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  1. YANGON: Rohingya insurgents said on Saturday that 10 Rohingya found in a mass grave in Myanmar?s troubled Rakhine state last month were ?innocent civilians?, and not members of their group. Myanmar?s military said earlier this week its soldiers had killed 10 captured ?terrorists? during insurgent attacks at the beginning of September, after Buddhist villagers had forced the captured men into a grave the villagers had dug. It was a rare acknowledgment of wrongdoing by the Myanmar military during its operations in the western state of Rakhine. The Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), whose raids against security posts starting last August sparked sweeping military operations in the Muslim-majority northern part of Rakhine, said it ?whole-heartedly welcomes the admission? of ?war crimes? by the ?Burmese terrorist army?. ?We hereby declare that these ten innocent Rohingya civilians found in the said mass grave in Inn Din Village Tract were neither ARSA nor had any association with ARSA?, the group said in a statement on Twitter. A Myanmar government spokesman said in response to ARSA?s statement that sometimes ?terrorists and villagers were allied? in attacks? against security forces. ?We have already said it is very difficult to segregate who is a terrorist and who are innocent villagers,? spokesman Zaw Htay said. ?There will be an ongoing investigating process whether they are members of ARSA or not.? The Myanmar military did not immediately respond to requests for comment. ?NEW STEP? Myanmar?s civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi said on Friday it was ?positive? that the country?s military was taking responsibility for the actions of troops. ?It is a new step for our country,? she told a joint news conference with Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono in Myanmar?s capital of Naypyitaw. ?I see it that way because a country needs to take responsibility for the rule of law in the country, and this is the first step on the road of taking responsibility and it is a positive thing,? She said, according to a transcript of the news conference posted on her Facebook page. On Dec. 18, the military announced a mass grave containing 10 bodies had been found at the coastal village of Inn Din, about 50 km (30 miles) north of the state capital Sittwe. The army appointed a senior officer to investigate. A statement from the military on Wednesday said its investigation had found that members of the security forces had taken part in the killings and action would be taken against them. Some civilians wanted to kill the 10 men to avenge the death of an ethnic Rakhine Buddhist man in Inn Dinn village named Maung Ni and would face punishment, the military said. On Saturday, a lawyer for one of Maung Ni?s sons said police were seeking murder charges against the son, named Tun Aye, for taking part in the killings. Lawyer Khin Win said a murder complaint against the son was filed with local prosecutors last week in Maungdaw, the nearest town to Inn Din. Tun Aye was one of four Inn Din villagers detained by police on Dec. 15, said Khin Win. The other three had been released, he said. National police spokesman Thet Naing said he was not aware of the murder complaint. The Rohingya crisis erupted after Rohingya insurgent attacks on security posts on Aug. 25 in Rakhine triggered a fierce military response that the United Nations denounced as ethnic cleansing. Myanmar denies ethnic cleansing, saying its security forces had mounted legitimate counter-insurgency clearance operations.
  2. File photo of Bono and Aung San Suu Kyi NEW YORK: U2 frontman Bono, a leading campaigner for Myanmar's leader Aung San Suu Kyi when she was under house arrest, has called on her to resign over the deadly campaign against Rohingya Muslims. The singer -- who championed Suu Kyi in the 2000 U2 song "Walk On," with fans encouraged to wear masks of the then opposition leader when the band played it live -- said he felt "nauseated" by images of the bloodshed and refugee crisis. "I have genuinely felt ill because I can't quite believe what the evidence all points to. But there is ethnic cleansing," he told Rolling Stone magazine in its latest issue. "It really is happening, and she has to step down because she knows it´s happening," Bono said. Pressed on his remarks in the interview conducted by Rolling Stone's founder, Jann Wenner, Bono said: "She should, at the very least, be speaking out more. And if people don´t listen, then resign." The United Nations and the United States have also described Myanmar's campaign against the stateless, mostly Muslim Rohingya people as ethnic cleansing. Doctors Without Borders said that at least 6,700 Rohingya were killed in the first month of sweeps on villages launched in response to rebel attacks. Another 655,000 Rohingya have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh. Suu Kyi, the winner of the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize, enjoyed wide support from celebrities as she spent most of two decades under house arrest on orders of Myanmar´s military junta. Myanmar's transition to democracy and Suu Kyi's elevation last year to de facto leader initially delighted human rights groups, but they have since been outraged by her reticence in addressing the anti-Rohingya campaign. Some experts believe Suu Kyi has made a calculated decision not to take the political risks of speaking out as the Rohingya are widely despised in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, and in any case she does not control the military. Bono said of Suu Kyi´s possible reasoning: "Maybe it´s that she doesn´t want to lose the country back to the military. But she already has, if the pictures are what we go by, anyway." Earlier this month Dublin, Bono´s hometown, revoked a city award given to Suu Kyi to protest her handling of the violence.
  3. The Rohingya had no written script until scholar Mohammad Hanif began studying the nuances of the language TEKNAF, BANGLADESH: For decades the Rohingya have been denied recognition in Myanmar but the persecuted minority is close to securing a crucial symbol of their identity -- their own unique digital alphabet. The language of the stateless Muslim people has been included in the planned upgrade to the Unicode Standard, the global coding system that turns written script into digital characters and numbers. It would allow the Rohingya to write emails, send texts and post on social media in their own language -- a major step for a people who had no written script until the 1980s. Victims of violent oppression in Myanmar that has been likened to ethnic cleansing, many Rohingya face far more pressing concerns than searching Google or sending a tweet, and most lack not just the technology but the literacy to do so. But experts say imparting the Rohingya a digital script of their own is hugely symbolic for the recognition and survival of the marginalised people, even if it is not adopted quickly. "If a people do not have a written language of their own, it is easier to say that as an ethnic group you don´t exist," said Mohammad Hanif, who developed the writing system for the Rohingya language in the 1980s. "It is easier to repress them," the Rohingya madrassa teacher living in Bangladesh told AFP. This is especially the case with the Rohingya, with Myanmar even refusing to use their name. Myanmar refers to them as "Bengalis" instead, painting them as interlopers from Bangladesh even though many of them have lived in the country for generations. Experts say language is part of the issue, with Rohingya speaking a dialect of Bengali understood in Bangladesh´s southeastern Chittagong region, but foreign to the Buddhist majority in Myanmar. The minority group has been driven out of Myanmar´s westernmost Rakhine state in waves of systematic violence, most recently in an army campaign that Doctors Without Borders say killed at least 6,700 Rohingya Muslims in its first month. Nearly 650,000 Rohingya have arrived in Bangladesh since the military crackdown began in August, escaping arson, rape and murder in their homeland. ´It is revolutionary´ The Rohingya had no written script until Hanif -- an Islamic scholar who fled Rakhine in an earlier surge of violence -- began studying the nuances of the language. Hanif said around 50 books have now been written using the script which is also taught in some faith schools catering to the Rohingya in Malaysia, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Canada. Other attempts at developing a writing system had used Arabic, Urdu and English scripts, the latter known as "Rohingya-lish". But "Hanifi Rohingya" may be the one to be encoded by the Unicode Consortium -- a nonprofit that oversees the global standardization of digital characters and numbers. Hanif says around 50 books have now been written using the script A representative for the US-based consortium told AFP by email that Hanifi Rohingya was one of the scripts being considered in the next version, but a final decision would be made in February. If approved, it would allow the global Rohingya diaspora -- including, eventually, the more than 800,000 refugees in Bangladesh -- to also send messages through chat services like WhatsApp using their digital alphabet. "(This) legitimises the struggle of the Rohingya language and its much persecuted people," said Muhammad Noor, a software engineer who built a computer typeface for "Hanifi Rohingya" compatible with word processing, but not online usage. Translators Without Borders, a nonprofit providing translation services for charities in crisis zones, said the importance of taking the Rohingya language into the digital realm could not be overstated. "It is revolutionary," the charity´s Rebecca Petras told AFP in Cox´s Bazar, where the Rohingya camps are located. "In order for the language to survive, a script is necessary. This would strengthen the language and go a long way to preserve it." Fading out But the denial of education to most Rohingya in Myanmar means many cannot read or write the script, posing enormous hurdles for its survival in cyber space. The minority of Rohingya afforded an education in Rakhine were instructed in Burmese, and even religious schools were not permitted to teach the written Rohingya script. Those seeking to save it from obsolescence are looking to the next generation in makeshift schools across Bangladesh´s teeming refugee camps. More than half the new arrivals since August are children More than half the new arrivals since August are children, and experts say unless they learn the written Rohingya script, it will wither away. Rohingya groups are pushing for its inclusion in schools, but many children are quickly adopting Bengali instead, finding the local language more useful than their mother tongue. Schools have also focused on Burmese and English, throwing up another roadblock for those fighting for the language´s survival. "The UN schools are our only hope to introduce the written script to half a million children in the camps. But there is no attempt to teach Rohingya language, which is unfair," said Rohingya activist Rafique bin Habib.
