Posts Tagged ‘Muslim minority’

Evidence of Abuse, Deaths in Xinjiang Camps Emerges

August 23, 2018

An investigative report by Eva Dou, Jeremy Page, and Josh Chin of the Wall Street Journal has found evidence that extralegal political re-education camps in  have expanded rapidly in recent months. Meanwhile, detainees have given accounts of abuse while family members have reported deaths of their loved ones in the camps.

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Experts have estimated that over a million people, from the Uyghur minority as well as other Muslim ethnic groups in China, have been held in camps where they are reportedly indoctrinated to show loyalty to the Communist Party and to disavow any religious beliefs. From the WSJ report:

Satellite images reviewed by The Wall Street Journal and a specialist in photo analysis show that camps have been growing. Construction work has been carried out on some within the past two weeks, including at one near the western city of Kashgar that has doubled in size since Journal reporters visited in November.

The full extent of the internment program was long obscured because many Uighurs feared speaking out. Now more are recounting experiences, including six former inmates interviewed by the Journal who described how they or other detainees had been bound to chairs and deprived of adequate food.

“They would also tell us about religion, saying there is no such thing as religion, why do you believe in religion, there is no God,” said Ablikim, a 22-year-old Uighur former inmate who asked to be identified only by his first name.

The Journal also spoke to three dozen relatives of detainees, five of whom reported that family members had died in camps or soon after their release. Many said they had struggled to determine where their relatives were being held and the state of their health. [Source]

In a Twitter thread, Chin explains how he and his colleagues reported on the camps despite numerous obstacles.

An article by Akbar Shahid Ahmed in the Huffington Post looks at the increased willingness by exiled Uyghurs and others to speak up about the existence of the camps and how they get the word out despite tight restrictions on communicating with people in Xinjiang.

The Chinese government has denied any abuse or persecution has taken place in the camps, calling them “vocation centers.” In a blog post, Jeremy Daum of China Law Translate explores the legality of such centers, which the government claims are being used as education centers for criminals guilty of minor crimes. But Daum argues that there is no clear legal basis for holding such people longer than 15 days and without a trial:

As discussed above, the law is quite direct in saying when  is called for, and there is no mention of detention in the discussion of corrective mentoring for minor offenses. Even for more serious offenders, who were given court ordered criminal punishments, education is mentioned only as something to be carried out during their sentence, not as additional grounds for detention. The Xinjiang Regulation on De-extremification similarly use ‘education’ as the lowest form of punishment, for situations not even meriting administrative punishments, but it would defy logic to read this as authorizing longer detention than the 15 days maximum authorized for the more serious violations.[vi]

The exception to this rule is ‘educational placement’ [安置教育]. [vii] Educational placement is one of the Counter-terrorism Law’s most troubling features, and does provide for potentially indefinite detention. Its application is limited, however, to those who are sentenced by a court to a prison term for a terrorism crime, have served that sentence, and the court has then found that they are still too dangerous to release. It is possible that some of the new prison-like educational centers are intended for those in educational-placement, but their size would then suggest that such placements were the norm following criminal sentences. [Source]

In a post for the CESS Blog, Rachel Harris of SOAS, University of London, puts the existence of re-education camps in the context of Beijing’s broader crackdown on religious expression in Xinjiang and efforts to forcibly assimilate Uyghur culture and Muslim religious practices into mainstream Han society:

Testimonies hint at the psychological trauma inflicted on detainees. Reports also attest to the trauma suffered by the wider Uyghur population, both within Xinjiang and in the diaspora. We know that  within Xinjiang are struggling to maintain daily life with over 10% of the workforce in detention. Many children have been sent to state orphanages because both their parents have been detained.  living outside Xinjiang are suffering from crippling anxiety and guilt: they risk detention for their relatives if they try to contact them, and they fear worse consequences for their detained relatives if they speak out.

Individuals known to have been detained

  • Professional football player Erfan Hezim detained in 2017
  • Prominent religious scholar Muhammad Salih Hajim, 82, died in custody, January 2018
  • Xinjiang University President Tashpolat Teyip detained in 2017, accused as a “two-faced” official, insufficiently loyal to the state
  • Xinjiang University Professor Rahile Dawut detained in 2017, possibly in connection with her ethnographic research on Uyghur religious culture
  • Uyghur writer and Xinjiang Normal University Professor Abduqadir Jalaleddin, detained in January 2018
  • Elenur Eqilahun, detained in 2017, possibly for receiving calls from her daughter who is studying abroad
  • Pop star Ablajan Ayup, detained in February 2018, possibly for singing about Uyghur language education
  • Halmurat Ghopur, Vice Provost of Xinjiang Medical Institute, detained in 2017for exhibiting “nationalistic tendencies.”

