very strange or ridiculous that the so-called 'Rohingyas' exists only in Burma but not in Bangladesh and in India?

Hence, the term 'Rohingya'is NOT the name of an ethnic group in Myanmar, instead it is a political term invented for a political movement!

It is a wrong statement that the "Rohingya" — have been in Arakan State for generations. There were some Muslims who have been in Arakan for generations but they never named themselves “Rohingyas“. They are Kaman, Myedu and the descendants of Bengali slaves who were recorded by the British authorities as Chittagonian Bengalis and grouped them as non-indigenous ethnic group.

II. ‘Rohingyas’ for Myanmar Citizenship

Almost all natives of Myanmar will have no objection if these so-called "Rohingyas" want to become Myanmar citizens, as long as they can fulfil the requirements. The problem is: Till now almost all ‘Rohingyas’ can speak only their mother tongue which is the Bengali Chittagong Dialect and many of them are illiterates. Apart from that, they are very stubborn and they refused to learn Myanmar (Burmese) instead they demand that their 'Rohingya' language must be accepted as one of the languages spoken in Myanmar (Burma). Furthermore, they can neither salute the Flag of the Union of Myanmar nor sing the Myanmar National Anthem because the Koran instructs a Muslim has to worship only Allah!! That's why most of them cannot get Myanmar citizenship.

These so-called 'Rohingya 'people have to learn how to speak, read and write Myanmar (Burmese) language which is the official language as well as the communication language of one ethnic group to another in the Union of Myanmar. If they do not pass the basic test on the Myanmar language and some general knowledge about Myanmar, how can they be citizens of Myanmar? This kind of test is required in almost all countries on the earth for their naturalized citizens.

In any case, one should not forget the fact that every sovereign nation has their own immigration and naturalization laws which the others should respect. Even "the most democratic country on the earth", the United States of America" do not grant citizenship automatically to many offsprings of the Mexicans who were born inside the U.S.A. because their parents came illegally to the U.S.A. and lived there as illegal immigrants.

The similar problem is also for the People of the Subcontinent, Sri Lanka and the West Indies who reside in The United Kingdom, "the Mother of Democracy". These people came to UK using the right of a citizen of a "British Commonwealth" country. However, they were not granted British citizenship easily. Many of them demonstrated in the U.K. with the slogan "We are here because you were there!"

So do many Turks in Germany. Some of them came to Germany as ‘Guest Workers’ invited by the then West-German Government in the 1950’s. Some of them live there more than 40 years and their children were born in Germany, however, these children won’t be granted German citizenship automatically, unless or otherwise they apply for that and go through some legal procedures.

Hence, I would like to suggest sincerely to the 'Rohingyas' that they should be honest and they should stop demanding for the undeserved right of an ethnic minority status, instead they should ask only for citizenship. Furthermore, they should try to pass the citizenship test, which is needed for aliens in all countries. If they don't want to be called Bengali and want to have a different identity they should suggest another name rather than the unacceptable name 'Rohingya'.

III. Population Growth of the Refugee Camps inside Bangladesh and their claims of military abuse

On one hand Myanmar armed forces are accused for stationing at the border, blocking the"Rohingya Exodus", searching for 'Rohingyas' to kill, rape and torture. On the other hand, the number of Refugees who arrived at the Bangladeshi side increased from zero to six hundred thousand within ten days. If there were numbers of Myanmar police and soldiers stationing at the border and killing them, how could six hundred thousand people cross the border easily? We could even see in BBC TV and other media how easily and safely these 'refugees' could cross the border and comunicate easily with the natives of Bangladesh through their mother tongue!! Is that not rediculous and in contradiction to their claims?

There were some accusations of military abuse or killing of villagers by the soldiers and policemen, however, the plainttiffs could not state clearly where, when and how it happened, how many people were killed and where the mass graveyard could be and so forth. Otherwise, only God will know whether their stories were true or they were framing Myanmar armed forces and made them scapegoats! Recently, Myanmar authorities found out a graveyard of ten people and the armed forces personnel in that area were charged by Myanmar military.

Your Excellency, in the light of my historical pleading I hope and wish that you can see this problem more thoroughly and can judge properly.