  4. This file photo taken on September 27, 2017 shows and aerial view of burnt villages near Maungdaw in Myanmar´s northern Rakhine state - AFP 3 YANGON: At least 6,700 Rohingya Muslims were killed in the first month of a Myanmar army crackdown on rebels in Rakhine state that began in late August, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said on Thursday. The figure is the highest estimated death toll yet of violence that erupted on August 25 and triggered a massive refugee crisis, with more than 620,000 Rohingya fleeing Myanmar for Bangladesh over a three-month period. The UN and US have described the military operation as "ethnic cleansing" of the Muslim minority, but have not released specific death tolls. "At least 6,700 Rohingya, in the most conservative estimations, are estimated to have been killed, including at least 730 children under the age of five," MSF said Thursday. The group's findings come from six surveys of more than 11,426 people in Rohingya refugee camps and cover the first month after the crisis erupted. "We met and spoke with survivors of violence in Myanmar, who are now sheltering in overcrowded and unsanitary camps in Bangladesh," said the group's medical director Sidney Wong. "What we uncovered was staggering, both in terms of the numbers of people who reported a family member died as a result of violence, and the horrific ways in which they said they were killed or severely injured." Rohingya refugees have told consistent stories of security forces and ethnic Rakhine Buddhist mobs driving them out of their homes with bullets, rape and arson that reduced hundreds of villages to ash. Earlier this month the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein said the military-led crackdown appeared to include "elements of genocide". The MSF survey puts a number to the horrors. Gunshot wounds were the cause of death in 69 percent of the cases, according to the survey. Another nine percent were reported burned alive inside houses, while five percent died from fatal beatings. For children under five, nearly 60 percent died after being shot, the survey found. A Rohingya Muslim refugee walks by night after crossing the border from Myanmar, on the Bangladeshi shores of the Naf river in Teknaf on September 29, 2017 - AFP 'Rohingya targeted' MSF said the peak in deaths coincided with the launch of "clearance operations" by the army and local militias in late August and showed "that Rohingya have been targeted". Myanmar's government did not respond to a request for comment. But it has consistently denied abuses in Rakhine and puts the official death toll at 400 people -- including 376 Rohingya "terrorists", according to the army. Authorities have also blocked a UN fact-finding mission from accessing the conflict zone in northern Rakhine state. The investigators visited refugee camps in Bangladesh in late October and said -- based on interviews -- that the total number of deaths was not known but "may turn out to be extremely high." The Rohingya are not recognised as an ethnic group in mainly Buddhist Myanmar and have been subject to systematic persecution for decades. Bangladesh and Myanmar signed a repatriation agreement in late November saying that Rohingya refugees could start to return home in two months, but international aid groups have threatened to boycott working with the government if new camps are set up in northern Rakhine State. More than 120,000 Rohingya already live in closed-off settlements in the central part of the state since intercommunal violence erupted in 2012.
  5. Pope Francis told journalists on his plane flying back to Rome that he and Rohingya refugees. VATICAN CITY: Pope Francis on Saturday said he wept hearing the plight first-hand of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, adding that this meeting was a condition set for his trip to Myanmar and Bangladesh. The Rohingya meeting was a highly symbolic gesture of solidarity with the Muslim minority fleeing violence in Myanmar, and the pontiff told journalists on his plane flying back to Rome that the refugees cried as well. "I knew that I was going to meet the Rohingyas but I did not know where and how, for me it was one of the conditions of the trip," he said. The usually forthright pontiff walked a diplomatic tightrope during his four days in Myanmar -- the first papal visit to the country -- avoiding any direct reference to the Rohingya in public while appealing to Buddhist leaders to overcome "prejudice and hatred". In Bangladesh he addressed the issue head-on, meeting a group of Rohingya refugees from the squalid camps in southern Bangladesh in an emotional encounter in Dhaka. "What Bangladesh has done for them is enormous, it´s an example of welcome," he said. "I wept, I tried to do it in a way that it couldn´t be seen," he said. "They wept too." "I told myself ´I cannot leave without saying a word to them´". The pope told the Rohingya: "In the name of all those who have persecuted you, who have harmed you, in the face of the world´s indifference, I ask for your forgiveness." The pope referred to the refugees as Rohingya, using the term for the first time on the tour in Bangladesh after the archbishop of Yangon advised him that doing so in Myanmar could inflame tensions and endanger Christians. "If I had used the word during an official speech I would have slammed the door," he said, adding: "They already knew what I thought." "For me the most important thing is that the message gets through," he added. The pope said he was "very satisfied" with his meetings in Myanmar and hinted that he expressed his opinion far more freely in private conversations with the country´s leaders than in his public appearances. More than 620,000 Rohingya have crossed into Bangladesh since a militant attack on police posts in late August sparked a deadly crackdown by the Myanmar military. During his tour the pope led well-attended open-air masses in Bangladesh and Myanmar, which both have small Christian populations.
  6. Aung San Suu Kyi received an honorary degree at Oxford University in 2012 LONDON: Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi has been stripped of the honorific freedom of Oxford, the British city where she studied and raised her children, over her "inaction" in the Rohingya crisis. "When Aung San Suu Kyi was given the Freedom of the City in 1997 it was because she reflected Oxford´s values of tolerance and internationalism," the city council said in a statement issued late Monday. "Today we have taken the unprecedented step of stripping her of the city´s highest honour because of her inaction in the face of the oppression of the minority Rohingya population," added the release, which was published after a unanimous vote. "Our reputation is tarnished by honouring those who turn a blind eye to violence." Oxford´s world-renowned university removed portraits of Suu Kyi, a former student, from its walls in September. City of Oxford strips Aung San Suu Kyi of human rights award Oxford City Council cites deep concerns over treatment of Rohingya Muslims under her watch Suu Kyi´s late husband Michael Aris was a lecturer in Asian history at the university, and the couple lived and raised their two sons in the city. The Nobel Peace Prize winner has come under fire for failing to speak up in defence of the minority Muslim community. The United Nations says more than 620,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh since August and now live in squalor in the world´s largest refugee camp after a military crackdown in Myanmar that the UN and Washington have said clearly constitutes "ethnic cleansing".
