YANGON/SHAMLAPUR, Bangladesh (Reuters) - Myanmar said on Wednesday it was negotiating with China and Russia to ensure they block any U.N. Security Council censure over the violence that has forced an exodus of nearly 150,000 Rohingya Muslims to Bangladesh in less than two weeks.
Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi blamed “terrorists” for “a huge iceberg of misinformation” on the strife in the northwestern state of Rakhine but, in a statement, she made no mention of the Rohingya who have fled.
Suu Kyi has come under increasing pressure from countries with Muslim populations, including Indonesia, where thousands led by Islamist groups rallied in Jakarta on Wednesday to demand that diplomatic ties with Buddhist-majority Myanmar be cut.
In a rare letter to the U.N. Security Council, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres expressed concern the violence could spiral into a “humanitarian catastrophe”.
He warned on Tuesday that there was a risk of ethnic cleansing in Myanmar that could destabilize the region.
Myanmar National Security Adviser Thaung Tun said Myanmar was counting on China and Russia, both permanent members of the Security Council, to block a U.N. resolution on the crisis.
“We are negotiating with some friendly countries not to take it to the Security Council,” he told a news conference. “China is our friend and we have a similar friendly relationship with Russia, so it will not be possible for that issue to go forward.”
Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said he believed the 15-member Security Council had sent a signal, by meeting behind closed doors on the issue a week ago, that it would like to see the situation calm down.
“We called for restraint,” he told reporters on Tuesday. “The Security Council for the time being did what it could do.”
The U.S. State Department said Washington was “deeply concerned by sustained reports of significant violence and the impact on civilian populations, including the Rohingya community.
“These reports include allegations of violence conducted by security forces and civilians, as well as additional attacks by ARSA,” a spokesman said, referring to Arakan Rohingya Solidarity Organization insurgents.
The spokesman said the United States had discussed the issue with Myanmar “at the highest levels” and was also in touch with its neighbors and other international partners.
“We welcome indications that the government is committed to providing access to humanitarian aid via the Red Cross, and we look forward to learning further details.” he added.
Reuters reporters in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar region have witnessed boatloads of exhausted Rohingya arriving near the border village of Shamlapur.
According to the latest estimates from U.N. workers operating there, arrivals in 12 days stood at 146,000. This brought to 233,000 the total number of Rohingya who have sought refuge in Bangladesh since last October.
New arrivals told authorities that three boats carrying a total of more than 100 people capsized in early on Wednesday. Coastguard Commander M.S. Kabir said six bodies, including three children, had washed ashore.
The surge of refugees, many sick or wounded, has strained the resources of aid agencies and communities helping hundreds of thousands from previous violence in Myanmar. Many have no shelter, and aid agencies are racing to provide water, sanitation and food.
“People have come with virtually nothing so there has to be food,” a U.N. source working there said. “So this is now a huge concern – where is this food coming from for at least the elderly, the children, the women who have come over without their husbands?”
Suu Kyi spoke by telephone on Tuesday with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, who has pressed world leaders to do more to help a population of roughly 1.1 million he says are facing genocide.
In a statement issued by her office on Facebook, Suu Kyi said the government had “already started defending all the people in Rakhine in the best way possible” and warned against misinformation that could mar relations with other countries.
She referred to images on Twitter of killings posted by Turkey’s deputy prime minister that he later deleted because they were not from Myanmar.
“She said that kind of fake information which was inflicted on the deputy prime minister was simply the tip of a huge iceberg of misinformation calculated to create a lot of problems between different countries and with the aim of promoting the interests of the terrorists,” her office said in the statement.
Suu Kyi on Wednesday met Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who said he shared Myanmar’s concern about “extremist violence” in Rakhine state. Modi’s government has taken a strong stance on an influx into India of some 40,000 Rohingya from Myanmar over the years, vowing last month to deport them all.
The latest violence began when Rohingya insurgents attacked dozens of police posts and an army base. The ensuing clashes and a military counter-offensive killed at least 400 people and triggered the exodus of villagers to Bangladesh.
Suu Kyi has been accused by Western critics of not speaking out for the minority that has long complained of persecution, and some have called for the Nobel Peace Prize she won in 1991 as a champion of democracy to be revoked.
Myanmar says its security forces are fighting a legitimate campaign against “terrorists” it blames for a string of attacks on police posts and for burning homes and civilian deaths. It says 26,747 non-Muslims have been displaced.
Fleeing Rohingya and rights monitors say the Myanmar army is conducting a campaign of arson and killings to force them from their homes.
Two Bangladesh government sources said Myanmar had been laying landmines across a section of its border for the past three days, possibly to prevent the return of fleeing Rohingya.
Bangladesh will formally lodge a protest on Wednesday against the laying of land mines so close to the border, said the sources who had direct knowledge of the situation but asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the matter.
A Myanmar military source said landmines were laid along the border in the 1990s to prevent trespassing and the military had since tried to remove them, but none had been planted recently.
Reporting by Wa Lone in Yangon and Simon Lewis in Bangladesh; additional reporting by Nurul Islam in Cox’s Bazar, Antoni Slodkowski, Yimou Lee and Shoon Naing in Yangon, Kanupriya Kapoor in Jakarta, Michelle Nichols in New York and David Brunnstrom in Washington; Writing by John Chalmers; Editing by Robert Birsel, Paul Simao and Grant McCool
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