Bangladesh says Rohingya influx grinds to a halt

Filippo Grandi, UN high commissioner for refugees interacts with Rohingya children on Saturday at a refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. (AP)
Updated 23 September 2017
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Bangladesh says Rohingya influx grinds to a halt

COX’S BAZAR, Bangladesh: The flood of Rohingya refugees into Bangladesh has come to a virtual halt, Dhaka officials said Saturday, almost a month after violence erupted in Myanmar’s Rakhine State and sent nearly 430,000 people fleeing across the border.
Officials gave no reason for the dramatically reduced numbers. But Rohingya Muslim leaders said it could be because villages located near the border in Myanmar’s Rakhine state were now empty.
Bangladesh Border Guard commanders said hardly any refugees are now seen crossing on boats coming from Myanmar or trying to get over the land border.
In the past two weeks there have been up to 20,000 people a day entering Bangladesh.
The UN says 429,000 Rohingya have sought refuge in Bangladesh since attacks by Ronhingya militants in Rakhine on August 25 sparked a major Myanmar military crackdown.
Many gave up money and jewelry to get places on boats crossing the Naf river, which marks part of the Bangladesh-Myanmar border.
“Our guards have not seen any Rohingya coming in the past few days. The wave is over,” Bangladesh Border Guard commander S.M. Ariful Islam told AFP.
The United Nations also said “the influx has dropped.” It said it will now release updates on the numbers of refugees entering Bangladesh once a week, rather than daily.
Rohingya community leaders said most of the Rakhine villages near the Bangladesh border are now deserted.
“Almost all the people I know have arrived in Bangladesh,” Yusuf Majihi, a Rohingya leader at a camp at Balukhali, near Cox’s Bazar, told AFP.
“Village after village has become empty due to the attacks by Myanmar soldiers and torching of the houses by Moghs (Buddhists),” he added.
“Those who are left in Rakhine live far off the border,” he said.
Farid Alam, another Rohingya leader, said “I have not heard of any Rohingya crossing the border in the past five days. All I could see is people concentrating near the main camps.”
Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi said this week that troops had ceased “clearance operations” targeting Rohingya militants in Myanmar’s border area.
The United Nations previously said the military crackdown could amount to “ethnic cleansing.”
But despite the calm on the border, there were new signs of unrest in Myanmar.
While the army chief blamed Rohinyga militants for an explosion outside a mosque in Rakhine, Amnesty International accused the military of starting fires in the region to prevent refugees from returning.
Myanmar commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing issued a statement saying Rohingya militants planted a “home-made mine” that exploded in between a mosque and madrasa in Buthidaung township on Friday.
The army chief accused militants of trying to drive out around 700 remaining villagers. Analysts highlighted however that the militants’ influence depends on the networks they have built across Rohingya communities.
Amnesty said new videos and satellite imagery indicated fires were still raging through Rohingya villages, scores of which have already been burned to the ground.
According to government figures, nearly 40 percent of Rohingya villages in northern Rakhine have been abandoned over the past month.
Human Rights Watch on Saturday also echoed allegations from Bangladeshi officials that Myanmar security forces were laying land mines along the border.
A number of Rohingya, including children, have been killed by mines at the border.
Bangladesh authorities are meanwhile stepping up efforts to bring order to the chaotic aid distribution for refugees.
Soldiers have been deployed around a 70 sqq. km area where Rohingya have built camps on hills or in open spaces near existing UN run camps.
“We are in the process of taking over the whole relief distribution,” said an army spokesman.
He said the troops would dig hundreds of latrines for refugees after doctors warned that the camps were on the brink of a health disaster.
Even before the latest exodus, the camps were home to some 300,000 Rohingya who had fled previous violence in Rakhine.