  7. Bangladesh approved a $280 million project on Tuesday to develop an isolated and flood-prone island in the Bay of Bengal to temporarily house 100,000 Rohingya Muslims fleeing violence in neighbouring Myanmar. Photo: Reuters file DHAKA: Bangladesh approved a $280 million project on Tuesday to develop an isolated and flood-prone island in the Bay of Bengal to temporarily house 100,000 Rohingya Muslims fleeing violence in neighboring Myanmar. The decision came just days after Bangladesh sealed a deal aiming to start returning Rohingya to Myanmar within two months to reduce pressure in refugee camps. A Bangladeshi government committee headed by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina approved the plan to develop Bhashan Char island, also known as Thenger Char, despite criticism from humanitarian workers who have said the island is all but uninhabitable. Planning Minister Mustafa Kamal said it would take time to repatriate the refugees, and in the meantime Bangladesh needed a place to house them. The project to house 100,000 refugees on the island would be complete by 2019, he said that many people are living in dire conditions, he said, describing the influx of refugees as ?a threat to both security and the environment?. More than 600,000 Rohingya Muslims have sought sanctuary in Bangladesh after the military in mostly Buddhist Myanmar launched a harsh counter-insurgency operation in their villages across the northern parts of Rakhine State. Bangladesh Foreign Minister Abul Hassan Mahmood Ali appealed in September for international support to transport Rohingya to the island. Bangladesh, one of the world?s poorest and most crowded nations, plans to develop the island, which emerged from the silt off Bangladesh?s delta coast only 11 years ago and is two hours by boat from the nearest settlement. It regularly floods during June-September monsoons. When seas are calm, pirates roam the nearby waters to kidnap fishermen for ransom. A plan to develop the island and use it to house refugees was first proposed in 2015 and revived last year. Despite criticism of the conditions on the island, Bangladesh says it has the right to decide where to shelter the growing numbers of refugees.
  8. This handout picture taken and released by the Vatican press office (Osservatore Romano) on November 28, 2017 shows Pope Francis (L) and Myanmar´s civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi during a meeting in Naypyidaw. Photo: AFP NAYPYIDAW: Pope Francis called for respect for rights and justice in a keenly-watched address in Myanmar on Tuesday, but refrained from any mention of the Rohingya, or allegations of ethnic cleansing that has driven huge numbers of the Muslim minority from the country. Sharing a stage with Myanmar´s leader Aung San Suu Kyi in the capital Naypyidaw, he did not address the Rohingya crisis head-on, instead tip-toeing around the unfolding humanitarian emergency. Peace can only be achieved through "justice and a respect for human rights", he said in a broadly-framed speech that also called for "respect for each ethnic group and its identity". The word "Rohingya", an incendiary term in a mainly Buddhist country where the Muslim minority are denied citizenship and branded illegal "Bengali" immigrants, was entirely absent from his speech. Francis has repeatedly defended the group, some 620,000 of whom have fled to Bangladesh since August. Rights groups had urged him to tackle Myanmar on its treatment of the minority during his four-day visit. Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, has been ostracised by a global rights community that once adored her but is now outraged at her tepid response to the plight of the Rohingya. She spoke of the challenges her country faces as it creeps out of the shadow of five decades of military rule, but also did not reference the Rohingya. Myanmar´s government aimed to build the nation by "protecting rights, fostering tolerance, ensuring security for all", she said in a short speech, that gave a nod to global concern over the "situation in the Rakhine." The pope´s peace mission is studded with pitfalls in Myanmar, where a monk-led Buddhist nationalist movement has fostered widespread loathing for the Rohingya. The Pope, The Lady and a General Late on Monday the 80-year-old pontiff received a "courtesy visit" from Myanmar´s powerful army chief -- whose troops, according to the UN and US, have waged a campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya in Rakhine state. Senior General Min Aung Hlaing has firmly denied allegations of widespread brutality by his forces, despite the flight of hundreds of thousands of people who have recounted widespread cases of rape, murder and arson. His office said he told the pope there was "no discrimination" in Myanmar, and feted his military for maintaining "the peace and stability of the country". Early Tuesday the pontiff met leaders from Buddhist, Muslim, Baptist and Jewish faiths in Yangon. The conversation centred around themes of unity and diversity, with the pope sharing a prayer and giving a "very, very beautiful speech", according to Sammy Samuels, a representative from the small Jewish community. The Lady, as she is fondly known in Myanmar, finally came to power after elections in 2015 but has fallen from grace internationally for not doing more to stand up to the army in defence of the Rohingya -- whose name she will not publicly utter. Rights groups have clamoured for Suu Kyi to be stripped of her peace prize. Oxford, the English city she once called home, on Monday removed her Freedom of the City award for her "inaction" in the face of oppression of the Rohingya. Just days before the papal visit, Myanmar and Bangladesh signed a deal to start repatriating Rohingya refugees within two months. But details of the agreement -- including the use of temporary shelters for returnees, many of whose homes have been burned to the ground -- raise questions for Rohingya fearful of returning without guarantees of basic rights. Francis will travel on to Bangladesh on Thursday. So far, the pontiff has received a warm welcome in Myanmar, whose Catholic community numbers just over one percent of the country´s 51 million people. But some 200,000 Catholics are pouring into the commercial capital Yangon from all corners of the country ahead of a huge, open-air mass on Wednesday morning. Zaw Sai, 52, from Kachin state, found space for himself and his family to camp out in a churchyard. "We feel very pleased because we are from different ethnicities but are one in our religion," he told AFP.
