Myanmar has again violated Bangladeshi air space, this time with helicopters and drones, the Bangladesh government said Friday, as local and international agencies struggled to manage a humanitarian crisis in the country's southeast.
The foreign ministry said it had summoned Myanmar Ambassador Aung Myint and handed him a protest note, the fourth this month, as hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees fled to Bangladesh amid what rights groups described as ethnic cleansing in Myanmar’s Rakhine state.
“Bangladesh strongly protested the instances of violation of her airspace by Myanmar military drones and helicopters on 10, 12 and 14 September 2017,” a foreign ministry statement said. It had lodged a similar complaint in early September.
Also on Friday, Bangladeshi authorities said that two Myanmar nationals working as journalists and four Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar had been detained at two different locations on suspicion of immigration violations and espionage.
Hamburg-based GEO magazine and London-based Panos Pictures issued a joint statement Friday saying they were “deeply concerned” that Burmese photojournalist Minzayar Oo and his assistant, Hkun Lat, had been held by Bangladeshi authorities since Sept. 7. GEO said it had sent both men to Cox’s Bazar to cover the story about the new Rohingya influx.
Bangladeshi officials said the men had been detained for conducting professional work after entering the country on tourist visas, a potential violation of the nation’s immigration law.
“This is very likely that they would be informants. If not so, why would they hide their identities? They [Burmese people] have been trying to collect information out of Bangladesh, using various tactics,” Manjurul Karim Khan Chowdhury, a director general at the Bangladeshi foreign ministry, told BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.
“They were collecting information on the Rohingya for Myanmar,” said Ranjit Kumar Barua, the police chief in Cox’s Bazar district, according to Agence France-Presse.
In southeastern Bandarban district, Azizur Rahman, an assistant commissioner and executive magistrate there, told BenarNews that police had detained four Rohingya men on suspicion of “spying,” but he gave no more details.
As many as 392,000 Rohingya and other refugees have fled over the border from Rakhine since Aug. 25, according to estimates from the United Nations. The latest influx brings the total number of refugees from Myanmar sheltering in southeastern Bangladesh to approximately 800,000.
At least 107 refugees have died since late August, mostly by drowning in the Naf River that separates the two countries, Bangladeshi officials said.
The refugees have been fleeing by the tens of thousands amid allegations that the Myanmar military has been targeting the stateless Rohingya Muslim minority in a campaign of ethnic cleansing—claims which authorities there have denied.
They have blamed an insurgent group, the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), for instigating the violence when its forces attacked Myanmar police posts in Rakhine on Aug. 25.
On Friday, New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said it had acquired new satellite images and data showing that 62 Rohingya villages in northern Rakhine were targeted in arson attacks.
“Our field research backs what the satellite imagery has indicated—that the Burmese military is directly responsible for the mass burning of Rohingya villages in northern Rakhine State,” Phil Robertson, HRW’s deputy Asia director, said in a statement.
On Thursday, Amnesty International said it had evidence that Myanmar government forces were carrying out a campaign to empty Rakhine of its population of one million Muslims.
“The evidence is irrefutable—the Myanmar security forces are setting northern Rakhine State ablaze in a targeted campaign to push the Rohingya people out of Myanmar. Make no mistake: this is ethnic cleansing,” said Tirana Hassan, Amnesty International’s crisis response director.
In an interview Friday, Myanmar’s ambassador to the United States refuted the allegations and said his country was a victim of “false” reports by the international media.
“We do not want to argue with the false media,” Ambassador Aung Lynn told Voice of America (VOA), a sister entity of BenarNews.
The allegations have led to protests in neighboring countries. Thousands of Muslims took to the streets of Dhaka after Friday prayers to protest what they termed a “genocide” targeting the Rohingya and to demand that the international community intervene to stop it.
“The genocide of Rohingya will not end unless Bangladesh takes military action against Burma,” Nur Hossain Kashemi, head of the Dhaka unit of conservative Muslim group Hefazat-e-Islam, told BenarNews.
"A monumental task lies ahead of us," he said.
U.N. relief agencies and local officials warned meanwhile that the huge influx of refugees had put immense pressure on limited resources and relief supplies in southeastern Bangladesh,
“There are acute shortages of everything, most critically shelter, food and clean water,” Edouard Beigbeder, the head of UNICEF in Bangladesh, said in a statement Thursday.
“Conditions on the ground place children at high risk of water-borne disease. We have a monumental task ahead of us to protect these extremely vulnerable children.”
At least 200,000 of the new refugee arrivals were children, according to U.N. sources.
UNICEF has been sending trucks with water, sanitation and hygiene supplies to Cox’s Bazar, and has appealed for $7.3 million to provide emergency support to Rohingya children over the next four months, he added.
Bangladeshi officials said they were rushing aid and relief supplies to the southeast, but were having difficulty coordinating the effort.
“We urged people to deposit the relief materials to the government relief control room, but the people are not responding to the call,” Mayeed Uddin, the top administrator of Ukhia, a subdistrict in Cox’s Bazar, told BenarNews.
Ali Hossain, the deputy commissioner of Cox’s Bazar, said the facility had received 800 metric tons (882 tons) of food and more than $39,000 (3.2 million taka) in cash donations from government agencies, charity groups and private individuals.
“Look, Bangladesh was not prepared to face such a situation: several hundred thousand people entered in just three weeks,” Shahriar Alam, the state minister for foreign affairs, told BenarNews.
“This is not an easy task to ensure shelter, food, water, sanitation, clothing and other basic necessities for people on such a huge scale.”
Reported by BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.