Myanmar Accused of Ethnic Cleansing as EU Meets on Sanctions

Human Rights Watch accused Myanmar’s government of ethnic cleansing in displacing more than 125,000 Rohingya Muslims as European Union diplomats meet to decide whether to lift sanctions on the country.

Authorities destroyed mosques, conducted violent mass arrests, blocked aid to displaced Muslims and dumped bodies in mass graves since sectarian violence began last June, the New York-based group said in a 153-page report released today. Ye Htut, a spokesman for President Thein Sein, said he hadn’t read the report and declined to comment.

“The Burmese government engaged in a campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya that continues today through the denial of aid and restrictions on movement,” Phil Robertson, the group’s deputy Asia director, said in a statement. “The government needs to put an immediate stop to the abuses and hold the perpetrators accountable or it will be responsible for further violence against ethnic and religious minorities.”

Thein Sein has struggled to contain violence against Rohingya and other Muslims in the Buddhist-majority country after allowing greater political freedom since taking power two years ago. He has warned the conflict threatens to hinder moves toward greater democracy as the EU and U.S. consider lifting most sanctions against the former military regime.

EU foreign ministers will meet today to discuss easing sanctions further after after most were suspended last year. The U.S. has also lifted some sanctions in the past year, attracting companies such as Google Inc., General Electric Co. and Norway’s Telenor ASA to Myanmar.

Illegal Migrants

Violence between Rakhine Buddhists and Muslim Rohingya last year in a western border area killed about 180 people and displaced more than 100,000. Many of Myanmar’s 64 million people view the country’s 800,000 Rohingya, who are denied citizenship, as illegal migrants from what is now Bangladesh.

On Oct. 23, at least 70 Rohingya were killed in a massacre in Mrauk-U township, including 28 children who were hacked to death, Human Rights Watch said. Security forces disarmed the Rohingya of sticks and other rudimentary weapons and stood by while they were attacked, the group said.

“Local officials and community leaders engaged in an organized effort to demonize and isolate the Muslim population as a prelude to murderous mob attacks,” Robertson said. “Moreover, since the bloodshed, the central government has taken no action to punish those responsible or reverse the ethnic cleansing of the forcibly displaced Muslims.”

Last month, anti-Muslim violence in central Myanmar that killed more than 40 people, displaced 20,000 others and left about 1,400 buildings destroyed, including mosques. More than 10,000 Rohingya face exposure to water-borne diseases if they are not moved to higher ground before the rainy season starts next month, according to Human Rights Watch.

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