  9. Pope Francis attends a welcome ceremony with Myanmar?s President Htin Kyaw at the Presidential Palace in Naypyitaw, Myanmar November 28, 2017. Photo: Reuters YANGON: Pope Francis met leaders of several faiths in majority-Buddhist Myanmar on Tuesday, stressing the importance of ?unity in diversity? but making no mention of the Muslim Rohingya who have fled en masse to Bangladesh after a military crackdown. The pope held private talks with Myanmar?s military chief in Yangon on Monday, the first day of a visit fraught with tension after the United States accused the Southeast Asian nation of ?ethnic cleansing? against its Muslim Rohingya people. The leader of the Roman Catholic church will also travel to Bangladesh, where more than 620,000 Rohingya have fled to escape what Amnesty International has dubbed ?crimes against humanity?. Myanmar?s army has denied accusations of murder, rape, torture and forced displacement that have been made against it. ?Unity is always a product of diversity,? Francis told leaders of the Buddhist, Islamic, Hindu, Jewish and Christian faiths in Yangon, according to Vatican officials who gave a briefing on the 40-minute meeting. Catholics hope Pope talks Rohingya, climate in Bangladesh Cardinal Patrick D'Rozario said the Pope would bring 'inspiration and love' ?Everyone has their values, their riches as well as their differences, as each religion has its riches, its traditions, its riches to share. And this can only happen if we live in peace, and peace is constructed in a chorus of differences.? Aye Lwin, a prominent Muslim leader who was at the meeting, told Reuters he had asked the pope to appeal to Myanmar?s political leaders ?to rescue the religion that we cherish, which could be hijacked by a hidden agenda?. Only about 700,000 of Myanmar?s 51 million people are Roman Catholic. Thousands of them have traveled from far and wide to see him and more than 150,000 people have registered for a mass that Francis will say in Yangon on Wednesday. Tension over the word 'Rohingya' The pope was later flying to the capital, Naypyitaw, where he will meet government leader Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel laureate and democracy champion who has faced criticism from around the globe because she has expressed doubts about the reports of rights abuses against the Rohingya and failed to condemn the military. His trip is so delicate that some papal advisers have warned Francis against even saying the word ?Rohingya?, lest he set off a diplomatic incident that could turn the country?s military and government against minority Christians. Pope begins Myanmar trip in shadow of Rohingya crisis The pope will also visit Bangladesh, to where more than 620,000 Rohingya have fled The pope is due to deliver a speech after meeting Suu Kyi. The Rohingya exodus from Rakhine state to Bangladesh began after August 25, when Rohingya militants attacked security posts and the Myanmar army launched a counter-offensive. US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson last week called the military operation ?ethnic cleansing? and threatened targeted sanctions for ?horrendous atrocities?. Myanmar?s government has denied most of the accusations made against it, and the army says its own investigation found no evidence of wrongdoing by troops. Myanmar does not recognise the Rohingya as citizens nor as members of a distinct ethnic group with their own identity, and it even rejects the term ?Rohingya? and its use. Bangladesh, Myanmar agree to start Rohingya return in two months It remains unclear how many Rohingya will be allowed back and how long the process will take Many people in Myanmar instead refer to members of the Muslim minority in Rakhine state as illegal migrants from Bangladesh. Francis is expected to meet a group of Rohingya refugees in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, on the second leg of his trip. Vatican sources say some in the Holy See believe the trip was decided too hastily after full diplomatic ties were established in May during a visit by Suu Kyi. The pope has already used the word Rohingya in two appeals from the Vatican this year. A hardline group of Buddhist monks, previously known as Ma Ba Tha, said on Monday it welcomed the pope?s visit but warned, without elaborating, of ?a response? if he spoke openly about the Rohingya.
  10. Pope Francis is greeted upon his arrival at Yangon International Airport, Myanmar. Handout picture taken and released on November 27, 2017. AFP/Osservatore Romano2 DHAKA: The city's archbishop is confident that Pope Francis will use a rare visit to Bangladesh to underscore the plight of Rohingya refugees and those displaced by climate change. Cardinal Patrick D'Rozario, the highest-ranking member of the Catholic clergy in Bangladesh, said Monday the pontiff would bring "inspiration and love" to a region where millions are afflicted by conflict, poverty, and rising sea levels. The papal visit was not just for Bangladesh's tiny Catholic community, he said, but for all those facing hardships in the impoverished Muslim-majority nation of 160 million people. "Everyone has these questions in mind: will the Pope talk about the climate change? Will he talk about the Rohingyas? Will he say something about the workers of Rana Plaza disaster?" he said, the latter referring to a 2013 building collapse, which killed more than 1,100 garment workers. "We have high hopes he will talk about all these issues, which is very realistic. We truly hope he will respond." The 80-year-old pope has been vocal about the rights of the poor and climate change, a pressing issue in low-lying riverine Bangladesh where coastal villagers are already being forced from their homes by rising sea levels. But the persecution of the Rohingya ? a Muslim minority from Myanmar's Rakhine State ? has been pitched as the focal point of his visit. More than 620,000 of the group have fled mainly Buddhist Myanmar for Bangladesh since August, amid a campaign of army violence described by US and UN officials as ethnic cleansing. Most now live in squalid camps in Bangladesh where a shortage of aid and critical supplies has created a humanitarian emergency. Francis has championed the rights of refugees around the world and suggested he would raise the persecution of the Rohingya during his highly sensitive South Asia tour. He has called the Rohingya his "brothers and sisters" in repeated entreaties to ease their plight. Arriving in Myanmar Monday ? marking the first ever papal visit to the country ? Francis met with the powerful army chief accused of overseeing the brutal campaign to drive the Rohingya out. But during the 15-minute meeting in Yangon, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing told the pope that "Myanmar has no religious discrimination at all" according to a Facebook post published by the general's office. Francis will on Tuesday hold talks with Myanmar's de-facto leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi. He will travel to Bangladesh on Thursday, where he will meet a group of Rohingya in Dhaka. D'Rozario said Francis would also conduct a mass-prayer at Suhrawardi Udyan, a colonial-era green park in the capital, with at least 80,000 Catholics expected to join. It marks the first papal tour of Bangladesh since Pope John Paul II visited in 1986. Christians make up less than 0.5 percent of Bangladesh but the minority has played a prominent role in its history. Even today, schools and hospitals run by Catholic missionaries provide a lifeline for poor communities.
  11. YANGON: Pope Francis landed in Yangon on Monday, the start of a delicate visit for the world´s most prominent Christian to majority-Buddhist Myanmar, which the United States has accused of "ethnic cleansing" its Muslim Rohingya people. The pope will also visit Bangladesh, to where more than 620,000 Rohingya have fled from what Amnesty International has dubbed "crimes against humanity" by Myanmar security forces, including murder, rape, torture and forcible displacement. The Myanmar army denies the accusations. Only about 700,000 of Myanmar´s 51 million people are Roman Catholic. Thousands of them have travelled by train and bus to Yangon, the country´s main city, to catch a glimpse of the pope.
  12. YANGON: Bangladesh and Myanmar will start repatriating refugees in two months, Dhaka said Thursday, as global pressure mounts over a crisis that has forced more than 600,000 Rohingya to flee across the border. The United Nations says 620,000 Rohingya have arrived in Bangladesh since August to form the world's largest refugee camp after a military crackdown in Myanmar that Washington has said clearly constitutes "ethnic cleansing". The statement from Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is the strongest US condemnation yet of the crackdown, accusing Myanmar´s security forces of perpetrating "horrendous atrocities" against the group. Following talks between Myanmar's civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi and Dhaka's Foreign Minister A.H. Mahmood Ali held after weeks of tussling over the terms of repatriation, the two sides inked a deal in Myanmar´s capital Naypyidaw on Thursday. In a brief statement, Dhaka said they had agreed to start returning the refugees to mainly Buddhist Myanmar in two months. It said that a working group would be set up within three weeks to agree with the arrangements for the repatriation. "This is a primary step. (They) will take back (Rohingya). Now we have to start working," Ali told reporters in Naypyidaw. Impoverished and overcrowded Bangladesh has won international praise for allowing the refugees into the country, but has imposed restrictions on their movements and said it does not want them to stay. Suu Kyi's office called Thursday's agreement a "win-win situation for both countries", saying the issue should be "resolved amicably through bilateral negotiations". However, it remains unclear how many Rohingya will be allowed back and how long the process will take. Rights groups have raised concerns about the process, including where the minority will be resettled after hundreds of their villages were razed, and how their safety will be ensured in a country where anti-Muslim sentiment is surging. 'Won't go back' The stateless Rohingya have been the target of communal violence and vicious anti-Muslim sentiment in mainly Buddhist Myanmar for years. They have also been systematically oppressed by the government, which stripped the minority of citizenship and severely restricts their movement, as well as their access to basic services. Tensions erupted into bouts of bloodshed in 2012 that pushed more than 100,000 Rohingya into grim displacement camps. Despite the squalid conditions in the overcrowded camps in Bangladesh, many of the refugees say they are reluctant to return to Myanmar unless they are granted full citizenship. "We won't go back to Myanmar unless all Rohingya are granted citizenship with full rights like any other Myanmar nationals," said Abdur Rahim, 52, who was a teacher at a government-run school in Buthidaung in Myanmar´s Rakhine state before fleeing across the border. "We won't return to any refugee camps in Rakhine," he told AFP in Bangladesh. The signing of the deal came ahead of a highly-anticipated visit to both nations from Pope Francis, who has been outspoken about his sympathy for the plight of the Rohingya. The latest unrest occurred after Rohingya rebels attacked police posts on August 25. The army backlash rained violence across northern Rakhine, with refugees recounting nightmarish scenes of soldiers and Buddhist mobs slaughtering villagers and burning down entire communities. The military denies all allegations but has restricted access to the conflict zone. Suu Kyi´s government has blocked visas for a UN-fact finding mission tasked with probing accusations of military abuse.