This short list of prominent Uyghur intellectuals, artists and athletes who we know have been detained is only the tip of the iceberg, but it demonstrates that the scope of the campaign has gone well beyond the religious sphere. Current policies seek to quarantine Uyghurs from any foreign contacts, they target individuals who have promoted Uyghur language or culture, and people who resist, or are insufficiently enthusiastic about, the campaign. It suggests that the anti-“terror” campaign is being used as part of a wider set of policies – including the so-called “bilingual education” policy which has banned the use of Uyghur language in schools and higher education – which are designed to break down ethnic identity and affiliation, and absorb minority nationalities into the wider Chinese nation (zhonghua minzu).

It also suggests that Turkic-speaking Muslim minority peoples are now collectively regarded as a threat to China’s national security. As one official from Kashgar reportedlysaid at a public meeting, “you can’t uproot all the weeds hidden among the crops in the field one by one – you need to spray chemicals to kill them all; re-educating these people is like spraying chemicals on the crops …  that is why it is a general re-education, not limited to a few people.” [Source]

Among the Uyghur intellectuals who have reportedly been detained is Professor Rahile Dawut, a scholar of Uyghur religious and cultural traditions who went missing last December after telling friends she was planning to travel to Beijing from Urumqi, where she taught. Chris Buckley and Austin Ramzy report for The New York Times:

But until recently, Professor Dawut’s work was welcomed by Chinese bureaucrats, as evidenced by grants and support she received from the Ministry of Culture. She had earned an international reputation as an expert on Uighur shrines, folklore, music and crafts neglected by previous generations of scholars.

“I was deeply drawn to this vivid, lively folk culture and customs, so different from the accounts in textbooks,” she said in an interview with a Chinese art newspaper in 2011. “Above all, we’re preserving and documenting this folk cultural heritage not so that it can lie in archives or serve as museum exhibits, but so it can be returned to the people.”

While Chinese policymakers worried that Uighurs were increasingly drawn to radical forms of Islam from the Middle East, Professor Dawut’s work portrayed Uighur heritage as more diverse and tolerant, shaped by Sufi spiritual traditions anathema to modern-day extremists. In 2014, she told The New York Times that she worried about Uighur women drawn to conservative Islam.

[…] “The Chinese government, after arresting Uighur government officials, Uighur rich people, they’ve begun to arrest Uighur intellectuals,” Tahir Imin, a former student of Professor Dawut, said from Washington, where he lives. “Right now I can tell you more than 20 names, all prominent Uighur intellectuals.” [Source]

Nick Holdstock, who knows Rahile Dawut, wrote about her disappearance for the London Review of Books, concluding, “Her disappearance is part of a strategy, long in gestation, to eradicate all forms of dissent in Xinjiang by either brainwashing or intimidation.” Others who have reportedly been detained include philanthropist Ablimit Hoshur Halis Haji, who had set up an education fund to help elite Uyghur students study abroad. In a 2015 interview with the New York Review of Books after Uyghur scholar Ilham Tohti was sentenced to life imprisonment for “separatism,” writer Wang Lixiong explained why he thought Chinese authorities were targeting moderate Uyghurs like him, who did not advocate independence or engage in terrorist acts:

We all thought he wouldn’t be in trouble. But the only conclusion is dark: it’s that they don’t want moderate Uighurs. Because if you have moderate Uighurs, then why aren’t you talking to them? So they wanted to get rid of him and then you can say to the West that there are no moderates and we’re fighting terrorists. [Source]

While many of those detained have ties to Kazakhstan and other Central Asian countries bordering China, neighboring governments have done little to speak out against the camps and restrictive policies in Xinjiang. Gene A. Bunin reports for Foreign Policy:

Though people in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Pakistan all demand the reunification of their families and the safety of relatives in Xinjiang, their governments, despite not openly supporting China’s internal policies, still find themselves numb before an overwhelmingly powerful neighbor.

The numbness is understandable— too much of these countries’ future development depends on China. Kazakhstan, owing to its geographical location, seeks to benefit from being a crucial partner on the Belt and Road Initiative’s New Eurasian Land Bridge, a series of rail links set to traverse Xinjiang and Kazakhstan, cross through Russia, and terminate in Europe. The analogue for Pakistan is the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, a $62 billion infrastructure project that is predicted to create hundreds of thousands of jobs while speeding up the country’s growth. For Kyrgyzstan, it’s less about ambitious projects and more about loans and investment—in addition to owning oil refineries, plants, and mines in the country, China also owns about half of its debt. Dependent on remittances and unable to generate enough income for investment, Kyrgyzstan is forced to borrow if it wants to maintain its growth.

