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
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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.


US envoy ‘disappointed’ by collapse of inter-Afghan peace meeting

Updated 19 April 2019
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US envoy ‘disappointed’ by collapse of inter-Afghan peace meeting

  • A 250-strong delegation of Afghan politicians and civil society figures had been due to meet Taliban officials in Doha at the weekend
  • The event was abruptly canceled on Thursday amid arguments over the size and status of the group

KABUL: The US envoy for peace in Afghanistan expressed disappointment on Friday after the collapse of a planned meeting between the Taliban and a group of Afghan politicians in Qatar that exposed some of the deep divisions hampering efforts to end the war.
A 250-strong delegation of Afghan politicians and civil society figures had been due to meet Taliban officials in Doha at the weekend. The event was abruptly canceled on Thursday amid arguments over the size and status of the group, which included some government officials attending in a personal capacity.
“I’m disappointed Qatar’s intra-Afghan initiative has been delayed,” Zalmay Khalilzad, the US special representative for Afghan reconciliation, said on Twitter. “I urge all sides to seize the moment and put things back on track by agreeing to a participant list that speaks for all Afghans.”
The collapse of the meeting before it had even started, described as a “fiasco” by one senior Western official, laid bare the tensions that have hampered moves toward opening formal peace negotiations.
Khalilzad, a veteran Afghan-born diplomat, has held a series of meetings with Taliban representatives but the insurgents have so far refused to talk to the Western-backed government in Kabul, which they dismiss as a “puppet” regime.
The Doha meeting was intended to prepare the ground for possible future talks by building familiarity among Taliban officials and representatives of the Afghan state created after the US-led campaign that toppled the Taliban government in 2001. A similar encounter was held in Moscow in February.
President Ashraf Ghani’s office blamed Qatari authorities for the cancelation, saying they had authorized a list of participants that differed from the one proposed by Kabul, “which meant disrespect for the national will of the Afghans.”
“This act is not acceptable for the people of Afghanistan,” it said in a statement on Friday.
Sultan Barakat, director of the Center for Conflict and Humanitarian Studies in Qatar, which had been facilitating the meeting, said there was no disagreement about the agenda.
“Rather, there is insufficient agreement around participation and representation to enable the conference to be a success,” he tweeted.
Preparations had already been undermined by disagreements on the government side about who should attend, as well as by suspicions among rival politicians ahead of presidential elections scheduled for September.
The Taliban derided the agreed list of 250 participants as a “wedding party.” Some senior opposition figures who had been included refused to attend.
The Taliban also objected to Ghani’s comments to a meeting of delegates that they would be representing the Afghan nation and the Afghan government, a statement that went against the insurgents’ refusal to deal with the Kabul administration.