New Myanmar unrest panics Rohingya in border limbo

Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims have fled Myanmar since a military crackdown started in 2017. (File/AFP)
Updated 09 January 2019

New Myanmar unrest panics Rohingya in border limbo

  • "Heavy fighting is going on between the government troops and Arakan Army inside Myanmar," Rohingya leader Dil Mohammad said
  • Refugee community leader Nur Alam said gunfire could frequently be heard after dark on the other side of the border

BANDARBAN, Bangladesh: Panic is gripping thousands of Rohingya Muslim refugees living in no-man's land on the Myanmar-Bangladesh border, with daily clashes between Myanmar security forces and ethnic Rakhine insurgents.
Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims have fled Myanmar since a military crackdown started in 2017 -- most to sprawling refugee camps in Bangladesh -- but many have been living in limbo on the border, unwilling to enter the camps or return home.
They are now caught on the sidelines of fighting between Myanmar troops and the Arakan Army, a militant group seeking more autonomy for western Rakhine state's Buddhist-majority population.
"Heavy fighting is going on between the government troops and Arakan Army inside Myanmar," Rohingya leader Dil Mohammad told AFP.
"The situation is very tense," he said, adding the security build-up and daily gunfire had created "panic".
Myanmar troops last week set up security camps and bunkers along the border after fighting saw 13 police killed.
Some of the fortifications are directly adjacent to a border fence running alongside a stream, and overlook shacks erected by an estimated 4,500 displaced Muslims living in the narrow strip of land.
Refugee community leader Nur Alam said gunfire could frequently be heard after dark on the other side of the border.
"Every night it is close by. The Myanmar border guard have set up 10 new posts near our camp. It's very intimidating," he told AFP.
In a statement issued Wednesday, the United Nations said it was "deeply concerned" about the situation in the area.
A Bangladesh official said they were aware of the border tensions.
"We will talk to the relevant authorities to discuss what to do," local administrator Kamal Hossain said.
Rohingya in Buddhist-majority Myanmar have suffered decades of persecution. Impoverished western Rakhine state in particular is scarred by deep ethnic and religious hatred.
Refugees pouring into Bangladesh have detailed mass killings, arson and rape at the hands of Myanmar troops and Buddhist mobs.
Myanmar has denied any wrongdoing, saying it was defending itself against Rohingya militants who attacked police posts.
The United Nations has called for a genocide investigation into the crackdown.


France demands Iran release two of its citizens held since June

Updated 53 sec ago

France demands Iran release two of its citizens held since June

PARIS: France demanded on Wednesday that Iran immediately release two of its nationals who have been held in prison since June, a situation that is likely to complicate Paris’s efforts to defuse tensions between the United States and Tehran.
France’s foreign ministry confirmed that Roland Marchal, a senior researcher from Science-Po university, was being detained.
French officials and his family had sought to keep the information secret due to the current disputes in the region, fearing it could harm potential negotiations.
Marchal’s colleague, Franco-Iranian dual national Fariba Adelkhah, has been in prison in Iran since June.
“We want the Iranian authorities to show transparency in this dossier and act without delay to end the unacceptable situation,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Agnes von der Muhll said in a briefing.
She added that Marchal had received consular visits and had a lawyer. Iran has refused to offer the same for Adelkhah, citing her Iranian nationality, and has called France’s demands for her release an interference in its internal affairs.
Adelkhah and Marchal were arrested at a time when France and other European powers were caught up in an international standoff over Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal, which the United States abandoned last year.
Marchal, an Africa expert, had sought to spend the Eid religious holiday with his colleague in Iran, but was arrested at Tehran airport upon his arrival, their university association said in a statement.
“Nothing justifies the arrest of Fariba Adelkhah and Roland Marchal,” the statement said. “Their activities are strictly academic and have no links whatsoever to any intelligence service and (they) do not carry out any political activity in Iran.”
On Oct. 9 France issued a new advisory for Iran warning its nationals to postpone all travel plans, underscoring the risk posed by “the arbitrary arrest and detention practices of the Iranian security and intelligence services especially with regard to the contacts of foreign nationals with the population, notably for those in universities.”
President Emmanuel Macron sought in September to broker a meeting between Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and US President Donald Trump as he sought to defuse tensions between the two in recent months and convince Iran to comply with the nuclear deal. Those efforts faltered.
In another incident, Iran said on Monday agents of Revolutionary Guards had captured and returned to Iran a Paris-based journalist they suspect of fueling anti-government street unrest across Iran last year using social media.
Spokeswoman von der Muhll on Wednesday also confirmed Rouhollah Zam had been given political asylum in France, but had no details on the circumstances surrounding his arrest outside of France.
“We recall our commitment to the respect for the rule of law, including freedom of expression and the right of asylum, and strongly condemn the arrest of Mr.Zam,” she said.