However, despite cooperation from both governments and China-facing entrepreneurs in these Muslim-majority countries, the fact that the Chinese government is keeping as many as a million of its own  in concentration camps has not made for smooth partnerships. Of the three countries, Kazakhstan is the one where things have been the rockiest by far, as thousands of people—many of them Chinese “Oralman,” or ethnic  from China—have seen their relatives in Xinjiang detained over the past year and a half, in many cases for such simple “transgressions” as keeping in touch with them via WhatsApp, a chat client that is now banned in China. [Source]

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Meanwhile, the National Basketball Association has been operating a training camp in Urumqi, capital of the Xinjiang region, since 2016. In Slate, Isaac Stone Fish argues that the NBA’s presence helps “whitewash a network of concentration camps,” and goes against league members’ stated support for racial justice in the U.S.:

NBA stars like LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony have condemned police violence and racism in the United States, while players and executives have protested the Trump administration’s separation of immigrant children from their parents. According to his LinkedIn page, the NBA executive George Land oversees the Xinjiang training center. On Twitter, Land’s most recent activity is a retweet of the MSNBC host Chris Hayes condemning the U.S. separation of thousands of mothers from their children. But what about Xinjiang? Thousands of Uighur children are reportedly languishing in orphanages, awaiting their parents’ release from the concentration camps. The NBA didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment for this story. [Source]



Germany halts Uighur deportations to China

August 23, 2018

The German government has suspended deportations of Uighurs to China until further notice, according to a media report. The Muslim minority faces discrimination and persecution in the northwestern Xinjiang region.

A woman and child walk in front of a line of police

Uighurs and members of other Muslim minorities will no longer be deported from Germany to China, the Süddeutscher Zeitung reported on Thursday citing an Interior Ministry response to a Green party information request.

The ministry said expulsions had been put on hold because the country analysis department of the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees had only recently compiled relevant country information concerning the plight of the Uighurs.

Read moreHow do deportations work in Germany?

Persecuted ethnic group

Uighur Muslims are a minority in the autonomous Xinjiang region in China’s northwest. They have historically been targets of discrimination and a raft of restrictions imposed on them by the government in Beijing. Earlier this month, a United Nations human rights committee raised serious concerns about the treatment of Uighurs in China, saying they were seen as “enemies of the state,” with hundreds of thousands being kept in facilities resembling secret internment camps.

China claims Xinjiang faces threats from Islamist extremists  seeking to carry out attacks and foment unrest between the Uighur minority and the Han majority. Hundreds of people have died in violence in the restive territory in recent years.

Read moreGermany admits to 5 illegal deportations

In April, authorities in the German state of Bavaria mistakenly deported a Uighur asylum-seeker to China due to an administrative error. According to the German dpa news agency, Berlin is trying to bring the 23-year-old back, but his whereabouts are unknown.

nm/sms (Reuters, AFP, dpa)


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Ethnic Uighur children in the old town of Kashgar, in the far western Xinjiang province © Getty

  (Academic Freedom Chinese Style)

Chinese paramilitary policemen stand guard

Chinese paramilitary policemen stand guard on a street in Kashgar, Xinjiang, in 2014.

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UN Security Council envoy says Myanmar must hold a “proper investigation” into alleged atrocities against the Rohingya

May 1, 2018

Myanmar must hold a “proper investigation” into alleged atrocities against the Rohingya, a UN Security Council envoy said Tuesday, after the highest-level diplomatic visit to an area from which 700,000 members of the Muslim minority have been driven out.


© AFP / by Richard SARGENT | The UN delegates arrive at Sittwe airport in Rakhine

Refugees and rights groups say Myanmar’s army and vigilantes systematically raped and murdered civilians and torched villages during “clearance operations” in Rakhine state ostensibly targeting Rohingya militants.

That campaign launched last August in the mainly Buddhist nation sparked the exodus of Rohingya into Bangladesh.

During the two-day trip to Myanmar, UN delegates travelled to Rakhine and also met both civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi and Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, who heads an army accused by the UN of “ethnic cleansing”.

“In order to have accountability there must be a proper investigation,” Britain’s UN ambassador Karen Pierce told reporters, after envoys had visited the Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh and also Rakhine.

There were two ways to establish a full probe, “one is an ICC (International Criminal Court) referral”, she said. The other was for Myanmar’s government to hold its own comprehensive inquiry.

Last month the chief prosecutor for the ICC asked judges to consider whether the court’s jurisdiction extends to Myanmar, which is not a member of the panel.

Suu Kyi, pilloried outside her country for failing to speak up for the Rohingya, promised to “undertake a proper investigation” where evidence of atrocities was found, Pierce said.

“It doesn’t matter whether it (a probe) is international or domestic, as long as it’s credible,” she added.

During his meeting late Monday with the UN envoys, Myanmar’s army chief denied his forces had committed rape and other sexual abuses during the crackdown which he ordered.

“The Tatmadaw (army) is always disciplined… and takes action against anyone who breaks the law,” he told the delegates, according to a posting late Monday on his official Facebook page.

Rohingya women and girls in Bangladesh have provided consistent accounts of sexual violence — reports verified by conflict monitors — but Min Aung Hlaing said his forces have “no such history of sexual abuse.”

“It is unacceptable according to the culture and religion of our country,” he said, adding anyone found guilty of crimes would be punished.

– Speed up returns –

Min Aung Hlaing also repeated the official line that Myanmar was ready to take back those refugees who could be verified as residents, as per a repatriation deal with Bangladesh.

