30,000 displaced by violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine: UN

Myanmar soldiers put out a fire in Wapeik village located in Maungdaw in Rakhine State near the Bangladesh border on Nov. 13, after attackers allegedly set fire to 80 houses. (AFP Photo / Myanmar Armed Forces)
Updated 18 November 2016

30,000 displaced by violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine: UN

YANGON, Myanmar: Up to 30,000 people have been displaced by violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, half of them over the course of last weekend when dozens of people died in clashes with the military, the UN said Friday.
Troops have poured into a strip of land along the Bangladesh border, an area which is largely home to the stateless Muslim Rohingya minority, since coordinated attacks on police posts last month.
The army this week said troops have killed nearly 70 people as they hunt the attackers, although activists say the number could be much higher.
Violence escalated over the weekend, with state media reporting troops had killed more than 30 people in two days of fighting after the army responded to ambushes by bringing in helicopter gunships.
The UN’s special rapporteur on Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, criticized the government led by Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi for their handling of the crisis and called for “urgent action.”
The UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said 15,000 people were believed to have fled their homes over the space of 48 hours.
“Up to 30,000 people are now estimated to be displaced and thousands more affected by the 9 October armed attacks and subsequent security operations across the north of Rakhine State,” said a spokesman for the UN OCHA.
“This includes as many as 15,000 people who, according to unverified information, may have been displaced after clashes between armed actors and the military on 12-13 November.”
Activists have accused troops of killing civilians, raping women and torching homes — allegations the government has vehemently denied.
Authorities have heavily restricted access to the area, making it difficult to independently verify government reports or accusations of army abuse.
A delegation of UN officials and foreign diplomats made a brief trip to the area in an effort to get aid deliveries reinstated, which state media has hailed as proof no abuses had been carried out.
The resurgence of violence in western Rakhine state has deepened a crisis that already posed a critical challenge to Suu Kyi’s administration seven months after it took power.
More than 100 people died in 2012 in clashes between the majority Buddhist population and the Muslim Rohingya, and tens of thousands of them were driven into displacement camps.
The UN’s Lee slammed the government’s handling of the crisis, and urged a transparent investigation into accusations of rape and murder by the security forces.
“State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi has recently stated that the government is responding to the situation based on the rule of law. Yet I am unaware of any efforts on the part of the government to look into the allegations of human rights violations,” Lee said in a statement.
“The security forces must not be given carte blanche to step up their operations under the smokescreen of having allowed access to an international delegation. Urgent action is needed to bring resolution to the situation.”


Smoke haze settles over Australian capital as bushfires burn

Updated 1 min 36 sec ago

Smoke haze settles over Australian capital as bushfires burn

  • Residents of Canberra in the country’s southeast woke up to see the capital shrouded in haze Sunday
  • The state’s Bureau of Meteorology warned that the massive fires are 'in some cases just too big to put out at the moment.'
SYDNEY: Smoke haze from bushfires raging in Australia spread to the capital Sunday, as firefighters raced to contain more than 140 blazes ahead of a heatwave forecast early this week.

Australia is experiencing a horrific start to its fire season, which scientists say began earlier and is more extreme this year due to a prolonged drought and the effects of climate change.

Residents of Canberra in the country’s southeast woke up to see the capital shrouded in haze Sunday, joining those in Sydney who have endured weeks of toxic air pollution caused by bushfire smoke.

Officials said favorable weather conditions had given them a chance to bring several blazes under control before the forecast return of strong winds and high temperatures Tuesday.

Among those is a “mega fire” burning across 250,000 hectares within an hour’s drive of Sydney, Australia’s largest city, where ash from the fires has occasionally fallen.

Firefighters are now bracing for Tuesday, when temperatures are expected to reach above 40 Celsius in parts of New South Wales state — worst-hit by the bushfires — and gusting westerly winds are likely to fan the flames.

“Today (fire) crews will be doing what they can to consolidate and strengthen containment lines, which in some areas will include backburning,” NSW Rural Fire Service spokesman Greg Allan told AFP.

But the state’s Bureau of Meteorology warned that the massive fires are “in some cases just too big to put out at the moment.”

“They’re pumping out vast amounts of smoke which is filling the air, turning the sky orange & even appearing like significant rain on our radars,” the department tweeted.

Nearly 50 reinforcements from the United States and Canada have been flown in to support fatigued firefighters in recent days, with the international contingent tasked with providing logistical assistance.

In neighboring Queensland, the focus was also on managing fatigue among frontline firefighters — who in both states are almost all volunteers — as weather there provided a brief reprieve from weeks of battling blazes.

“We’re just looking to wind down and recover and prepare for the next round, whenever that may be,” a Queensland Fire and Emergency Service spokesman told AFP.

Since the crisis began in September, six people have been killed, more than 700 homes destroyed and an estimated two million hectares (almost five million acres) scorched.

Though the human toll has been far lower than the deadliest fire season in 2009 — when almost 200 people died — the scale of this year’s devastation has been widely described as unprecedented, as Australians grapple with the impacts of a changing climate.

Official data shows 2019 is on track to be one of the hottest and driest years on record in Australia.