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What is Ethnic Cleansing? Why are the Rohingya targeted?

September 20, 2017
Plain English Version

Courtesy, Adam Dean for The New York Times

Ethnic cleansing is when one group or government tries to wipe out another. It tends to be the bigger against, the smaller.

The reasons behind ethnic cleansing usually are religious. Twenty-five years ago Muslims and Christians went after each other in the Balkans. It happened after Tito’s dictatorship ended. Recently in Iraq, Muslim sects -- Sunni and Shia -- tried to drive each other out of the country. It happened after the fall of the Iraq dictator Hussein.

It is happening in Myanmar (Burma) today. Most people in Myanmar are Buddhists. There is a minority group called the Rohingya. Their religion is Muslim. Myanmar borders Bangladesh. Most Bangladesh people are Muslims.

Myanmar is driving thousands of Rohingya people into Bangladesh. Their conditions are horrible. Myanmar forces are killing Rohingya. Myanmar soldiers drive the Rohingya out by setting their villages on fire. They kill many of the people as they flee. They are, to use the phrase, “raping and pillaging.” The carnage on the border is hard to believe. Observers say it is devastating.

The United Nations calls it a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing.” The lucky ones are suffering in makeshift camps in Bangladesh. There is little food or medical aid in the camps.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s de facto leader, arriving to deliver a speech addressing the plight of the country’s Rohingya ethnic minority. Credit Soe Zeya Tun/Reuters

Two entities lead Myanmar. One is a person, Aung San Suu Kyi. She won a Nobel Prize for Peace. She won the prize by working for democracy in Myanmar. The other entity is the military.

Myanmar has persecuted the Rohingya for a long time. The world has not paid attention. Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi is what makes this time different. She is an icon in the same way that Nelson Mandela was. She was in jail for years.

Her party won a national election. The military had to agree to her becoming a leader of the nation. But her allies say she has “a gun to her head.” If she makes a mistake, that will be the end of her rule. In a speech, she said, “We are a young and fragile democracy facing many problems. But we have to cope with them all at the same time.”

World leaders reached out to Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi. She said that the military is following a code of conduct. That it is exercising due restraint. That it is trying to avoid damage to innocent civilians. Even as she spoke, the Rohingya were fleeing.

Source: The New York Times September 18, 2017

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