Turkish president pledges support in resolving violence in western Rakhine state
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday spoke to Myanmar’s de facto leader about human rights violations committed against Rohingya Muslims, an official in the president’s office said.
The telephone conversation with State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi came as Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu prepared to leave for Bangladesh, where thousands of Rohingya have sought shelter in the face of a crackdown by Myanmar troops and Buddhist extremists.
Erdogan told Suu Kyi that escalated attacks on Rohingya had caused deep anxiety, particularly among Muslim countries, the official said on condition of anonymity due to restrictions on talking to the media.
They also discussed options for delivering humanitarian aid and resolving the crisis.
According to the official, Erdogan condemned both terrorism and the use of disproportionate force. The president pledged Turkish support to end the violence.
Fresh security operations in the northern part of Rakhine state have triggered waves of Rohingya refugees to Bangladesh, which has now sealed its eastern border.
Refugees have described soldiers and Buddhist mobs torching their villages and killing civilians in a bid to force them out.
According to the UN on Tuesday, 123,600 Rohingya had crossed into Bangladesh since the crackdown began on Aug. 25.
Cavusoglu will travel to Bangladesh on Wednesday to speak to Rohingya refugees, a Foreign Ministry official said under condition of anonymity.
He will visit a camp in Cox’s Bazar, a port near the border, and meet Bangladeshi officials.
Since the fresh violence erupted, Cavusoglu has spoken to his counterparts in Bangladesh, Malaysia, Indonesia, Qatar and Iran in an effort to resolve the humanitarian crisis, the ministry official added.
The interim head of the Religious Affairs Directorate, Ekrem Keles, met Rohingya representatives in Mecca on Tuesday.
Salim Ullah Abdul Rahman, president of the Rohingya Solidarity Organization, praised Turkish support for the Rohingya.
“I thank Turkey for not being indifferent to the oppression of Rohingya,” he said. “We thank Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for showing interest in the Rohingya issue.”
He added: “We can say that the Islamic world, under the leadership of Turkey, has turned into an international power. This Muslim-country-led unity has started to exert its authority and plays an important role in solving issues.”
Keles said the directorate had begun organizing aid. The Turkish Red Crescent and the Prime Ministry Disaster and Emergency Management Authority is also involved in the aid effort.
“Whether they are Muslim or not, anyone who faces cruelty is the concern of a Muslim,” Keles said.
“Our Rohingya brothers are deprived of their most basic rights. They are deprived of their education rights and safety of life and property. Their houses are being burned and they are being forced to migrate.
“Thousands of people, regardless of being a woman, child or elderly are being killed.”
Meanwhile, Christos Stylianides, the EU commissioner for humanitarian aid and crisis management, called for aid workers to be allowed to reach thousands of people unable to escape the violence in Rakhine.
Stranded at border
He said unrestricted humanitarian access was “critical to reaching 350,000 vulnerable people”.
Stylianides also called for a de-escalation in tension and for international human rights law to be observed, particularly in regard to civilians.
The International Organization for Migration said refugees continued to arrive in Bangladesh despite the frontier closures.
“Thousands of people are still arriving daily, looking for space to settle down in and there are clear signs that more will cross before the situation stabilizes,” spokesman Leonard Doyle told a news conference in Geneva.
The UN High Commission for Refugees said an unknown number of Rohingya were stranded on the border.
Spokeswoman Duniya Aslam Khan added that the agency was “gravely concerned about the continuing conflict in Myanmar and by reports that civilians have died trying to seek safety.”
In the Netherlands, a Rohingya rights activist echoed Erdogan’s earlier call for Muslim leaders to intervene in Rakhine.
“The leaders of the Muslim countries must now come together to intervene,” Sazaat Ahammed, who has lived in Amsterdam since fleeing Rakhine in 2000, told Anadolu Agency.
“If they do not do anything while waiting for the UN’s promise to bring peace, more Muslims will die in Rakhine.”
He added: “Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is always someone who advocates and is in favor of those who suffer, regardless of who they are… the leaders of other Muslim countries should take this courage of Erdogan as an example.”
Erdogan, as the current head of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, has spoken to the leaders of other member states and UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres about the tragedy in Rakhine, he said Monday.
He also promised to raise the issue at the UN General Assembly on Sept. 19.
On Monday, Amnesty International warned that Rakhine was “on the precipice of a humanitarian disaster”.
Tirana Hassan, Amnesty’s crisis response director, said the Myanmar government had put tens of thousands at risk and “shown a callous disregard for human life” by blocking aid agencies in Rakhine.
“Markets are closed and people can’t leave their villages, except to flee,” she said. “There is widespread intimidation by the authorities, who are clearly using food and water as a weapon.”
Rakhine, which lies in western Myanmar, has seen simmering tension between its Buddhist and Muslim populations since communal violence broke out in 2012.
In a security crackdown launched last October in the state’s northern Maungdaw district, the UN documented mass gang rapes, killings -- including infants and young children -- brutal beatings and disappearances.
The report found evidence of human rights violations by security forces that indicated crimes against humanity.
Rohingya representatives have said that around 400 people were killed during the operation.
In recent weeks, the government has boosted military numbers in Maungdaw and the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) claimed responsibility for attacks in which the government said dozens were killed.
The ARSA said the attacks were in response to raids, killing and looting by soldiers.
* Nazli Yuzbasioglu and Ahmet Sait Akcay in Ankara; Abdullah Asiran in Amsterdam; Fatih Erel in Geneva; and Yusuf Izzettin Celebi in Mecca contributed to this report.