Khin Maung Saw


1. The Rt. Hon Boris Johnson, MP, Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, King Charles Street,London,SW1A 2AH,

2. The Rt. Hon Penny Mordant, MP, Secretary of State, Department of International Development, Caxton House, Tothill Street London,SW1H 9NA, uk


Ambassador U Kyaw Myo Htut talks to Chairman of Network Myanmar and former UK Ambassador to Vietnam, Thailand and Laos Mr Derek Tonkin (Photo: Embassy Magazine)

51 page window into a racist colonial mind of Derek Tonkin -
Sent: Saturday, 23 April 2016 11:51 PM
Subject: [Democracy_forBurma] Oxford Conference on the Rohingya - 11 May 2016

The paper below has been proposed for circulation to participants at the Conference on the Rohingya at Oxford on 11 May. I wonder what excuse will be given for blocking its circulation.

Derek Tonkin

A critique of “The Slow Burning Genocide of Myanmar’s Rohingya”

Derek Tonkin – 21 April 2016

In my two messages of 18 April 2016, I responded to Maung Zarni’s solicitous enquiries about my "vested interests" in Myanmar, which are and always have been non-existent, and his belief that the previous administration made use of my "arguments" to support their wrongdoings, though there is no evidence that they have ever done so.

In this commentary, might I refer to such criticisms as I may have made on what Maung Zarni describes as "research conferences" in London, Harvard and Oslo in which he was engaged? I am not aware that I have said anything of substance on either London or Harvard, but I have indeed done so on what I described as the"Shenanigans in Oslo" in May 2015.

What intrigued me in this context was the connection which he made to the mass flight of Arakan’s Muskims to Bangladesh in the year 1978 as the supposed start of the persecution and discrimination against Muslims. Their woes have however been a problem since well before independence in 1948. There was the slaughter of many thousands of Arakanese, Buddhist as well as Muslim, in 1942. After independence in 1948, as early as 1951 there were appeals from Arakan Muslims to "Stop Genocide". Indeed, his article would have been all the more powerful if he had taken into account the action taken against Arakan Muslims during the three decades 1948-1978 instead of giving the impression that everything during that period was hunky-dory.

The Mujahid rebellion, after all, lasted from 1948 to 1961 and both the Tatmadaw and the rebels made life pretty miserable for both Muslims and Buddhists in Arakan during that period. In a despatch to the Foreign Office in January 1964, the British Ambassador in Rangoon spoke of the “extremely oppressive measures” being used to root out illegal immigrants, whose number might be in the region of 250,000 (German Ambassador in Karachi in February 1965 ) or even 500,000(Bangladeshi Ambassador in Rangoon a decade later in December 1975). Wrote Sir Gordon Whitteridge:

“The Moslems in that portion of Arakan which adjoins the border with East Pakistan number about 400,000 and have lived there for generations and have acquired Burmese nationality. But they are patently of Pakistani origin and occasionally some Pakistanis cross into Arakan illegally and mingle with the local population. As part of a drive to detect these illegal immigrants the local Burmese authorities have for some time employed extremely oppressive measures. The Pakistan Government are anxious that these Arakanese Moslems should not be goaded into leaving Burma and taking refuge in East Pakistan which cannot support them. Mr. Bhutto therefore urged the Burmese to modify their attitude towards these people and offered the maximum cooperation in dealing with any genuine illegal immigrants.”

Maung Zarni’s interest in 1978 is set out in the article “The Slow-burning Genocide of Myanmar’s Rohingya” which he wrote in June 2014 with Alice Cowley, which is I understand a pseudonym for Natalie Brinham. While I have no reason to doubt the authenticity of the evidence which they present in the latter part of their article and which has lead them to conclude that “genocide” is taking place, the basis on which their arguments are founded is the alleged launching by General Ne Win in 1978 of what is described as “the first large-scale campaign against the Rohingya in Rakhine State with the intent first of expelling them en masse from Western Burma and subsequently legalizing the systematic erasure of Rohingya group identity and legitimizing their physical destruction”. I suspect that version of events is entirely the interpretation of Maung Zarni and that Natalie Brinham was in no way responsible. My remarks are accordingly addressed to him, and not to Natalie Brinham.