Several months after the deal was signed, no refugees have returned. They demand guarantees of safety, the right to return to their original villages and the granting of citizenship.

Another UN diplomat warned it would take “two or three years” for the refugees to be repatriated as the current timeframe to implement the deal continues to slip.

“There is a need to speed up the process,” said Mansour Ayyad Al-Otaibi, the Kuwaiti ambassador to the UN, adding conditions must be “safe and dignified” for return.

Bangladeshi accuses Myanmar of buying time by pretending to cooperate over repatriation for the benefit of the international community.

Myanmar says its neighbour has only handed back 8,000 repatriation forms so far, many of them incomplete, delaying the return process.

Myanmar denies the Rohingya citizenship and accompanying rights.

Since 2012 it has driven out two-thirds of its roughly 1.5 million Rohingya population.

by Richard SARGENT

Flawed return deal offers no way back for Rohingya refugees — “As long as there is a Myanmar, the Rohingya will never be free”

April 17, 2018


© AFP / by Sam JAHAN and Aidan JONES with Shafiqul ALAM in Dhaka | In November Myanmar agreed to take back around 750,000 Rohingya from Bangladesh — which hosts around one million of the Muslim minority driven out by waves of state violence stretching back to 1978

KUTUPALONG (BANGLADESH) (AFP) – Bungling, distortion and diplomatic doublespeak have hollowed out the deal to repatriate Rohingya from Bangladesh to Myanmar, with refugees refusing to return to a homeland that remains perilously insecure.”We will have to stay here for a long period, maybe generations,” Ali, a Rohingya refugee and father-of-six, told AFP from the Kutupalong mega-camp on Bangladesh’s side of the border.

In November Myanmar agreed to take back around 750,000 Rohingya from Bangladesh — which hosts around one million of the Muslim minority driven out by waves of state violence stretching back to 1978.

Yet so far, Myanmar has signed off just 675 names from a Bangladeshi list of 8,000 refugees, citing discrepancies in the verification forms proving their residency in Rakhine state.

Months have elapsed, but no one has crossed back under the deal.

A family of five was “repatriated” over the weekend from a wedge of no-man’s land between the neighbours.

Their return was swiftly pilloried as a PR stunt by rights groups and labelled “not meaningful” by Bangladesh’s home minister.

“Whatever we say, they (Myanmar) agree,” Asaduzzaman Khan told AFP. “But they have not been able to create grounds for trust that they will take back these people.”

Myanmar does not want its Rohingya, denying them citizenship and classifying the minority as “Bengalis” who have seeped over the border illegally.

It forced around 750,000 out in two major army operations in October 2016 and August 2017.

The UN describes the August crackdown, ostensibly a kickback against Rohingya militant attacks, as “ethnic cleansing”.

Under pressure, Myanmar agreed to take back those who can prove prior residence.

Bangladesh wants swift, large-scale returns to ease pressure on the teeming camps in its Cox’s Bazar district — and salve domestic disquiet that one of Asia’s poorest countries is saddled with a huge refugee crisis.

Yet the refugees listed by Dhaka do not even know they have been volunteered to return to a country where they allege widespread atrocities.

“We did not try to ascertain approval from them,” a senior Bangladesh official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Dhaka has also muddied its side of the bargain.

Under the repatriation agreement, the head of each Rohingya family must list the address of his or her father, mother and spouse in Myanmar.

But those details were inexplicably omitted from the forms submitted to Myanmar, the official told AFP.

With no new names planned for scrutiny, the process is at a standstill.

– Reluctant hosts –

For the Rohingya, return is the ultimate aim but only on condition of guaranteed safety and — crucially — citizenship, a red line to Myanmar authorities who stripped them of that status in 1982.

With the monsoon looming they are bedding in for the long haul.

The makeshift Kutupalong mega-camp is taking on permanent features as hulking drainage pipes are dug into hillsides and bamboo shacks are upgraded with concrete.

But Bangladesh does not publicly air long-term settlement in its camps as an option.

Dhaka has drawn an outcry by threatening to move up to 100,000 people to a flood-prone island in the Bay of Bengal.

It says its biometric register of a million refugees should clear the way for large-scale returns, if the urgency is matched by the other side.

But Myanmar’s sincerity is in shreds.

On a first visit to the camps last week, a Myanmar official implored Rohingya to return to a “changed” country, where destroyed villages are being rebuilt and work awaits.

“Please come back first… and taste it. Then, if you all feel satisfied, more can return,” Social Welfare Minister Win Myat Aye told Rohingya leaders.

But with villages razed, choking controls on movement in place and communal hatred still sharp, the UN says conditions inside Rakhine “are not conducive” for repatriation.

Refugees are also well versed in the machinations of Myanmar’s bureaucracy, after generations trapped on a carousel of forced exile and short-lived return.

“We won’t go back without citizenship and security… there’s no point, they will force us out again,” said Mohammad Sadek, 24, a resident of Kutupalong.

Over decades Myanmar’s army has rehashed history, rubbing out the Rohingya’s legal status and spewing Islamaphobic rhetoric across the overwhelmingly Buddhist country.

