Myanmar villagers flee fresh Rakhine State fighting, enter Bangladesh

Bangladesh had beefed up security near the border to prevent more refugee arrivals. (File/AFP)
Updated 08 February 2019

Myanmar villagers flee fresh Rakhine State fighting, enter Bangladesh

  • Clashes between Myanmar’s military and the insurgent Arakan Army have displaced more than 5,000 people in parts of Rakhine and Chin states since early December
  • While Rakhine State is majority Buddhist, in 2017 attacks on security posts by insurgents from the Muslim Rohingya minority provoked a military crackdown

YANGON/DHAKA: Scores of ethnic minority villagers have crossed from western Myanmar into Bangladesh in recent days amid fighting between the Myanmar military and ethnic Rakhine rebels, Bangladesh border guards and an activist said on Thursday.
Members of 38 families said they fled their homes fearing attack from military helicopters, said Col. Zahirul Haque Khan, the Border Guards Bangladesh (BGB) commander in Bandarban district where the group of 136 people are now living in shelters.
Clashes between Myanmar’s military and the insurgent Arakan Army, which mainly recruits from the Rakhine ethnic group, have displaced more than 5,000 people in parts of Rakhine and Chin states since early December.
Myanmar’s leaders have vowed to crush the rebels, who are fighting for autonomy for Rakhine State, and blocked most aid agencies from reaching the area, raising fears of more civilian suffering in an area long scarred by complex ethnic divisions.
While Rakhine State is majority Buddhist, in 2017 attacks on security posts by insurgents from the Muslim Rohingya minority provoked a military crackdown that forced 730,000 people from their homes and into camps in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar district, according to UN agencies.
Win Thein, a member of the nongovernmental Bangladesh Human Rights Commission, said he had visited the refugees, who are members of the Khumi, Cho and Rakhine ethnic groups, in their remote jungle camp.
They had crossed into Bangladesh on Sunday and Monday after fleeing from two villages in Chin state’s rugged Paletwa township after they heard gunfire and saw helicopters nearby, he said.
Some villagers said they later witnessed Myanmar soldiers looting and setting fire to homes, he said.
Win Thein said some of the refugee children were seriously ill and had no access to medical care.
“There are no blankets at all and it is very cold,” he said.
State media in Myanmar said on Friday the Arakan Army had “taken about 200 Rakhine and other ethnic nationals including 38 schoolchildren to Bangladesh territory.”
An announcement carried in official newspapers said the government was providing humanitarian assistance to displaced people, and said the insurgents may have taken the people into Bangladesh to “create misunderstanding between the two neighbors.”
Khine Thu Kha, an Arakan Army spokesman based outside Myanmar, said the armed group had helped the displaced villagers to reach the border, but did so because the villagers feared being detained by the military.
The government was using “fake news” to cover up military abuses, he said.
Bangladesh summoned Myanmar’s ambassador on Tuesday to protest over the new arrivals, according to a senior Bangladesh foreign ministry official.
Bangladesh had beefed up security near the border to prevent more refugee arrivals, Minister of Home Affairs Asaduzzaman Khan told reporters on Thursday.


Macron spearheads pressure on Bolsonaro over Amazon fires

Updated 1 min 46 sec ago

Macron spearheads pressure on Bolsonaro over Amazon fires

PARIS: France’s Emmanuel Macron led a growing wave of international pressure on Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro over the fires raging in the Amazon rainforest Friday, telling him Paris would block efforts to seal a major trade deal.
With global leaders gearing up for the G7 summit, which opens Saturday in the western French resort of Biarritz, Macron drew Bolsonaro’s ire by saying the wildfires would be high on the agenda and pledging that delegates would hammer out “concrete measures” to tackle them.
Bolsonaro had earlier blasted Macron for a “colonialist mentality,” prompting the French president hit back, accusing his Brazilian counterpart of lying in pledges to fight global warming.
“Given the attitude of Brazil over the last weeks, the president can only conclude that President Bolsonaro lied to him at the Osaka (G20) summit” in June, a French presidential official said.
As a result, France would oppose a trade deal between the EU and South America’s Mercosur nations, effectively killing any chance of it being ratified, he said.
Moves to prioritize the Amazon wildfires on the G7 agenda won backing from German Chancellor Angela Merkel, with new British Prime Minister Boris Johnson tweeting that the fires were “heartbreaking” and offering help to put them out.
But in a sign of EU disagreement, Germany said Macron’s proposal to block the Mercosur deal was “not the right response.”
“Failing to conclude the Mercosur agreement would not contribute to reducing the clearing of the rainforest in Brazil,” a German government spokesman told AFP.
So far this year, there have been 76,720 forest fires in Brazil — the highest number since 2013, official figures show, with more than half in the Amazon rainforest.
“The Amazon rainforest — the lungs which produce 20 percent of our planet’s oxygen — is on fire,” Macron tweeted late on Thursday, suggesting it be high on the summit agenda.
But Bolsonaro blasted the move to make it a G7 item without any participation by Brazil, saying it reflected a “colonialist mentality.”
The leaders of France, the US, Canada, Britain, Germany, Italy and Japan already face a litany of issues in Biarritz, which is on a security lockdown for the summit.
Macron met Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif earlier Friday for last-minute talks trying to soothe tensions between Tehran and Washington.
A nuclear deal between Western powers and Iran all but collapsed after Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew US support in May 2018, reimposing economic sanctions on Tehran.
“We’re at a critical moment,” Macron warned on Wednesday, acknowledging that Iran is “laying out a strategy” for exiting the 2015 deal.
“President Macron made some suggestions last week to President (Hassan) Rouhani and we believe they are moving in the right direction, although we are not definitely there yet,” Zarif told AFP in an interview.
He said he had a “good discussion” with the French leader, who would now hold talks with other European leaders to seek a way forward.
Macron’s diplomacy is a delicate task, with France seeking to roll back some of the US measures imposed as part of Trump’s policy of “maximum pressure” on Iran, which insists its nuclear program is peaceful.
French diplomats have raised the idea of US waivers on sanctions affecting Iranian oil exports to India and China, or a new credit line for Tehran that could help the struggling economy.
That prompted Trump to accuse Macron of sending Tehran “mixed signals” in his attempt to broker fresh talks between the longtime adversaries.
But Trump appears to be the outlier among America’s G7 partners on Iran, despite speculation that Johnson, who claims a close personal rapport with the US leader, might be more amenable to endorsing his stance.
On Friday, a British diplomatic source said the UK would continue to back the 2015 nuclear deal, which it helped broker, as the “best way” of preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
Iran is just one of a host of issues over which G7 members are at loggerheads, upending a formerly cosy club of rich nations.
Trump will arrive in the glitzy beachside resort on Saturday already riled by a new French law increasing taxes on US Internet giants such as Google and Facebook. He is also threatening tariffs on the European automobile sector.
Just before the summit, China fired the latest salvo in its trade war the US, announcing new tariffs on $75 billion of American imports.
But in a sign of the summit’s lowered ambitions, French officials have scrapped the idea of a joint declaration at the end, breaking a longstanding G7 tradition.