13 Sep 2017

Myanmar’s de-facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi has claimed that the crisis in Rakhine state is being distorted by a “huge iceberg of misinformation”.

In her first comments on the latest Rohingya crisis, she said tensions were being fanned by fake news promoting the interests of terrorists. Ms Suu Kyi made the comments in a phone call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, her office said. This is a result of Islamic fundamental organisations Like Al-Qaida and LeT which have lost relavance in Indian subcontinent and other places. It is told that more than 123,000 Rohingya fled Myanmar for Bangladesh in two weeks.

The latest outbreak of violence has sent waves of refugees fleeing the country, which is also called Burma.  The latest government statement said Ms Suu Kyi told Mr Erdogan that her government had “already started defending all the people in Rakhine in the best way possible. We know very well, more than most, what it means to be deprived of human rights and democratic protection. So we make sure that all the people in our country are entitled to protection of their rights as well as, the right to, and not just political but social and humanitarian defence.”

The statement also said there were many fake news photographs circulating which were “simply the tip of a huge iceberg of misinformation calculated to create a lot of problems between different communities and with the aim of promoting the interest of the terrorists”.

Is it ‘fake news’?

There has certainly been a large amount of “fake news” surrounding recent events. The Islamic fundamental organisations unleashed a concerted and concentrated information warfare on Myanmar which they used  against coalition forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, after employing them on India since 1990s.

By 5 September there had been 1.2 million tweets talking about the crisis since refugees began flooding over the border, and many contain pictures purportedly showing a glimpse of the violence which has engulfed the region.

What sparked the latest violence.

On 25 August Rohingya insurgents armed with knives and home-made bombs attacked more than 30 police posts in northern Rakhine, killing 12 members of the security forces. A group called the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) says it carried out the 25 August attacks. The group first emerged in October 2016, when it carried out similar assaults on police posts, killing nine police officers. ARSA is a terrorist group whose leaders have been trained abroad. Its leader is Ata Ullah, a Rohingya born in Pakistan, radicalised in Saudi Arabia and took terrorist training in Pakistan, according to the Intelligence Agencies.

The Myanmar military accuses the militants and the Rohingyas of burning their own homes. The military gave a toll of 400 on 1 September and said most of those were militants. But a UN human rights official said a week later that she thought the number could be over 1,000. Verifying the situation on the ground is difficult because access is restricted.

Myanmar’s government claims the Rohingya are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and denies them citizenship, even though many say they have been there for generations. Bangladesh also denies they are its citizens.

Fake Photos to Inflame Tension

The problem is, according to the BBC’s south-east Asia correspondent Jonathan Head, “much of it is wrong”. A closer look reveals many – but not all – of the pictures come from other crises around the world, with one tweeted by Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Simsek dating back to the Rwandan genocide in 1994.


But the BBC Burmese Service’s Tin Htar Swe said much of the blame for Ms Suu Kyi’s “iceberg” could be laid at the government’s door. “The fake news is generated because the government is not allowing media access to the troubled areas,” she said. What’s more, she added, “if they allowed the UN or human rights bodies to go to the place to find out what is happening then this misinformation is not going to take place”.

1.Some 123,600 people have crossed into Bangladesh since 25 August, the Inter Sector Co-ordination Group reports

2.In addition to the numbers shown on the map, about 36,000 additional refugees are also living in host communities and spontaneous sites dotted around the border region.

As a result, all people outside the affected areas have to rely on is the conflicting accounts of the Rohingya fleeing Myanmar and the government – with the space in between ripe for “fake news”. The military says it is fighting against Rohingya militants who are attacking civilians.

Their story has been contradicted by Myanmar’s Minister in charge of Border Security in Rakhine, Col Phone Tint. He told our correspondent Jonathan Head who is travelling on a government-organised visit to the border town of Maungdaw that the destruction of villages was a deliberate strategy by the militants, aimed at forcing the Muslim population to flee to neighbouring Bangladesh.

Meanwhile, two Bangladeshi government sources told a news agency they believe Myanmar has been laying fresh landmines along the border, despite the flood of refugees trying to cross to safety. The allegations came after blasts were heard in the area, in which two children and a woman were injured. However, Myanmar government had denied the reports. The area was mined in the 1990s, during military rule, to prevent trespassing.

But on Monday, Ms Suu Kyi’s spokesman Zaw Htay questioned who exactly had placed the explosives. “Who can surely say those mines were not laid by the terrorists?” he asked in a press conference.

Ms Suu Kyi was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize for her work bringing democracy to Burma, but some have criticized her. While she has previously acknowledged problems in Rakhine state, she denied charges of ethnic clensing of the Rohingya, Several fellow laureates have called on her to act in the latest conflict.

Her biographer Justin Wintle said he was “flabbergasted” by Ms Suu Kyi’s response – telling the BBC he thought she was “impervious” to international opinion and was now “in the army’s pocket”.”She has achieved a lot and we shouldn’t hide away from that fact,” he said. “But then you get into a zero sum equation where she won’t stand up to the generals then what’s the point, quite frankly?”

Why Rohingya are unwelcome in many Islamic countries

There have been outpourings of support from politicians like President Erdogan, and Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, among others. In Indonesia, thousands marched on Myanmar’s embassy in a show of solidarity with the Rohingya, while Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi has already travelled to meet Ms Suu Kyi to urge an end to the bloodshed. however, the wealthy and rich middle eastern countries have not come forward with aid or offers to take Rohingyas into their fold due to their own militant and fundamental ideology.

However, Myanmar’s neighbours have come under criticism for not doing more to deal with the crisis. Bangladesh has previously refused to recognise the Rohingya as refugees, with Amnesty International accusing the country of sending people back to Myanmar to face an uncertain future. Earlier this year, the government in Dhaka suggested relocating all Rohingya refugees to a low-lying island vulnerable to flooding and without roads in the Bay of Bengal as it was visibly unsure of Rohingyas true nature.


Meanwhile, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was in Myanmar meeting with Ms Suu Kyi as the crisis continued to unfold on Wednesday. All he would say was that he shared the government’s “concern” about extremist violence in Rakhine State and the innocent lives lost – sidestepping the issue of criticising his neighbour. Ms Suu Kyi, for her part, thanked Mr Modi for his “strength” in regard to the “terrorist threat” her security forces were facing. Mr Modi last month vowed to deport the 40,000 Rohingya living in India due to their terror links.

Thailand appears to have a more welcoming stance towards the Rohingya, with Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha telling reporters they were preparing for arrivals and “will provide them with shelter like in the past… and send them back when they are ready”.

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