The identity card offered to returning Rohingya calls them “Bengalis” — in effect making holders complicit in renouncing their own ancestral claims in Rakhine.

Myanmar will likely allow “a token number” to return, says Francis Wade author of “Myanmar’s Enemy Within”.

But “the vast majority of Rohingya in the camps will likely live out their days there… as will their children”.

– ‘Camps here, camps there’ –

In the impasse, Myanmar’s army has been busy.

Bulldozers have levelled the remains of hundreds of Rohingya villages, while transit centres and “temporary” camps for returnees have sprung up.

The army has added new bases while Rakhine Buddhists are being lured to the far north to rebalance the state’s demography.

Independent access to Rakhine remains impossible.

Somewhere between 400,000-500,000 Rohingya are left in Myanmar. Of those, around a quarter languish in IDP camps from previous rounds of violence.

“We won’t go back to live in camps there,” said Rohingya refugee Mohammad Ihaya, 23. “It’s better to be in camps here.”

by Sam JAHAN and Aidan JONES with Shafiqul ALAM in Dhaka

Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh protest repatriation move — “Back to the land of Genocide? What has changed in Myanmar?”

January 19, 2018


© AFP/File | Many Rohingya living in the crowded, unsanitary camps in Bangladesh have said they do not want to return to Rakhine

DHAKA (AFP) – Hundreds of Rohingya refugees staged protests in Bangladesh Friday against plans to send them back to Myanmar, where a military crackdown last year sparked a mass exodus.The refugees chanted slogans and held banners demanding citizenship and guarantees of security before they return to their home state of Rakhine in Myanmar.

The protest came ahead of a visit by UN special rapporteur Yanghee Lee to the camps in southeastern Bangladesh where around a million of the Muslim minority are now living.

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UN special rapporteur Yanghee Lee

Bangladesh has reached an agreement with Myanmar to send back the around 750,000 refugees who have arrived since October 2016 over the next two years, a process set to begin as early as next week.

But many Rohingya living in the crowded, unsanitary camps have said they do not want to return to Rakhine after fleeing atrocities including murder, rape and arson attacks on their homes.

Rights groups and the UN say any repatriations must be voluntary.

They have also expressed concerns about conditions in Myanmar, where many Rohingya settlements have been burned to the ground by soldiers and Buddhist mobs.

The government has said it is building temporary camps to accommodate the returnees, a prospect feared by Rohingya, said Mohibullah, a refugee and former teacher.

“We want safe zones in Arakan (Rakhine) before repatriation,” he told AFP by phone from Cox’s Bazar, where the camps are located.

“We want a UN peacekeeping force in Arakan. We want fundamental rights and citizenship. We do not want repatriation without life guarantees,” Mohibullah said.

Police said they were unaware of the protests.

A Bangladesh official said around 6,500 Rohingya currently living in no man’s land between the two countries would be among the first to be repatriated.

The repatriation deal does not cover the estimated 200,000 Rohingya refugees who were living in Bangladesh prior to October 2016, driven out by previous rounds of communal violence and military operations.

Erdogan sets the tone with treaty debate on visit to Greece — Decades of festering sores resurfaced

December 8, 2017

Turkey and Greece’s leaders have publicly aired their grievances at an unusually candid press conference. The two NATO members are divided over a series of issues — some decades old, others much more recent.

 Landmark Erdogan visit to Greece gets off to rocky start

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s historic two-day visit to Athens was overshadowed by a heated news conference alongside Greece’s Alexis Tsipras on Thursday, as Turkey and Greece’s long-running divisions came to the fore.

Erdogan’s visit to Greece, the first by a Turkish president in 65 years, had raised hopes of an improvement in the often frosty relations between the two countries.

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Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras (right) welcomes Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan in Athens, Greece on December 7, 2017

However, there appeared to be just a single issue the two leaders could agree on, and that was the significant burden each country had faced during the refugee crisis.

Read more: Greek police arrest nine Turks ahead of Erdogan visit

Otherwise, the two leaders squared up to each other and vented their respective grievances in an unusually candid news conference. Decades of festering sores resurfaced in the 30-minute public exchange — from the divided island of Cyprus to the eight Turkish servicemen that have applied for asylum in Greece following Ankara’s vast crackdown against the military (and many other segments of society) after a failed coup attempt.

Erdogan embarks on two-day visit to Greece

Erdogan demands extradition of ‘terrorists’

Certainly the most recent bone of contention between Turkey and Greece is Athens’ refusal to extradite Turkish servicemen at Erdogan’s request.

The eight men stand accused by Turkish authorities of helping instigate the failed 2016 coup attempt against Erdogan’s government. However, the Greek Supreme Court has blocked the officers’ extradition.

“Terrorists, when they are detained in Greece, they should be extradited to Turkey,” Erdogan said. “Delayed justice is no justice.”

Tsipras responded, saying the Greek state had to respect judicial rulings, adding that the suspects would receive a fair trial.