  13. Pope Francis will meet Rohingya Muslim refugees from Myanmar in Dhaka when he visits the Bangladeshi capital next week. Photo: AFP file VATICAN CITY: Pope Francis will meet Rohingya Muslim refugees from Myanmar in Dhaka when he visits the Bangladeshi capital next week, a Vatican spokesman said Wednesday. Francis, who has repeatedly spoken out over the persecution of the religious minority by the Myanmar authorities, will meet a small group of Rohingyas during an interfaith meeting scheduled for Friday December 1. The Argentine pontiff?s trip to Bangladesh will be preceded by a three-day stop in neighbouring Myanmar, which will now include a private meeting with the head of the country?s army, General Min Aung Hlaing. The meeting with the military chief was organised on the recommendation of Charles Bo, the archbishop of Yangon, who also advised the pope not to use the term ?Rohingya?, during his visit, for fear of inflaming tensions in the predominantly Buddhist country. Army and government officials decline to use a term they see as giving the Muslims of Rakhine state the status of an ethnic minority, whereas the official line is that they are illegal immigrants from mainly Muslim Bangladesh. The Vatican spokesman said the pope was not forbidden from employing the term but added that he planned to follow his archbishop?s advice. International condemnation of Myanmar?s treatment of the Rohingya has mounted in recent days with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson saying Wednesday that it amounted to ethnic cleansing. US condemns 'ethnic cleansing' of Myanmar's Rohingya Tillerson said Myanmar's response to the crisis would be vital to determining the success of its transition to becoming More than 600,000 Rohingya, around a third of them children, have fled to Bangladesh since the military launched counter-insurgency operations in Rakhine state in August. UN officials have also described what is happening as ethnic cleansing while Amnesty International has said the treatment of the Rohingya has been on a par with the institutionalised racism of apartheid South Africa.
  14. WASHINGTON: The United States on Wednesday toughened its stance on Myanmar, accusing the country's security forces of perpetrating "horrendous atrocities" against the Rohingya that amount to "ethnic cleansing" of the Muslim minority. The statement from Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who visited Myanmar last week, are the strongest US condemnation yet of the military's crackdown against the Rohingya, which has triggered a major refugee crisis and escalating global outrage. "After a careful and thorough analysis of available facts, it is clear that the situation in northern Rakhine state constitutes ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya," Tillerson said in a statement. "No provocation can justify the horrendous atrocities that have ensued." More than 600,000 Rohingya have fled the mainly Buddhist country for Bangladesh since the military launched a counter-insurgency operation in Rakhine state in late August. While the army insists it has only targeted Rohingya rebels, refugees massing in Bangladeshi camps have given chilling and consistent accounts of widespread murder, rape and arson at the hands of security forces and Buddhist mobs. "These abuses by some among the Burmese military, security forces, and local vigilantes have caused tremendous suffering and forced hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children to flee their homes," Tillerson said. Tillerson said Myanmar's response to the crisis would be vital to determining the success of its transition to becoming "a more democratic society." 'Horrific' scenes Myanmar's de facto civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi - a Nobel peace laureate - has been criticised by rights groups disappointed with her failure to condemn the crackdown or publicly criticize the military. Washington says Suu Kyi has a crucial role to play in tackling the crisis but has been careful to focus blame on the army. On his one-day visit to Myanmar´s capital Naypyidaw, Tillerson said Washington was "deeply concerned by credible reports of widespread atrocities committed by Myanmar´s security forces and vigilantes." He urged Myanmar to accept an independent investigation into those allegations, after which individual sanctions could be appropriate. On Wednesday, Tillerson said: "Burma's government and security forces must respect the human rights of all persons within its borders, and hold accountable those who fail to do so." The army and Suu Kyi's administration have dismissed reports of atrocities and refused to grant entry to UN investigators tasked with probing alleged abuses. Some world leaders had already described the scorched-earth military campaign against the Rohingya as "ethnic cleansing." Following Tillerson's Myanmar stop, a report by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and Southeast Asia-based Fortify Rights said Myanmar security forces had slit the throats of Rohingya, burned victims alive and committed other abuses. "There is mounting evidence to suggest these acts represent a genocide of the Rohingya population," their report said. A separate investigation by New York-based Human Rights Watch said Myanmar troops gang-raped countless Rohingya women and girls in a campaign of "ethnic cleansing." Amnesty International said this week that a years-long "state-sponsored" campaign restricted virtually all aspects of the lives of the Rohingya, which constituted "apartheid."
  15. DHAKA: Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Saturday urged Bangladesh and Myanmar resolve the Rohingya crisis through bilateral negotiations instead of an international initiative. ?The international community should not complicate the situation,? Wang said in a press briefing at the Chinese Embassy in Dhaka. ?Actions in the United Nations Security Council must help Bangladesh-Myanmar bilateral cooperation to resolve the problem peacefully?, the minister told reporters. Wang arrived in Bangladesh on Saturday for a two-day visit and from there he will go to Myanmar to attend the Asia-Europe Meeting. (ASEM) ?China supports resolving the crisis peacefully, bilaterally with mutual consultation between Bangladesh and Myanmar,? he said. More than 600,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh since late August driven out by a military clearance operation in Buddhist majority Myanmar?s Rakhine State. ?It is a complex situation and needs a comprehensive solution. Economic development of Rakhine State is needed. China is ready to help,? Wang said. Earlier in the day Wang also met with Bangladesh?s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina at her official residence in Dhaka and assured her of China?s support in solving the crisis. ?Myanmar will have to take back their nationals ensuring their safety, security and dignity for a durable solution to the crisis,? Hasina?s private secretary Ihsanul Karim quoted the prime minister as saying. ?We will not allow the land of Bangladesh to be used by any terrorist group to commit any act of insurgency in neighbouring countries,? Hasina added, according to Karim. Bangladesh?s Foreign Minister Abul Hassan Mahmood Ali told Wang that Bangladesh is trying to resolve the issue both bilaterally and internationally as it could not afford the huge burden of the refugees. A statement from Bangladesh foreign ministry said that when the issue of displaced Myanmar nationals was raised, Wang stated that China would help resolve the issue and will not be partial to any side. He acknowledged that Bangladesh is facing the brunt of continuing influx of Rohingya refugees, the Bangladeshi foreign ministry statement said. A delegation of US Congressmen is visiting Bangladesh to study the Rohingya crisis on Saturday. Sweden?s foreign minister Margot Wallstrom, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini, Germany?s foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel and Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kona will also visit Bangladesh this week.