Kim and Moon to meet at military demarcation line before inter-Korea summit

Updated 14 min 14 sec ago
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Kim and Moon to meet at military demarcation line before inter-Korea summit

  • When Kim Jong Un steps over the line he will become the first North Korean leader to set foot in the South since the Korean War ended 65 years ago
  • Kim will be given a military honor guard on Friday and the two leaders will walk to the Peace House, a glass and concrete building on the southern side of the truce village of Panmunjom
SEOUL: North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un and the South’s president Moon Jae-in will meet at the Military Demarcation Line that divides the peninsula before their summit Friday, Seoul said, in an occasion laden with symbolism.
Moon will greet his visitor at the concrete blocks that mark the border between the two Koreas in the Demilitarized Zone, the chief of the South’s presidential secretariat Im Jong-seok said.
When Kim steps over the line he will become the first North Korean leader to set foot in the South since the Korean War ended 65 years ago.
The meeting will be only the third of its kind, following summits in Pyongyang in 2000 and 2007, and the high point so far of a rapid diplomatic rapprochement on the tension-wracked peninsula, ahead of a much-anticipated meeting between Kim and US President Donald Trump.
The North’s nuclear arsenal will be high on the agenda. Pyongyang has made rapid progress in its weapons development under Kim, who inherited power from his father in 2011.
Last year it carried out its sixth nuclear blast, by far its most powerful to date, and launched missiles capable of reaching the US mainland, sending tensions soaring as Kim and Trump traded personal insults and threats of war.
Moon seized on the South’s Winter Olympics as an opportunity to try to broker dialogue between them.
But Im played down expectations, saying that the North’s technological advances meant deal would need to be “fundamentally different in nature from denuclearization agreements reached in the 1990s and early 2000s.”
“That’s what makes this summit all the more difficult,” he added.
“The difficult part is at what level the two leaders will be able to reach an agreement regarding (the North’s) willingness to denuclearize,” he said, “and how it will be expressed in text.”
In the past, North Korean support for the “denuclearization of the Korean peninsula” has been code for the removal of US troops from the South and the end of its nuclear umbrella over its security ally — prospects unthinkable in Washington.
Trump has demanded the North give up its weapons, and Washington is pressing for it to do so in a complete, verifiable and irreversible way.
Kim Hyun-wook, a professor at the Korea National Diplomatic Academy, said that the issue was “not something that can be decided between the North and South.”
“North Korea will want to see first what kind of offer it will get on regime security guarantees,” he said.
“That will be discussed at the US-North Korea summit and it’s not easy to promise denuclearization before any concrete talks on that.”
In recent days Seoul has promoted the idea of a path toward a peace treaty to formally end the 1950-53 Korean War, which stopped with a cease-fire, but Im did not mention the issue.
Reunions of families left divided by the conflict could also be discussed, and Moon has told Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe that he would raise the emotive subject of Japanese citizens kidnapped by the North’s agents.
Kim will be given a military honor guard on Friday and the two leaders will walk to the Peace House, a glass and concrete building on the southern side of the truce village of Panmunjom where the summit will be held.
Kim will sign the guest book before the morning session starts, Im said, describing the occasion as a “summit for peace and prosperity on the Korean peninsula.”
The North’s group will cross back to its side for lunch, and before the afternoon session Moon and Kim will together plant “a pine tree, which stands for peace and prosperity, on the (Military Demarcation Line), which has symbolized confrontation and division over the past 65 years,” Im said.
The soil will come from Mount Paektu, on the North’s border with China, and Mount Halla, on the South’s southern island of Jeju.
After they sign an agreement a joint statement will be issued.
“We are thinking it could be called the ‘Panmunjom Declaration’,” Im added.
A banquet and farewell ceremony will follow in the evening before Kim returns to the North.
Pyongyang’s delegation will include Kim’s sister Kim Yo Jong, one of his closest advisers, who attended the Winter Olympics in the South in February as his envoy.
The North’s ceremonial head of state Kim Yong Nam, who accompanied Yo Jong to the Games, will also be part of the group, as will its foreign and defense ministers.
“Unlike in the past, the delegation includes top military official and diplomats,” Im said.
“We did not expect this. We believe it signals that North Korea views the summit not just as a North-South summit but is also considering the US-North Korea summit.”