No closer to a Cyprus to deal

On Cyprus, whose northern section has been occupied by Turkey since 1974, the two leaders clearly demonstrated that they were no closer to finding a common solution, after internationally brokered peace talks to unify the island failed earlier this year.

Referring to the talks, Erdogan said: “Who left the table? Southern Cyprus [Greek Cyprus] did…. We want the issue to reach a fair and lasting solution but that is not southern Cyprus’ concern.”

The Turkish strongman’s lambasting of Greek Cypriot officials prompted Tsipras to retort: “My dear friend, Mr. President, we must not forget that this issue remains unresolved because 43 years ago there was an illegal invasion and occupation of the northern part of Cyprus.”

Watch video06:02

Cyprus: An island hoping for unity

NATO allies spat over military maneuvers

Erdogan and Tsipras also openly discussed tensions in the Aegean, where Greece has long complained of Turkish fighter jets violating Greek airspace. Greek authorities have often scrambled jets in response.

Read more: Greece fires at Turkish freighter in Aegean, Ankara protests

“The increasing violations of Greek airspace in the Aegean and particularly the simulated dogfights in the Aegean pose a threat to our relations, and particularly a threat to our pilots,” Tsipras said.

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Erdogan and Tsipras verbally spar over old disputes between Turkey and Greece during tense visit

Erdogan sets the tone with treaty debate

Erdogan set the tone of his testy visit earlier on Thursday when he suggested that the countries should “update” the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, which established the borders of modern Turkey and dealt with minority issues.

“The truth is I’m a little confused regarding if what he is putting on the table is to modernize, to update, to comply with the Lausanne Treaty,” Tsipras said at a news conference, standing alongside the Turkish leader.

Erdogan, however, insisted that Greece was failing to adhere to the treaty by refusing to respect the country’s Muslim minority. Ankara claims that Athens officials violate the treaty by appointing religious jurists known as muftis instead of allowing the local community to do so. “Protecting the rights of our fellow ethnic (Turks) is a top priority for us,” Erdogan said.

The Turkish president is set to travel privately on Friday to the northeastern Greek region of Thrace, where the Muslim minority lives.

Includes videos:

Tillerson, in Myanmar, calls for credible probe of atrocities

November 16, 2017


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United States Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (left) and Myanmar’s State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi during a joint press conference in Naypyidaw on Nov 15, 2017. Photo: AFP

NAYPYITAW (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called on Wednesday for a credible investigation into reports of human rights abuses against Rohingya Muslims committed by Myanmar’s security forces after a meeting with its civilian and military leaders.

More than 600,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled to Bangladesh since late August, driven out by a military counter-insurgency clearance operation in Buddhist-majority Myanmar’s Rakhine State.

A top U.N. official has described the military’s actions as a textbook case of “ethnic cleansing”.

“We’re deeply concerned by credible reports of widespread atrocities committed by Myanmar’s security forces and by vigilantes who were unrestrained by the security forces during the recent violence in Rakhine State,” Tillerson told a joint news conference with Aung San Suu Kyi, the head of a civilian administration that is less than two years old and shares power with the military.

Tillerson had earlier held separate talks with Myanmar’s military chief, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, whose forces have been accused of atrocities.

A senior U.N. official on Sunday leveled allegations of mass rape, killings and torture against the Myanmar military, known as the Tatmadaw, after a tour of refugee camps in the Cox’s Bazar region of neighboring Bangladesh.

Tillerson called for the Myanmar government to lead a credible and impartial investigation and said those who committed abuses should be held responsible.

“The recent serious allegations of abuses in Rakhine state demand a credible and impartial investigation and those who commit human rights abuses or violations must be held accountable,” he said.

“In all my meetings, I have called on the Myanmar civilian government to lead a full and effective independent investigation and for the military to facilitate full access and cooperation.”

He also said it was the duty of the military to help the government to meet commitments to ensure the safety and security of all people in Rakhine state.

A posting on Min Aung Hlaing’s Facebook page said Myanmar’s military supremo had explained to Tillerson the “true situation in Rakhine”, the reasons why Muslims fled, how the military was working with the government to deliver aid and the progress made for a repatriation process to be agreed with Bangladesh.

The military launched its clearance operation after an army base and 30 police posts were attacked on Aug. 25 by Rohingya militants, killing about a dozen members of the security forces.


Tillerson condemned the militant attacks, but said any response by the security forces needed to avoid to the “maximum extent possible harming innocent civilians”.

Myanmar’s State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi and U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson attend a press conference at Naypyitaw, Myanmar November 15, 2015. REUTERS/Aye Win Myint

An internal investigation by the military into the allegations of atrocities that was released this week was branded a “whitewash” by human rights groups.

Back in Washington, U.S. senators are pressing for economic sanctions and travel restrictions targeting the Myanmar military and its business interests.

Tillerson said he would advise against any broad-based sanctions against Myanmar, as the United States wanted to see it succeed.

