STATE SECURITY FORCES ACCUSED OF RIGHTS ABUSES
EUROPEAN UNION foreign ministers agreed on Monday (26) to prepare sanctions against Myanmar generals over the killings of Rohingya Muslims and to strengthen the EU arms embargo, accusing state security forces of grave human rights abuses.
Foreign ministers meeting in Brussels asked the EU’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, to draw up a list of names to be hit with EU travel bans and asset freezes.
In a statement, ministers called for “targeted restrictive measures against senior military officers of the Myanmar armed forces responsible for serious and systematic human rights violations without delay”.
The measures would be the EU’s toughest yet to try to hold the Myanmar military accountable for the abuses, likely joining US and Canadian sanctions already in place.
Ministers also want to strengthen the bloc’s 1990s-era arms embargo on the country, although they did not give details.
No names of generals to be targeted for sanctions have been yet discussed, two diplomats said, but the US said in December it was sanctioning Major General Maung Maung Soe, who is accused of a crackdown on the Rohingya minority in Rakhine.
One EU diplomat said the EU’s list was likely to include more than just one senior military officer.
Myanmar has denied most allegations of abuses and asked for more evidence, while denying independent journalists, human rights monitors and UN-appointed investigators access to the conflict zone.
While Bangladesh and Myanmar talk of repatriating the refugees, the influx continues. Some days 200 people cross the border, on others a few dozen make the perilous journey. More than 2,500 have entered the camps in Bangladesh so far in February.
Hundreds of Rohingya villages have been torched in the crackdown, according to refugees and monitoring groups. Human Rights Watch said last Friday (23) that another 55 villages have been razed since November.
Aid agencies say there is still a critical risk of life-threatening diseases in the crowded camps in Bangladesh, where most refugees live in flimsy tarpaulin-and-bamboo huts.
A new threat looms with the cyclone season that starts in April. The massive storms have killed hundreds of thousands along the coast in the past five decades.
In November, Bangladesh and Myanmar signed an agreement to repatriate some 750,000 Rohingya over two years. Last week Dhaka sent a list of 8,000 names to Myanmar for verification.
Bangladesh’s refugee commissioner Mohammad Abul Kalam admitted a challenge lies ahead, saying authorities have to “shift 200,000 refugees” from the camps before the monsoon.
“It will be a big challenge for us to find sufficient places to be used as cyclone shelters for this huge number of people,” he told reporters last Sunday.
Some Rohingya who remained in Rakhine’s three main Muslim districts said the situation has improved in parts of the region, but life in the empty villages was unbearable. (AFP, Reuters)