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Millennium Post

Silence of the lamb

Silence of the lamb

Much on the lines of Ottoman and Nazi, the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar has virtually gunned a host of uncomfortable questions along with it: The world — which promised 'never again' after Rwanda and Bosnia, then Sudan and Syria — appears to do so little to preclude an ethnic cleansing campaign by Myanmar's military. However, outside the Burmese territories, criticism of its military has mounted. The United Nations secretary general, Antonio Guterres, has urged 'unfettered access' for international agencies, describing the Rohingya crisis as the world's fastest-developing refugee emergency and a humanitarian and human rights nightmare. Similarly, the French President Emmanuel Macron has called it genocide. But in Yangon, Myanmar's commercial capital, where the diplomatic corps is based, there is still reluctance to call to task publicly either the military or the civilian administration led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. Instead, the diplomats are trying to preserve whatever influence they may have left, in order to avert an even worse catastrophe – of course with keeping their mouths shut. And, major cause of their reticence is that Myanmar had been so far presented as a success story by them, despite a host of economic and ethnic problems. Not only that the Nobel Peace Prize laureate Suu Kyi, who was considered a synonym to the acts of conscience once upon a time, is now dwarfed by that of a military that ruled for nearly half a century and continues to monopolize power and Suu Kyi does not have any say on the firepower lies with the Tatmadaw, Myanmar's military, led by General Min Aung Hlaing. On the other hand, the diplomats feel that earlier Suu Kyi used to express sympathy for the Rohingya in private, explaining that she could not speak out because of widespread hatred for them among the Buddhist majority. But in the recent past, she has become a part of fundamentalism that the Rohingya are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. Even while pushing back against international criticism and promising to personally oversee efforts to bring peace to Rakhine and repatriate those who have fled to Bangladesh, she always denies tackling accusations that the military has unleashed arson, murder and rape on the Rohingya. It seems that it is Suu Kyi's obfuscations, the foreign envoys in Yangon are mindful of the complex politics. A nation does not emerge from 50 years of military dictatorship without political wounds, they observe, asserting that pushing Suu Kyi, whose famous resolve can tend toward obduracy, could be counterproductive. Notably, in absence of real coordination between military and civilian officials, the most frustrating issue is the Myanmar government has even started stopping international aid agencies from delivering relief supplies or even assessing need in the area. The role of local press is also done a little to challenge military's action in Rakhine. The local press has their homes on the attacks by Rohingya insurgents on police and army posts, but they often ignore the persecution of the Rohingyas. The military had even harassed local journalists visiting the region. What is more, although Myanmar's media law says journalists may freely criticise the executive, the legislature and the judiciary, the army is conspicuously omitted. Even in this phase of crisis, the Myanmar Press Council declares that their role was safeguarding Myanmar's national image, being tarnished by some unethical international media reports. As a matter of fact, after 60 years of military dictatorship and total control and censorship of the press, Myanmar's new democratic transition – which began in 2011 – has seen new media freedoms and media development, combined with a legacy of oppressive laws and regulations which are still used to target journalists and publications. It has virtually impaired readers' ability to assess information critically. One must understand that unlike the Ottomans or the Nazis, who tried to crush ethnic communities in just a few years, the Myanmar's army Tatmadaw exercised not only brutality but also patience and restraint. In the early 1990s, soon after the military government had renamed the country "Myanmar" to promote its nationalist agenda, 250,000 Rohingya fled rape, religious persecution, and slavery to Bangladesh. However, the Tatmadaw later allowed many to return, likely appreciating how cruel the instantaneous erasure of a minority could look to the international community – perhaps with a good planning that the Hutus and Serbs lacked. Nonetheless, despite reluctance, the international community had criticized the actions of the Myanmar armed forces in Rakhine state and questioned the role of the civilian National League for Democracy (NLD) government, unofficially led by Suu Kyi. But for timely intervention of international communities, the Nobel Prize winner would have to clear her stand: Either she agrees with the ethnic and sectarian bigotry of a large part of Myanmar's electorate, or she is afraid to bow down before the foreign countries.


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