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Min Aung Hlaing defends military campaign in Rakhine

But he said if there was credible and reliable information on abuses by individuals they could be targeted by sanctions.


Tillerson said the United States would work with partners so that those responsible for any atrocities would face consequences, “using all available mechanisms, including those available under U.S. law”.

Myanmar is undergoing a transition to democracy after decades of rule by the military, but the generals retain extensive powers over security and a veto over reform of a constitution that has barred Suu Kyi from the presidency.

“Myanmar’s response to this crisis is critical to determining the success of its transition to a more democratic society,” Tillerson said.

”It’s a responsibility of the government and its security forces to protect and respect the human rights of all persons within its borders and to hold accountable those who fail to do so.”

He said the United States would provide an additional $47 million in humanitarian assistance for refugees bringing the total to $87 million since the crisis erupted in August.

“The humanitarian scale of this crisis is staggering,” Tillerson said.

But he said he was encouraged by talks between Myanmar and Bangladesh to agree on a refugee repatriation process.

During the news conference, Suu Kyi was asked to explain why she had not spoken out more strongly over the plight of the Rohingya, as the Nobel peace prize winner’s perceived failure to speak up has damaged her international reputation as a stateswoman.

“What I say is not supposed to be exciting,” Suu Kyi said, adding that she had aimed to keep the public informed without setting different ethnic, religious communities against each other.

“It’s important to bring peace and stability to this country and that can only be done on the basis of rule of law and everybody should understand that the role of theirs is to protect peace and stability, not to punish people.”

Writing by Simon Cameron-Moore; Editing by Clarence Fernandez, Robert Birsel

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It’s Time To Talk About Min Aung Hlaing


‘Mounting evidence’ of Myanmar genocide: watchdogs

November 16, 2017


© AFP | A Rohingya refugee man — one of hundreds of thousands of the Muslim minority who have fled Myanmar — carries wood at Thankhali refugee camp in the Bangladeshi district of Ukhia on November 15, 2017

WASHINGTON (AFP) – Myanmar security forces slit the throats of Muslim Rohingya, burned victims alive, and gang-raped women and girls, according to two separate reports detailing mounting evidence of genocide against the minority group.

Human Rights Watch focused on the use of sexual violence in its report on the military’s campaign against the Rohingya, and concluded that the depredations amounted to crimes against humanity.

“Rape has been a prominent and devastating feature of the Burmese military’s campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya,” said Skye Wheeler, a researcher at Human Rights Watch and author of the report.

“The Burmese military’s barbaric acts of violence have left countless women and girls brutally harmed and traumatized.”

A separate report by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and Southeast Asia-based Fortify Rights documents “widespread and systematic attacks” on Rohingya civilians between October 9 and December of last year, and from August 25 of this year.

– Crimes against humanity –

The 30-page report, entitled “They tried to kill us all,” is based on more than 200 interviews with survivors and eyewitnesses, as well as international aid workers.

Some world leaders have already described as “ethnic cleansing” the scorched-earth military campaign against the Rohingya.

Evidence gathered by Fortify Rights and the Holocaust Museum demonstrates that “Myanmar state security forces and civilian perpetrators committed crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing” during two waves of attacks in the majority Buddhist nation, the report says.

“There is mounting evidence to suggest these acts represent a genocide of the Rohingya population,” it says.

Almost 700,000 Rohingya, more than half of the population in northern Rakhine state, have been forcibly displaced since October last year when Myanmar’s army began “clearance operations” after a previously unknown group attacked and killed security officers.

Those operations were, in practice, “a mechanism to commit mass atrocities,” the report said.

“State security forces opened fire on Rohingya civilians from the land and sky. Soldiers and knife-wielding civilians hacked to death and slit the throats of Rohingya men, women, and children,” it said.

“Rohingya civilians were burned alive. Soldiers raped and gang-raped Rohingya women and girls and arbitrarily arrested men and boys en masse.”

The report said investigators from Fortify Rights and the Holocaust Museum’s Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide traveled to Rakhine and the Bangladesh-Myanmar border area, where Rohingya have fled.

It quoted eyewitness testimony of mass killings in three villages in late August.

“When the killing was complete, soldiers moved bodies into piles and set them alight,” after soldiers reportedly murdered hundreds in one attack, the report said, adding to chilling and consistent accounts of widespread murder, rape and arson at the hands of security forces and Buddhist mobs.

Human Rights Watch, for its part, interviewed 29 rape survivors.

In every case but one, they were gang raped by two or more perpetrators. In eight cases, women and girls reported being raped by five or more soldiers.

Women described witnessing the murders of their young children, spouses, and parents before being raped. Many rape survivors said they endured days of agony walking with swollen and torn genitals to reach Bangladesh.

Human Rights Watch documented six cases of mass rape during which soldiers gathered women in groups before beating and gang-raping them.

The report quoted 33-year-old Mamtaz Yunis as saying soldiers trapped her and about 20 other women on the side of a hill after they fled their village and raped women in front of them.