  16. Asean leaders attend the opening session of the 31st ASEAN Summit in Manila, Philippines, November 13, 2017. REUTERS MANILA: A draft of the statement to be issued after a Southeast Asian summit makes no mention of the exodus of Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar?s Rakhine state following a military crackdown that has been described by the United Nations as ethnic cleansing. One paragraph of the communique, seen by Reuters on Monday, mentions the importance of humanitarian relief provided for victims of natural disasters in Vietnam and a recent urban battle with Islamist militants in the Philippines, as well as ?affected communities? in northern Rakhine state. The statement was drawn up by the Philippines, current chair of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) - which includes Myanmar - whose leaders met for a plenary session in Manila on Monday. The draft did not give any details of the situation in northern Rakhine state or use the term Rohingya for the persecuted Muslim minority, which Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi has asked foreign leaders not to use. The government in mostly-Buddhist Myanmar regards the Rohingya as illegal migrants from Bangladesh and does not recognize the term. Well over 600,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh to find shelter in refugee camps after military clearance operations were launched in response to attacks by Rohingya militants on security posts on Aug. 25. The plight of the Rohingya has brought outrage from around the world and there have been calls for democracy champion Suu Kyi to be stripped of the Nobel peace prize she won in 1991 because she has not condemned the Myanmar military?s actions. In September, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the situation in Rakhine was best described as ethnic cleansing. Some members of ASEAN, particularly Muslim-majority Malaysia, have voiced concern. However, in keeping with ASEAN?s principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of one another, the issue appears to have been put aside at the summit. Suu Kyi, who did not mention the crisis in a pre-summit speech after arriving in Manila on Sunday, criticized ASEAN?s principle of non-interference in 1999 when she was fighting for democracy in a country then ruled by a military junta. ?This policy of non-interference is just an excuse for not helping,? she wrote in an opinion column in the Thai daily the Nation at the time. ?In this day and age, you cannot avoid interference in the matters of other countries.?
  17. Rohingya women cry after being restricted by members of Border Guards Bangladesh (BGB) to further enter into Bangladesh, in Cox?s Bazar, Bangladesh, August 28, 2017. REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain/Files DHAKA: Myanmar soldiers "systematically targeted" Rohingya women for gang-rape during violence against the minority Muslim community which triggered an exodus to Bangladesh, a UN special envoy said Sunday. Pramila Patten, a special representative of the UN Secretary-General on sexual violence in conflict, made the comments after visiting Bangladesh's southeastern district of Cox's Bazar where some 610,000 Rohingya have taken refuge in the last ten weeks. Many of these atrocities "could be crimes against humanity", she said. "I heard horrific stories of rape and gang-rape, with many of the women and girls who died as a result of the rape," Patten told reporters in Dhaka. "My observations point to a pattern of widespread atrocities, including sexual violence against Rohingya women and girls who have been systematically targeted on account of their ethnicity and religion." The sexual violence in Myanmar's northern state of Rakhine was "commanded, orchestrated and perpetrated by the armed forces of Myanmar", she said. "The forms of sexual violence we consistently heard about from survivors include gang-rape by multiple soldiers, forced public nudity and humiliation and sexual slavery in military captivity." "One survivor described being held in captivity by the Myanmar armed forces for 45 days, during which time she was repeatedly raped. Others still bore visible scars, bruises and bite marks attesting to their ordeal," Patten added. Deadly raids by Rohingya militants on Myanmar police posts on August 25 sparked ferocious reprisals against the community by the military in the mainly Buddhist nation. The special representative said others involved in the sexual violence include Myanmar border police and militias composed of Buddhists and other ethnic groups in Rakhine. Refugees are still streaming across the border from Rakhine into Bangladesh, where hundreds of thousands have settled in squalid camps. The UN now estimates the majority of the Rohingya once living in Rakhine ? previously estimated at around one million ? have fled a campaign of violence it has likened to ethnic cleansing. Patten said the sexual violence was a key reason behind the exodus and occurred in the context of "collective persecution" of the Rohingya. "The widespread threat and use of sexual violence was clearly a driver and push factor for forced displacement on a massive scale and a calculated tool of terror aimed at the extermination and the removal of the Rohingya as a group," she said. For decades the Rohingya have faced persecution in Myanmar, where they are denied citizenship and denigrated as illegal "Bengali" immigrants.
  18. DHAKA: The US wants Myanmar to repatriate hundreds of thousands of Rohingya in their own villages following their exodus from the country's violence-wracked Rakhine state for Bangladesh, a senior State Department official said Saturday in Dhaka. Simon Henshaw, acting US assistant secretary of state who visited refugee camps in southeast Bangladesh, said Myanmar should also punish those who committed atrocities in Rakhine. More than 600,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh since late August carrying accounts of murder, rape and arson at the hands of Myanmar´s powerful army during a military crackdown dubbed as "ethnic cleansing" by the UN. They have taken refuge in squalid camps in southeast Bangladesh, joining the more than 200,000 Rohingyas who had set up homes there after escaping earlier bouts of violence. "First of all, it is (Myanmar's) responsibility to return security and stability to Rakhine state. Secondly, it's their responsibility to investigate reports of atrocities and bring those who committed them to accountability," Henshaw told reporters in Dhaka. "Part of bringing people back to Rakhine state requires these people be allowed to return to their land.... And for those whose villages are burnt, quick efforts need to be made to restore their homes and their villages," he said. After weeks of intense global pressure, Myanmar agreed to take back Rohingya who meet "verification" standards. But the criteria remains vague, raising fears it will be used to restrict the number of returnees. Experts say repatriation will also be complicated by the scale of destruction in Rakhine, where hundreds of Rohingya villages have been reduced to ash. Relief workers say some refugees have expressed a reluctance to return if it would mean living in camp-like settlements or being barred from occupying the land they had before. US lawmakers on Friday proposed sanctions against Myanmar´s military, in some of the strongest efforts yet by Washington to pressure the Southeast Asian nation to end abusive treatment of the Muslim minority. Myanmar authorities say the security crackdown was in response to attacks by Rohingya militants on police posts in late August. For decades, the Rohingya have faced discrimination in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, where they are denied citizenship and denigrated as illegal "Bengali" immigrants.