The bulk of evidence which I have seen from contemporary diplomatic and United Nations archives as well as from press reports, other than Bangladeshi, is that no such intent was ever contemplated during what was after all only part of a nation-wide campaign in the border regions to verify citizenship documents under the, for Arakan unfortunately named (because of its historical Buddhist connotations) Operation Naga Min or Dragon King.

Many of these original reports are archived at this link, none more illustrative than a US Embassy report from Rangoon dated 14 June 1978 entitled “Chittagonian Refugees from Arakan” and from which I now quote:

“At dinner on June 13, the Ambassador discussed Burmese-Bangladeshi issues with the British, Australian, West German and Malaysian Ambassadors. To a man the other diplomats agreed that on the basis of their information the Bangladesh charges [of deliberate expulsion] appeared to be considerably exaggerated and inconsistent. They also noted that journalists……saw normally functioning Muslim villages in the Arakan which were not being harassed by GUB [Government of Burma] authorities…..We remain sceptical that the GUB [Government of Burma] has embarked on a systematic campaign to drive Muslims of Chittagonian ancestry from the Arakan or that the refugee-alleged atrocities have occurred.”

My conclusion is that if General Ne Win had really wanted to expel Muslims from Arakan, he would never have allowed them to return. He was totally impervious to protestations against his deliberate expulsion of some 300,000 Indians – Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus – from Burma between 1963 and 1966 and the notion that in 1978 he might have relented under external pressure from his original alleged intent I find unconvincing. The British Ambassador at the time went so far as to congratulate the General for his intervention in resolving the issue and his First Secretary gave a persuasive account of the peaceful and voluntary return of three groups of refugees encountered during his visit to repatriation centres in Arakan.

If Maung Zarni’s German is good enough, I would warmly recommend that he read the comprehensive and detailed study published in 1981 by Klaus Fleischmann “Arakan: Konfliktregion zwischen Birma und Bangladesh: Vorgeschichte und Folgen des Flüchtlingstroms von 1978” which he will find in both the British Library and the library of the School of Oriental and African Studies. Even if his German is not up to it, there are some excellent tables in this publication which are easily comprehensible and there are also extensive quotations in English from English-language sources. In a section “Expulsion or Verification?” Fleischmann concludes (my translation):

“From everything that we know about this operation, there is nothing to suggest that an expulsion of all Muslims from Arakan was planned. It seems rather that setting such an intent was fostered internationally in certain localities, above all at the start in Pakistan (see pages 130 +), as a deliberate, rabble-rousing exaggeration and later, because of the growing number of refugees and events connected with this, was disseminated by others, who did not have any knowledge of the background, out of fear - understandable however in the circumstances.”

I think we should be careful not to demonise General Ne Win. His established record of incompetence and ruthlessness is bad enough as it is. In this context it is worth noting that the Mayu Frontier District, which Maung Zarni says was established under U Nu’s premiership, was the brainchild of Ne Win himself. This is confirmed in a letter from the Head of the Political Section in the British Embassy in Rangoon to the Burma Desk in the Foreign Office in October 1965. It was Ne Win who set up the Frontier Areas Administration (FAA) in October 1959 during his caretaker administration.

Again, to put this all in context as with Operation Naga Min, the FAA set up at the time a number of special administrative zones in border localities which were internationally sensitive. Some were given their own radio programmes and other local support. When the situation was thought to have stabilised, the zones were returned to normal administration. Neither Naga Min nor the Mayu Frontier District were, as has been so often depicted, exclusively Arakan operations, but should be understood in a nation-wide context.

By way of further confirmation of Ne Win’s direct responsibility, Jacques Leider has recorded (Footnote 65 at the link) that:

“General Ne Win the Head of the Caretaker Government and now Chairman of the Revolutionary Council was pleased to fulfil the repeated demand of the Rohingyas on 1st June 1960 by creating a District consisting of Maungdaw, Buthidaung and a part of Rathedaung Township in the shape of Mayu Frontier District and placed it under the Frontier Administration. This single act of service to the Rohingyas by General Ne Win is uppermost in the mind of every Rohingya and will be remembered for generations.” Extract from a letter of the President of the United Rohingya Organisation of Mayu District to Gordon H. Luce, 3 May 1963. National Library of Australia (NLA) MSS Collection, Papers of Gordon Luce MS6574. Copy of the letter kindly provided by Pamela Gutman, 7 November 2013.”

