Aboard rickety boats or swimming, over 750 Rohingya reach Bangladesh

Rohingya refugees sit on a makeshift boat as they get interrogated by the Border Guard of Bangladesh after crossing the Bangladesh-Myanmar border, at Shah Porir Dwip near Cox's Bazar Friday. (Reuters)
Updated 10 November 2017
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Aboard rickety boats or swimming, over 750 Rohingya reach Bangladesh

COX’S BAZAR/YANGON: They came in boats, others on flimsy rafts, some even swam. Around 750 Rohingya Muslims made their escape from Myanmar on Friday to reach Bangladesh, where the greatest danger is malnutrition and disease in teeming refugee camps.
Over 613,000 Rohingya have already taken refuge in the camps since a Myanmar military clearance operation forced them to abandon their villages in northern Rakhine state.
Rohingya who have reached Bangladesh have recounted horror stories of rape and murder. A top UN official described the military’s actions as “ethnic cleansing,” though Myanmar denied that, saying its operation was needed for national security after Rohingya militants attacked 30 security posts on Aug. 25.
Aung San Suu Kyi, the de facto leader of Myanmar’s less than two-year-old administration, was in Vietnam on Friday, attending the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit. She was expected to hold talks with several leaders on the sidelines of the gathering, including Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Having won the Nobel Peace Prize for defying the generals who ruled predominantly Buddhist Myanmar with an iron fist for nearly half a century, Suu Kyi’s reputation as a stateswoman has suffered due to her failure to speak out more strongly over the Rohingya crisis.
Under a constitution written before the junta gave way, the civilian administration still has to share power with the generals, and has little say over defense and security issues.
Still, leaders at APEC, and two other regional summits to be hosted by the Philippines in the coming days, are expected to exert pressure on Suu Kyi to do more to stem the crisis.
And on Wednesday, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will meet with Suu Kyi in Naypyitaw, the Myanmar capital, with senators back in Washington pressing to impose sanctions targeting the military.
International Rescue Committee, the leading aid agency headquartered in New York and led by former British Foreign Minister David Miliband, reckoned that up to two-thirds of the 300,000 Rohingya remaining in Myanmar will join the exodus to Bangladesh in the coming months.
The IRC in a statement highlighted the extremely dangerous health conditions for Rohingya living in camps in the port city of Cox’s Bazar.
A nutrition survey led by its partner Action Contre la Faim had found 40,000 Rohingya children faced malnutrition and required life-saving assistance.
It said 95 percent of the population was drinking contaminated water — and agencies had reported that two-thirds of Cox’s Bazar’s water was contaminated with feces.
“The conditions we are seeing in Cox’s Bazaar create a perfect storm for a public health crisis on an unimaginable scale,” said Cat Mahony, the IRC’s emergency response director in Cox’s Bazar.
“The situation will only deteriorate with more arrivals and a greater strain on already overstretched resources.”
Still, Rohingya too scared to stay in Myanmar were ready to risk their lives crossing the waters around the mouth of the Naf River to reach Bangladesh.
They were helped on Friday by another day of calm seas, though more than 200 have drowned attempting the crossing during the past two months.
Bangladesh officials said significant numbers were arriving on rafts they had built from bamboo, lashing plastic jerrycans to the poles for extra buoyancy. They said more Rohingya had swum across on Thursday.
A Reuters photographer saw up to 10 rafts landing on the beaches of Teknaf, at the southern tip of Cox’s Bazar, on Friday.
People reaching the shore have told Reuters that there are thousands living in desperate conditions on the strand of beach by the river’s mouth at Pa Nyaung Pin Gyi, as they waited for a chance to cross over.
Dil Muhammad, 30, from Buthidaung, one of the Rakhine regions that bore the brunt of the military operation, finally made it across with his wife and three children after weeks of living on the sand because he could not afford to pay a boatman.


Maldives strongman Yameen seeks second term amid rigging fears

Updated 24 September 2018
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Maldives strongman Yameen seeks second term amid rigging fears

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka: Polling booths in the Maldives closed Sunday after voting hours were extended in a controversial election marred by police raids on the opposition and allegations of rigging in favor of strongman President Abdulla Yameen.

Yameen, who is expected to retain power, has imprisoned or forced into exile almost all of his main rivals. Critics say he is returning the honeymoon island nation to authoritarian rule.

The process is being closely watched by regional rivals India and China, who are jostling to influence Indian Ocean nations. The European Union and US, meanwhile, have threatened sanctions if the vote is not free and fair.

Many voters across the Indian Ocean archipelago said they stood in line for over five hours to cast their ballot, while expatriate Maldivians voted in neighboring Sri Lanka and India.

The elections commission said balloting was extended by three hours until 7 p.m. (1400 GMT) because of technical glitches suffered by tablet computers containing electoral rolls, and officials had to use manual systems to verify voters’ identities.

An election official said the deadline was also extended due to heavy voter turnout, and anyone in the queue by 7 p.m. would be able to cast their ballot.

“Eight hours & counting. Waiting to exercise my democratic right! Let’s do this, Insha Allah!” former Foreign Minister Dunya Maumoon said on Twitter.

Maumoon, who is also the estranged niece of Yameen and daughter of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, cast her vote at a booth in the Maldivian Embassy in Colombo.

Yameen voted minutes after polling booths opened in the capital Male, where opposition campaign efforts had been frustrated by a media crackdown and police harassment.

Before polls opened, police raided the campaign headquarters of the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and searched the building for several hours in a bid to stop what they called “illegal activities.” There were no arrests.

Yameen’s challenger, the relatively unknown Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, also cast his vote.

Solih has the backing of a united opposition trying to oust Yameen although he has struggled for visibility with the electorate because the media is fearful of falling foul of heavy-handed decrees and reporting restrictions.

Mohamed Nasheed, who was elected president of a newly democratic Maldives in 2008 but who now lives in exile, urged the international community to reject the results of a flawed election.

Some 262,000 people in the archipelago — famed for its white beaches and blue lagoons — were eligible to vote in an election from which independent international monitors have been barred.

Only a handful of foreign media have been allowed in.

The Asian Network for Free Elections, a foreign monitoring group that was denied access to the Maldives, said the campaign was heavily tilted in favor of 59-year-old Yameen.

Local observers said the balloting itself went off peacefully and most of the delays were due to technical issues. Results are expected by early Monday.

The government has used “vaguely worded laws to silence dissent and to intimidate and imprison critics,” some of whom have been assaulted and even murdered, according to Human Rights Watch.

There have been warnings that Yameen could try to hold on to power at all costs.

In February he declared a state of emergency, suspended the constitution and ordered troops to storm the Supreme Court and arrest judges and other rivals to stave off impeachment.

Yameen told supporters on the eve of the election he had overcome “huge obstacles” since controversially winning power in a contested run-off in 2013, but had handled the challenges “with resilience.” 

The crackdown attracted international censure and fears the Maldives was slipping back into one-man rule just a decade after transitioning to democracy.

The US State Department this month said it would “consider appropriate measures” should the election fail to be free and fair.

The EU in July also threatened travel bans and asset freezes if the situation does not improve.

India, long influential in Maldives affairs — it sent troops and warships in 1988 to stop a coup attempt — also expressed hopes the election would represent a return to democratic norms.

However in recent years Yameen has drifted closer to China, India’s chief regional rival, taking hundreds of millions of dollars for major infrastructure projects.