  19. GENEVA: Life-threatening levels of malnutrition have risen dramatically among Rohingya refugee children who have fled Myanmar for Bangladesh, the United Nations warned Friday. The UN children's agency said preliminary data indicated a full 7.5 percent of the children crammed into one of the camps in Bangladesh's Cox's Bazar district were at risk of dying from severe acute malnutrition. More than 600,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar´s Rakhine state since late August during military operations that the United Nations has described as ethnic cleansing and the world´s most acute refugee crisis. Around half of them are children. "It's very worrying to see the condition of children who keep arriving," UNICEF spokesman Christophe Boulierac told reporters in Geneva after a recent trip to the camps. The agency and its partners are already treating more than 2,000 acutely malnourished children at 15 treatment centres, and are in the process of setting up six additional centres. AFP correspondents on the ground also witnessed scores of obviously malnourished children near treatment centres in several refugee camps in Cox´s Bazar. "He cannot eat enough food as he suffers from pneumonia, fever and diarrhoea," Rohingya woman Fahima Bibi told AFP as she emerged from one centre with her two-year-old grandson Mohammad Jabed, who is suffering from severe acute malnutrition. UNICEF said its preliminary findings were based on a nutrition assessment conducted last week of children under the age of five in 405 households in the Kutupalong refugee camp in Cox´s Bazar. 'Catastrophe' "The Rohingya children in the camp, who have survived horrors in Myanmar´s northern Rakhine State and a dangerous journey here, are already caught up in a catastrophe," UNICEF Bangladesh Representative Edouard Beigbeder said in a statement. "Those with severe malnutrition are now at risk of dying from an entirely preventable and treatable cause," he warned. Malnutrition rates among children in northern Rakhine were already above emergency thresholds before the latest crisis erupted. "The condition of these children has further deteriorated due to the long journey across the border and the conditions in the camps," the UNICEF statement said. The journey by boat is particularly treacherous, with the International Organization for Migration on Friday putting the number of drownings since August at around 250. Some 26,000 people now live in the Kutupalong camp, where they are faced with an acute shortage of food and water, unsanitary conditions and high rates of diarrhoea and respiratory infections, the agency said. UNICEF said it was planning two additional assessments in other sites in Cox's Bazar this month to help determine if the numbers found in Kutupalong might apply to the entire area. Boulierac, however, told AFP the agency was concerned by the preliminary findings since the Kutupalong camp has existed for a long time and the services there are believed to be better than in the many new, makeshift camps. The overall rate of life-threatening malnutrition could, therefore, turn out to be even higher than what was found in Kutupalong, he said. The influx of refugees is continuing, with the UN refugee agency estimates that some 3,000 people crossed through a single border crossing at Anjuman Para between Wednesday and Thursday alone. "We need far more attention to the crisis, and far more resources for the response," Beigbeder said, stressing that "these children need help right now."
  20. In a refugee camp in Bangladesh crammed with makeshift bamboo shelters, Rohingya boys gather on one of the few remaining clear areas of ground for an energetic bout of chinlone. Photo: AFP file. KUTUPALONG: In a refugee camp in Bangladesh crammed with makeshift bamboo shelters, Rohingya boys gather on one of the few remaining clear areas of ground for an energetic bout of chinlone ?a version of keepie-uppie that is one of the few pleasures they can still enjoy. Chinlone, a cross between football and volleyball played with a woven cane ball, is hugely popular in the villages of Myanmar where the refugees are from. For the children, it offers a brief respite from the fight for survival in squalid camps that have tripled in size with the arrival of more than 600,000 Rohingya in little more than two months. They are fleeing a fresh outbreak of ethnic violence in Myanmar?s Rakhine state, where militant attacks on police posts in August. When Mohammad Faisal fled Myanmar during an earlier bout of violence three years ago, his chinlone ball was among the prized possessions he packed into the small bag that was all the family could take. ?I love it. All my friends love this sport,? the 16-year-old told AFP in the Kutupalong refugee camp as he and his friends enjoyed a kickaround. Chinlone ?a much loved sport across Myanmar ?involves six players keeping a ball above the ground using any part of their body except their hands. To the untrained eye it looks like a particularly elaborate form of keepie uppie, with expert players performing flips as they kick the ball high into the air. ?The fun is to keep the ball on air as long as you can. We would often keep it up there for more than an hour,? said Saiful Islam, 18, a keen chinlone player who was born in the camp. Nurul Amin, 37, recalls how he used to play the sport with his Rakhine neighbours in their village in mainly Buddhist Myanmar before ethnic tensions set in. Many of the refugees have said their ethnic Rakhine neighbours took part in the violence that has forced hundreds of thousands to flee, including burning Rohingya homes and mosques to the ground. ?That was the time when there was a lot of camaraderie between the communities. There were sports competitions in every village in Rakhine,? said Amin. ?The trust is broken forever. There?s no way we will gather again to play chinlone.?
  21. This photograph taken on October 28, 2017 shows Rohingya refugee children watching the Bangladeshi theatre group "Drama Therapy" at Kutupalong refugee camp in Ukhia./ AFP KUTUPALONG: The Rohingya boys and girls shrieked with delight as the clowns juggled hoops and somersaulted, their red-nosed antics provoking a sound rarely heard in the world´s largest refugee camp -- children´s laughter. The clowns have been providing much-needed levity in the crowded Bangladesh camps, where hundreds of thousands of traumatised Rohingya children spend long days in bleak and difficult conditions. Mohammad Noor lives with his mother and three siblings in a makeshift shanty in the teeming Kutupalong camp, where a lack of food and water means a constant struggle to survive. The 10-year-old fled Myanmar last month after his father was killed in brutal violence by the army that the United Nations has likened to ethnic cleansing. The impromptu circus in a dusty clearing is a welcome distraction from the horror at home. "It is hilarious. I have never seen anything like it. My friends and I were just laughing and laughing," he told AFP, as a quartet of painted clowns performed skits before a huge gathered crowd. Theatre groups in Bangladesh have a record of using "drama therapy" to lift spirits in the most depressing of circumstances. One troupe performed for the survivors of a factory collapse in 2013 that killed 1100 garment workers, while another hosted shows in a small village in Bangladesh´s south that lost nearly 50 children in a tragic road accident. In the Rohingya camps, where many lie sick or injured mourning the death of family and loss of their homelands, laughter is sorely needed. "Our sole aim is to bring laughter to the Rohingya," said Rina Akter Putul, a veteran acrobat and the lone female member of the group. "Making people laugh is a tough job, especially for those who lost their parents in the conflict." Laughter as medicine The UN estimates 60 percent of the more than 600,000 refugees to arrive in Bangladesh since late August are children. Many crossed the border alone from their villages in Myanmar´s westernmost Rakhine State after their parents were murdered and communities driven out by state-sanctioned violence. Charities on the ground say children are in dire need of emotional and mental support after enduring such trauma on their difficult journeys. "I am sure our show will live in their memory for some time. It won´t erase their scars, but it will boost their confidence," said Faker Ali, an acrobat who has worked in drama therapy for more than two decades. But it´s not just the children who benefit from the visiting performers. Among the spectators who flocked to a recent show were countless elderly Rohingya refugees, clapping and smiling as the acrobats whirred rings and bars. Life has been a gruelling quest to survive for older generations of the stateless Muslim minority. Many have escaped past pogroms in Rakhine and lost family and friends in bitter cycles of ethnic violence. Rohingya are a reviled minority in Myanmar and are denied citizenship, education and opportunity by the Buddhist-majority government that regards them as illegal outsiders. Most have enjoyed few if any luxuries in their lives -- making the circus performance all the more thrilling. "We hardly have any fun," said Nesar Ahmed, 38. Even during major festivals and weddings, there is little in the way of entertainment, he added. "Life in Arakan (Rakhine) is grim," Khairul Amin, a 63-year-old grandfather, told AFP as a boisterous crowd, young and old, jostled to meet the visiting clowns. "There is no television and no cinema or theatre. And there is this constant fear you´ll be killed or arrested by the military." Seated for the show with her youngest child on her lap, Rehana smiled and laughed, saying: "Never in my life have I have seen such fun."