I am not about to suggest that today’s Rohingyas might wish to honour the memory of General Ne Win for his support for their welfare in the 1960s and 1970s, but I would suggest that historical facts should be given due weight in our assessment of that period.

Maung Zarni says in the paper that “Rohingya is not simply a self-referential group identity, but an official group and ethnic identity recognized by the post-independence state.” While it is true that between the mid-1950s and the mid-1960s occasional references to Rohingya are to be found in official documents and speeches, and while organisations using the name “Rohingya” were permitted to register, I have been struck by the relative paucity of such references. He has himself listed some of them, but I am doubtful that this evidence taken together amounts to official recognition.

The acid test is surely whether the designation “Rohingya” was ever incorporated in Burmese legislation. I have found no evidence that this was the case. In those areas where I would have expected to find it, such as the post-independence censuses, “Rohingya” was not a classification on offer. The 1953-54 census used the British nomenclature, with suitable modifications. By the time of the 1973 Census, the list of national races included some 144 designations, six of them Muslim including “Arakan-Chittagonian” which would have covered most Muslims in Arakan. If “Rohingya” had been officially recognised, that is surely where it would have appeared.

It would in my view have been so much better if Arakan Muslims had stuck to this and other designations (as the Kaman have done) instead of reaching for the stars with their ill-advised “Rohingya” enterprise which has brought the full fury of Rakhine Buddhists down on them. It may not be too late to revert to “Arakan Muslims” or something of that kind.

This list of 144 had, intriguingly, not been amended by the time the 1982 Citizenship Act came into force. What happened at the 1983 Census is not clear, but the actual census reports only contain the eight main group ethnicities and most Arakan Muslims were wrongly bundled into a supposed foreign ethnicity called “Bangladeshi”. The list of 144 was formally reduced to the present list of 135 only when a new list was published in Loktha Pyithu Neizin (Working People’s Daily in Burmese) on 26 September 1990, or eight years after the Act. (Footnote 34 in Maung Zarni’s article refers to Col. Hla Min’s 2001 publication, but it is always better to quote original sources if available). It follows that when he says that the 1982 law “draws on a list of 135 ethnic groups, which excludes some minority groups such as the Rohingya”, he is mistaken. As the Australian scholar Nick Cheesman has
put it, the exclusion of the Rohingya is de facto rather than de jure, it is a result of administrative obstruction and mischievous regulation under the 1982 Act, not because of the Act itself, despite its manifest faults.

Maung Zarni says that “there are clear references [sic] to the Rohingya even before the colonial period” and he quotes Buchanan (visit to Ava in 1795) and Paton (1826). Buchanan is in fact his sole
reference and it is debatable whether this isolated reference is an ethnic designation or a geographic locator. Neither Buchanan nor anyone else ever used it again, which strongly suggests that it had no currency as an ethnicity. Paton does not of course mention “Rohingya” and his one-line reference (actually, it was his colleague Thomas Paterson who completed the survey) to 60% Mughs and 30% Mussulmans in 1826 should be contrasted with what the British actually found as their administration got under way in Arakan and should be compared with the annual capitation censuses from 1829 onwards and the full decennial censuses from 1872 onwards.

These give a totally different picture - an initially eight to one dominance of Buddhists to Muslims in Arakan as a whole, reducing to a two to one dominance in Akyab District (present-day Sittwe and Maungdaw Districts combined) in Northern Arakan by 1931. This was a result of course of massive Chittagonian migration of agricultural labour in the intervening years, though this is generally denied by Rohingya ideologues who would build an impenetrable “Chinese” wall between Bengal and Arakan. As the Muslim Council of North Arakan put it incredibly to Prime Minister U Nu on 25 October 1948:

“We are dejected to mention that in this country we have been wrongly taken as part of the race generally known as Chittagonians and as foreigners. We humbly submit that we are not. We have a history of our own distinct from that of Chittagonians. We have a culture of our own. Historically we are a race by ourselves…..”

