Allegations of Rohingya ethnic cleansing, the view from Yangon

Asia Calling correspondent Kannikar Petchkaew traveled to Yangon to find out how people in Myanmar feel about one of the world’s most persecuted minorities, the Rohingya.


Jumat, 23 Des 2016 15:30 WIB


Kannikar Petchkaew

Most revere Shwedagon Pagoda blazed under The Buddhist -majority Myanmar sky. (Photo: Kannikar Petch

Most revere Shwedagon Pagoda blazed under The Buddhist -majority Myanmar sky. (Photo: Kannikar Petchkaew)

As allegations of ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya emerge from Rakhine state in Myanmar, leader Aung San Suu Kyi has come under increasing fire from the international community.

But what about at home? 

Asia Calling correspondent Kannikar Petchkaew traveled to Yangon to find out how people in Myanmar feel about one of the world’s most persecuted minorities.

John is in his fifties. His taxi car is a bit younger.

Driving through the packed streets of Yangon street isn’t easy for either of them.

For Southeast Asia’s Myanmar, Yangon is the largest city. Home to 6 million. 

After decades of isolation under junta rule, over recent years Yangon has become a vibrant city, one that hardly sleeps.

With the engine creaking and with his limited English, soldier turned taxi driver, John has his own connection to Rakhine.

The state is an 11-hour drive from Yangon and 7 hours from the capital of Naypyidaw. It’s where million of the ethnic Rohingya group live, many of whom are Muslim.

John tells me that he was born in Rakhine state, and that he grew up with and studied with many Muslim friends. They once lived peacefully together, but the mood has recently changed.

The ongoing conflict has made headlines over recent weeks, after allegations the military burned the homes of the Rohingya and raped women. 

The crackdown started after militants attacked three border guard posts, killing nine police officers and wounding five. 

The attackers were allegedly Rohingya, and the Myanmar Army subsequently began so-called “clearance operations.” 

An estimated 30,000 Rohingya have since fled across the border to Bangladesh.

But in Yangon business goes on as usual. 

Last week thousands of people marched to show their solidarity with the soldiers fighting against ethnic armed groups in the north.

That includes not just crackdowns against the Rohingya, but also ethnic rebels groups in Kachin and Shan state too.

In the suburbs of Yangon I travel to the office of the Voice daily newspaper, which has been running since 2004.

Kyaw San Min in his late thirties, and is the Editor in Chief. 

He rejects the idea tha the media in Myanmar has turned a blind eye to the killings in Rakhine.

And like many in Myanmar, Kyaw San Min says he doesn’t believe the Rohingya have a right to live in the country. According to him, the Rohinga do not come from Myanmar, but Bangladesh. 

The Rohingya claim they are indigenous to Rakhine, while some historians argue the group represents a mixture of precolonial and colonial immigrants. 

Denied citizenship in Myanmar after living there for hundreds of years, the Rohingya are now effectively stateless.

In Yangon I also meet acclaimed journalist May Thingyan Hein, a journalist that has stood up to the government time and time again, especially during the years of military rule.

She explains that she had thirteen pen names, and even then it was difficult to survive as a journalist under rule. 

But when it comes to the Rohingya, for the first time May agrees with the government.

She tells me that she believes this is not a human rights issue, that the Rohingya need and want land. 

In Yangon, it’s a common to see a Buddhist pagoda right next to a mosque, as you notice the evening call to prayer ring out over the city.

Maung Maung Win is 40 years old. He’s an Islamic leader at the Bengali Sunni Jameh Mosque, right next to the Buddhist Suleh pagoda.

The mosque is right in the middle of the city and has been there for 154 years. 

But Maung tells me the friendly scene I see does not mirror the truth, even though the Rohingya have lived in Arakan, or Rakhine state, for centuries.

While mosques and pagodas were built next to each other more than a hundred years ago, these days in Myanamr, religious, and ethnic, divisions run deep.



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