  22. Sat in his hillside grocery shop in a Bangladesh refugee camp, Rohingya Muslim Momtaz-ul-Hoque takes a break to listen to an audio recording on his mobile phone, while children and passers-by gather round to hear the latest news from Myanmar. ?I listen because I get some information on my motherland,? said Hoque, 30, as he plays a message on WhatsApp explaining the Myanmar government?s proposals for repatriating refugees. Hoque has been in Bangladesh since an earlier bout of violence in Myanmar?s Rakhine state in 1992, but the number of refugees in the camps has swelled dramatically to more than 800,000 in recent weeks, after a massive Myanmar military operation sent around 600,000 people fleeing across the border. Tens of thousands of exhausted refugees have arrived with little more than a sack of rice, a few pots and pans and a mobile phone powered by a cheap solar battery, and many are desperate for news of what is going on back home. With few news sources in their own language and low levels of literacy, audio and video messages distributed on apps such as WhatsApp, Facebook and YouTube have become a community radio of sorts for the Muslim minority. Dozens of WhatsApp groups have sprung up to fill the information gap. Their offerings range from grainy footage of violence, to listings of the names and numbers of people missing in the chaos of the exodus, or even an explainer from educated Rohingya on how to adjust to life in the camps. 100 PERCENT TRUST At a shop selling cold drinks in the Leda refugee camp, two men played ?WhatsApp news? through a loudspeaker. Out of breath, a man narrated a scene purportedly from a village in Myanmar?s Buthidaung region, according to Mohammed Zubair, a refugee who translated the broadcasts for Reuters. ?They are surrounding the village. We are under attack from the military and the mogs...some people are seriously injured,? Zubair translates the speaker as saying, using a derogatory term common in Bangladesh to refer to ethnic Rakhine Buddhists. ?I trust it 100 percent,? Zubair said of the information. Reuters was not able to verify the account. The WhatsApp groups tend to have hundreds of members, meaning that the spread of information depends on people passing on the news. Many of the listeners do not know who is sending the message or the trustworthiness of the broadcaster. Some said outdated or inaccurate reports were common. ?In some cases, we got audio messages of villages burning in Myanmar, and when we contact people in those villages, there?s nothing,? said one refugee inside a tea shop in Bangladesh?sKutupalong camp. Other refugees said videos of violence claimed to have been filmed in villages in Myanmar turned out to be footage from other countries. LISTENING IN THE DARK Many also worry that the unregulated nature of WhatsApp groups increases opportunities for voices keen to push an agenda rather than share facts. Rohingya rebel group the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) - whose Aug. 25 attacks on security forces triggered the latest crisis - and its followers have been among the most active adopters of WhatsApp to spread their message. Audio messages urging support, updates on the latest military movements and official press releases dominate some groups. Several refugees in Bangladesh said they had no idea if the messages, often posted by people with phone numbers registered in the Middle East or other parts of Asia, were actually from ARSA members. Refugees also worry that Bangladeshi security forces want to monitor the broadcasts, and are looking in the camps for ARSA supporters. At the tea shop in Kutupalong camp, refugees have stopped listening to the broadcasts on loudspeakers during daylight hours, preferring to gather clandestinely at night instead. Still, many Rohingyas say social media platforms play a crucial role in keeping spirits up among the community. ?The Rohingya people are not organised,? said Hoque, the grocer. ?They cannot take out their frustration any other way, so this is a way of protesting.?
  23. Rohingya refugees walk inside the Palong Khali refugee camp near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, October 23, 2017. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi WASHINGTON: The United States is taking steps and considering a range of further actions over Myanmar?s treatment of its Rohingya Muslim minority, including targeted sanctions under its Global Magnitsky law, the State Department said on Monday. ?We express our gravest concern with recent events in Myanmar?s Rakhine state and the violent, traumatic abuses Rohingya and other communities have endured,? it said in a statement. ?It is imperative that any individuals or entities responsible for atrocities, including non-state actors and vigilantes, be held accountable,? it added.
  24. GENEVA: Nations have pledged $340 million to care for Myanmar's Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, an "encouraging" step in the response to the intensifying crisis, the UN said Monday. Many of the funds for the minority Muslim group, who have fled from violence in the northern part of Myanmar´s Rakhine state, were promised at a high-level conference in Geneva, co-hosted by the United Nations, the European Union and Kuwait. The UN says it needs $434 million to provide support through February for the 900,000 Rohingya who have fled across the border, as well as the 300,000 local Bangladeshis hosting the influx. "We've had an encouraging morning," the UN´s humanitarian chief, Mark Lowcock, told reporters. "We now have pledges of 340 million dollars." Some of the money was promised in the run-up to the conference and Lowcock said he expected more commitments in the coming days. A group of nations had also offered $50 million of in-kind donations. Lowcock stressed the importance of countries actually delivering the cash, with the UN having confronted unfulfilled pledges in past crises. "Pledges are one thing," he told reporters. "It's really important to us that the pledges are translated as soon as possible into contributions". With no apparent resolution to the crisis in sight, Lowcock noted that there may be a need to raise more funds again next year. The head of the International Organization for Migration, William Lacey Swing, called the wave of Rohingya fleeing to Bangladesh "the fastest growing refugee crisis in the world." "It is, in its own way, a nightmare," he added. Bangladesh's government and the community in the Cox's Bazar area on the Myanmar border have been broadly praised for the response to Rohingya refugee influx, notably for keeping the border open. Rohingya refugees have headed for Bangladesh in huge numbers after militant attacks on Myanmar security forces in Rakhine sparked a major army crackdown on the community likened to ethnic cleansing by the UN. Rohingyas have been systematically deprived of basic rights over decades in majority Buddhist Myanmar. In the latest crackdown, Myanmar´s security forces have fired indiscriminately on unarmed civilians, including children, and committed widespread sexual violence, according to UN investigators.
  25. 'Two hundred thousand Rohingya children are in refugee camps': Pope Francis. Photo: AFP Pope Francis on Monday mourned the plight of 200,000 Rohingya children stuck in refugee camps a month before he heads to Myanmar and Bangladesh, the countries at the heart of an intensifying humanitarian crisis. "Two hundred thousand Rohingya children (are) in refugee camps. They have barely enough to eat, though they have a right to food. (They are) Malnourished, without medicine," he said. The pope will visit mainly-Buddhist Myanmar at the end of November before moving on to neighbouring Bangladesh, which has had to absorb more than half a million Rohingya refugees fleeing the violence across the border. Pope France met with Aung San Suu Kyi when the Myanmar leader visited the Vatican in May 2017. Photo: AFP He has previously expressed support for the persecuted Muslim minority in Myanmar, calling them "brothers and sisters". During his visit, he will meet with Myanmar's de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel peace prize laureate who has sparked international dismay for her perceived lack of sympathy towards the Rohingya and unwillingness to condemn alleged atrocities by the army. There are currently no plans for the Argentine pontiff to stop in strife-torn northern Myanmar state of Rakhine or the refugee camps in Bangladesh. But he risks provoking a backlash in any case with his messages of support for the Rohingya. Inside Myanmar, anti-Rohingya hatred has festered for years. Many, including the army and government officials, refuse to use the term Rohingya and instead insist the group are illegal "Bengali" immigrants.