The good news is that former President Thein Sein has publicly stated that migrants from Bengal came legally to Arakan during British rule and that their descendants are recognised as Myanmar citizens. This would seem to be an excellent point of departure in negotiating citizenship for Arakan Muslims today and which the Oxford Conference might wish to recommend as one of several nodal arguments to be put to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

Maung Zarni mentions by name a number of worthy persons who have commented on the depressing state of affairs in Arakan. I have read carefully what they say, and find myself in full agreement with the general thrust of their concerns. None of them however is what I would call an authority on Burmese affairs. Those who provided messages for the Oslo Conference took care not to use the term “genocide” as their personal characterisation of recent events. Soros went so far as to say that: “Fortunately, we have not reached a stage of mass killing”. Bishop Tutu was the closest to “genocide” when he said that “I would be more inclined to heed the warnings of eminent scholars and researchers, including Amartya Sen……..[on] the slow genocide being committed against the Rohingya people.” Quite who these “eminent scholars and researchers” might be who supposedly hold these views he does not say, and I do not know, but what is clear from Bishop Tutu’s statement is that he has been briefed by mischievous propagandists who have fed him a line which is seriously inaccurate. Thus we read that:

“The Rohingya people were not consulted when the British drew the Burmese border on the map. With those strokes of a pen, they became a borderland people; people whose ancestral land traverses political boundaries. Burma’s post-colonial government elected in 1948 officially recognized the Rohingya as an indigenous community, as did its first military government that ruled from 1962 to 1974.”

According to the Bishop, it was not the natural boundary of the Naf River which has historically divided Bengal from Arakan well before the British came to India and the Burmese to Arakan, but the wicked British imperialists who, inspired perhaps by Moses, parted the Red Sea of Naf and split the Rohingya (or should I say Bengalis?) into two, leaving some on the Bangladeshi side of a wet, but artificial border and some on the Myanmar side. Bangladesh denies that there have ever been any historic (pre-1948) Rohingya communities on their side. Some like myself might ask whether there are any historic (pre-1948) Rohingya communities on the Myanmar side either.

Does the Bishop understand the implications of what he has said? Today’s Rohingya must be furious that he has effectively stated that Bengalis and Arakan Muslims are all of the same ethnicity. Some might feel even so that he is not far wrong. I hope too that the Bishop has not gone soft on General Ne Win who headed the military government after his 1962 coup.

In the article there are many other points of detail whose accuracy I would contest, but in the short time available before the Oxford “Research” Conference next month, I felt I should at least record some that came immediately to mind. Maung Zarni might feel that at some point he and Natalie Brinham might wish to recast their article in the interests of historical accuracy. It is always best to take account of all available material, not just to cherry-pick what supports an argument and overlook what does not. That is the path of the propagandist and ideologue, not of the scholar and researcher.

Maung Zarni seems concerned lest my interventions might reflect some action involving the US and UK governments to undermine his genocide-thematic conferences in the interests of wider US and UK politico-strategic objectives. I am happy to reassure him that this is not the case. Tony Blair, who visits Myanmar regularly, could do that far more effectively than I ever could, and I for sure have not been asked.

Maung Zarni is welcome to circulate this paper to Oxford Conference participants. As he will appreciate, the observations recorded in this document would be very difficult to make through interventions from the floor.

Derek Tonkin
Editor ‘Network Myanmar’
Heathfields, Berry Lane, Worplesdon, Guildford, Surrey GU3 3PU UK
Tel. + 44 (0)1483 233576 – Mobile + 44 (0) 7733 328832 – Email

U Kyaw Win kneels in front of wooden carvings of Burmese tribal people at his home Wednesday in Boulder County. (Photo; Jeremy Papasso)

By John Bear
Daily Camera Boulder County News
December 28, 2017

Doctors Without Borders estimates more than 647,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh since August

When U Kyaw Win traveled to Bangladesh at the end of November, he was afforded the opportunity to speak with a Rohingya man who recently fled across the Naf River from his home in Myanmar and was living in a refugee camp in Cox's Bazar. 

U Kyaw had traveled to Dhaka, Bangladesh, to attend a conference on the crisis — the International Conference Ending the Slow Burning Genocide of Rohingya by Myanmar — and took a side trip to Cox's Bazar. 

The man relayed that five Myanmarese soldiers came to his home and three of them raped his daughter. When his son tried to intervene, the soldiers slit his throat and, once they had finished their assault on the man's daughter, they also slit her throat.

The man ran for his life and eventually crossed into Bangladesh, where he would join hundreds of thousands of his countrymen, many of whom have fled Mynamar — also called Burma — to escape escalating violence being waged against the Rohingya. 

