Burma’s persecuted Muslim Rohingya people were in the news again over the weekend with the Thai navy’s denial that its forces opened fire on a group of refugees off the country’s southwestern coast last month, killing at least two. Survivors said that Thai naval troops fired a boat of around 20 refugees off Thailand’s Phang Nga province on Feb. 22, as they jumped into the water to escape custody. “Navy personnel fired into the air three times and told us not to move,” a refugee told Human Rights Watch (HRW). “But we were panicking and jumped off the boat, and then they opened fire at us in the water.” More than 100,000 Rohingyas have been displaced since ethnic violence broke out in western Burma last year. Burma refuses to recognize the Rohingya as citizens and labels the minority of about 800,000 as “illegal” immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh—which in turn disavows them as nationals. (BBC News, March 15; Press TV, March 13)
The massacres against the Rohingya occurred in June and then again in October last year, leaving thousnads living as displaced persons in camps in the Burmese state of Arakan, with more having fled for Bangladesh, Thailand and elsewhere. After the first massacre in June, Human Rights Watch stated that “Burmese security forces committed killings, rape, and mass arrests against Rohingya Muslims after failing to protect both them and Arakan Buddhists.” After the second wave of violence in October, Human Rights Watch again stated that “attacks and arson” against Rohingya “were at times carried out with the support of state security forces and local government officials.”
Last week the London-based Islamic Human Rights Commission warned: “We are extremely concerned about the increase in propaganda against the minority Rohingya in Burma. It suggests that there is a high possibility of a third massacre against the Muslim minority.” IHRC chair Massoud Shadjareh said, “There is a hidden genocide taking place in Burma, and we must speak out before even more of the Rohingya are murdered. The international community need to come together and stop a third wave of violence taking place.”
Much of the violence has been in the port of Sittwe, which is to be the starting point for the new Shwe pipeline project due to open later this year. The Shwe pipeline will allow oil from the Persian Gulf states and Africa to be pumped to China, bypassing a slower shipping route through the Strait of Malacca. It will also ship gas from Arakan’s offshore fields to southwest China.
Speaking to Oil Change International, Jamila Hanan of UK-based Save the Rohingya said: “We are anticipating a third massacre of the Rohingya on the same scale which took place in Rwanda. We have been informed that this will take place sometime between now and mid-April.” Hanan added: “There is a definite link between the oil development and the elimination of the Rohingya. The Rohingya are being cleared out of Sittwe which is being developed as a deep sea port to take oil tankers from the Middle East. There is huge number of economic developments around the port of Sittwe as a result of the new pipeline.”
Potentially lucrative oil and gas blocs which have previously been off limits due to sanctions are also at stake in Arakan. Next month, Burma plans to launch a much-anticipated bidding for 30 offshore oil and gas blocs, likely to receive bids from majors such as Chevron, Total and ConocoPhillips. “Our politicians must put their own economic interests aside and act urgently to prevent this imminent human disaster,” said Hanan. “Never before has the public been so informed through social media that a massacre was about to happen—our governments must not be allowed to sit back and do nothing.” (Oil Change, March 18)