– Global outrage –

Global outrage is building over the violence, while Myanmar’s army insists it has only targeted Rohingya rebels.

The watchdogs’ report came a day after Washington’s top diplomat, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, said there were “credible reports of widespread atrocities committed by Myanmar’s security forces and vigilantes.”

Speaking during a visit to Myanmar, he urged authorities there to accept an independent investigation into those allegations.

The army and administration of de facto civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi — a Nobel peace laureate — have dismissed reports of atrocities and refused to grant entry to UN investigators tasked with probing allegations of ethnic cleansing.

“Without urgent action, a risk of further outbreaks of mass atrocities exists in Rakhine state and possibly elsewhere in Myanmar,” Fortify Rights and the Holocaust Museum wrote.

Myanmar’s army chief says Rohingya exodus ‘exaggerated’

October 12, 2017


© AFP | Rohingya Muslim refugees wait for food at the Nayapara refugee camp in Bangladesh’s Ukhia district

YANGON (AFP) – The media has “exaggerated” the number of Rohingya refugees fleeing an army crackdown, Myanmar’s commander-in-chief said Thursday, in a brash rebuttal of accusations of ethnic cleansing by his forces.Some 520,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar’s western Rakhine state since August 25, when the military launched a sweeping campaign against militants from the Muslim minority.

The crackdown has been so intense that the UN on Wednesday accused Myanmar of trying to purge its entire Rohingya population.

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Myanmar’s army chief Min Aung Hlaing with Aung San Suu Kyi

A new UN report released Wednesday described the army-led crackdown as “well-organised, coordinated and systematic, with the intent of not only driving the population out of Myanmar but preventing them from returning to their homes”.

Half of Myanmar’s Rohingya have bolted over the last seven weeks, fleeing incinerated villages to join what has become the world’s largest refugee camp in neighbouring Bangladesh.

Thousands more are still trying to escape, massing on beaches and hoping to cross the Naf River before their food runs out.

But in a Facebook post on his official page on Thursday, army chief Min Aung Hlaing was unrepentant, describing the military response as proportionate and playing down the scale of the exodus.

It is an “exaggeration to say that the number of Bengalis fleeing to Bangladesh is very large,” the post quoted him as saying, using a pejorative term for the Rohingya that classifies them as illegal immigrants.

Instead, he blamed “instigation and propaganda” by the media, who have become a punching bag for anger inside Myanmar, a Buddhist-majority country where there is little sympathy for the Rohingya.

The humanitarian needs of the refugees who have made it to Bangaldesh are immense with limited food, shelter and the threat a disease outbreak deepening by the day.

But Min Aung Hlaing, who rights groups say carries personal responsibility for the crisis, insisted the Rohingya are merely returning to their motherland.

“The native place of Bengalis is really Bengal,” he said. “They might have fled to the other country with the same language, race and culture as theirs by assuming that they would be safer there.”

He also reiterated the army’s view on the contested history of the Rohingya, saying they were moved in from Bangladesh by British colonialists and have no legitimate claim to lineage on Myanmar soil.

While immigration increased under British rule, historians say Muslim communities were recorded living in the Rakhine region long before the colonial era.

His comments followed a meeting with US Ambassador Scot Marciel, who according to the post “expressed concern” over the half million refugees and offered to help aid efforts.

This week an AFP reporter on a rare government-steered trip to the conflict-hit Rakhine heard testimony from Rohingya villagers who are scared and fast running out of food.

They said ethnic Rakhine Buddhist villagers are trying to starve them out of their homes.

Authorities are providing supplies to the Rohingya left behind, Min Aung Hlaing, glibbly adding food is plentiful in Rakhine where “fish can easily be caught” in its waterways.


Macron says Rohingya crisis in Myanmar is ‘genocide’

September 21, 2017


Paris | Thu, September 21, 2017 | 07:56 am

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UN Assembly: Malawi’s President Arthur Peter Mutharika (from left), French President Emmanuel Macron and UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres attend the 72nd Session of the United Nations General assembly at the UN headquarters in New York on September 20, 2017. (AFP/Ludovic Marin)

French President Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday said attacks on Myanmar’s Rohingya minority amounted to “genocide”.

France will work with other members of the UN Security Council for a condemnation of “this genocide which is unfolding, this ethnic cleansing”, Macron said in an interview with the French TV channel TMC.

Macron’s use of the word “genocide” marks his strongest verbal attack yet on the military drive against the Rohingya.

More than 420,000 members of the Muslim minority have fled Myanmar for the safety of neighbouring Bangladesh.

“We must condemn the ethnic purification which is under way and act,” Macron said.

“Asking for the violence to end, asking for humanitarian access… progressively enables an escalation” under UN auspices, Macron said.

“When the UN issues a condemnation, there are consequences which can provide a framework for intervention under the UN,” Macron said.

Rohingya, who are predominantly Muslim, are reviled by many in Buddhist-majority Myanmar.

The UN human rights chief has described the systematic attacks against the Rohingya minority by the security forces as a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing”.