"He was crying," U Kyaw said. "I couldn't do anything for him. I gave him a hug." 

The Rohingya are a minority Muslim ethnic group concentrated in the western Myanmar state of Rahkine. The country's military — which has controlled the impoverished southeast Asian nation since the 1960s — has persecuted the group for decades. 

U Kyaw, who has lived in Boulder County since 1998, said the latest campaign of violence waged against the group began in August when a militant group calling itself the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army attacked a handful of police stations. The Myanmarese army retaliated with land mines, artillery and arson, driving hundreds of thousands toward Bangladesh. 

The refugees, he said, often have to hide for days before they can make it to the Naf River, where they hope to catch a ride on a boat or walk across a shallow part of the river. 

Satellite images released by Human Rights Watch show that Rohingya villages have been set ablaze, but the Myanmarese military has denied any such attacks have occurred and cleared itself of any wrongdoing. 

"These things going on, we call it genocide," he said. "The United Nations is tiptoeing around it and calling it ethnic cleansing. What the hell is ethnic cleansing?" 

Humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders estimates that more than 647,000 Rohingya have fled across the border to Bangladesh since August and into makeshift refugee camps. 

The organization estimates that it has treated more than 142,980 patients in the area of Cox's Bazar in Bangladesh, including 160 women and girls whose injuries point to sexual and gender-based violence. Measles and malnutrition have also been reported.

U Kyaw is a native of Myanmar. Although he had been studying in the United States, he found himself in exile in the early 1960s when the military overthrew the government. He had his citizenship stripped, but has returned occasionally.

He said that Burma, as he still calls it, was not a unified country prior to its 1948 independence from the United Kingdom but more of a collection of tribal fiefdoms. While the country is multi-ethnic and religious, the military is largely made up of Buddhist ethnic Burmans, and a strong drive exists to purge the nation of Muslims, Christians and other ethnic groups considered undesirable. 

U Kyaw said he is half Burman and half Karen and a Christian. The Rohingya, he said, are considered "illegal" outsiders in their own country, although westerners first made note of their presence in Burma in 1799, and they were likely living in the area long before that. 

"They have a right to remain in their land," he said. "They were born there. They been there at least that long. It's written in documents. Those are things that speak louder than the government." 

U Kyaw added that much of the ethnic violence in Myanmar also stems from an underlying current of greed. Myanmar military officials have cut deals with the Chinese government to run oil and natural gas pipelines south of Rahkine. It's also possible that the areas the Rohingya occupy are rich with titanium, and the people are being run off to clear the way for mining exploration. 

"Burma is a very rich country in national resources," U Kyaw said. "The people at the top, the generals, are just milking the country. They are the colonizers of their own people."

Bangladesh, like its neighbor, is a poor country and unable to permanently absorb the Rohingya refugees (although many have lived in camps for years), and the two countries signed a deal earlier this year to "repatriate" the refugees. U Kyaw said it's unlikely the Rohingya will ever be allowed to return to their land.

Doctors Without Borders has also called the agreement premature, because there is no guarantee for the safety and rights of the Rohingya.

"They have no homes to return to," U Kyaw said. "The Burmese will put them in what they call refugee camps. They are nothing but concentration camps." 

He said that he wants people to know what is happening in his home country, which is insular and largely shut off from the rest of the world. Journalists are not allowed to operate freely, and even the United Nations is having trouble entering the country to monitor the situation. 

Democratic elections in 2015 saw 1991 Nobel Laureate Daw Aung San Suu Kyi become the country's de facto leader, although the military still retains most of the power in the country. 

Aung San Suu Kyi, who has long been considered a civil rights icon and champion of non-violent resistance, has drawn criticism for not condemning the attacks on the Rohingya.

U Kyaw said he is friends with Aung San Suu Kyi, and he understands that her power is limited, but he is disappointed that she has not spoken out forcefully against the violence. 

"Your hands might be tied, but your lips aren't sewn shut," he said. "She is walking a tightrope. We know it's difficult, but she is free to talk. ... She is more or less siding with the army. We have a feeling she is also against the Muslims. 

"By remaining silent — silence is acquiescing. I'm brought back to Edmund Burke: 'The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.'"

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Rohingya Exodus