Boat with Rohingya refugees capsizes, killing 5 as more flee

An exhausted Rohingya helps an elderly family member and a child as they arrive at Kutupalong refugee camp after crossing from Myanmmar to the Bangladesh side of the border, in Ukhia, Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2017. The man said he lost several family members in Myanmar. Tens of thousands of Rohingya Muslims, fleeing the latest round of violence to engulf their homes in Myanmar, have been walking for days or handing over their meager savings to Burmese and Bangladeshi smugglers to escape what they describe as certain death. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

KUTUPALONG, Bangladesh (AP) — A trawler carrying Rohingya Muslims fleeing violence in Myanmar capsized, killing at least five people, as the country’s leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, blamed a misinformation campaign for fueling a crisis the U.N. says has pushed some 146,000 refugees into Bangladesh.

Suu Kyi’s top security adviser also sought to counter the storm of international criticism over alleged army abuses against the Rohingya ethnic minority, asserting that security forces were acting with restraint in pursuing “terrorists.”

On the Bangladesh side of the border with Buddhist-majority Myanmar, residents of Shah Porir Dwip fishing village recovered five bodies from the Bay of Bengal on Wednesday, hours after the boat capsized around midnight, police official Yakub Ali said.

It was not immediately clear where the boat began its journey, or if the passengers had been among some 450 detained by Bangladeshi border guards and ordered Tuesday to return to Myanmar.

While some border guards were letting refugees cross into Bangladesh, others were sending them back.

Faced with a mounting crisis and a lack of space and basic supplies, Bangladesh said it will set up a new camp to accommodate Rohingya refugees who have arrived from Myanmar since Aug. 25, many walking for days and crossing jungles and rivers to reach safety.

Shah Kamal of the Ministry of Disaster Management did not say when the new camp would be ready. He said Wednesday it would be established in Tyingkhali, south of Cox’s Bazar district and near the established camp in Balukhali where more than 50,000 Rohingya have been sheltering since October.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has asked officials to prepare a database with fingerprints for the new arrivals.

Bangladesh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it summoned Myanmar’s envoy on Wednesday and delivered a protest note expressing deep concern about the influx of refugees. It said it demanded immediate measures by Myanmar to de-escalate the violence and also expressed concern about reports that Myanmar’s security forces had planted land mines along the border.

Some 146,000 people fleeing Myanmar’s Rakhine state have reached Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazaar district since Aug. 25, U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Wednesday from the U.N. He said the World Food Program is appealing for $11.3 million to support the influx of people and those already living in camps and the U.N. agency has provided food to tens of thousands of people.

He described women and children arriving hungry and malnourished. Earlier, UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake 80 percent of the arrivals are women and children.

“Many more children in need of support and protection remain in the areas of northern Rakhine state that have been wracked by violence,” he said in a statement, adding that the U.N. refugee agency had no access to Rakhine trouble spots.

“We are unable to reach the 28,000 children to whom we were previously providing psychosocial care or the more than 4,000 children who were treated for malnutrition in Buthidaung and Maungdaw” in Rakhine, he said. “Our clean water and sanitation work has been suspended, as have school repairs that were under way.”

The violence and civilian suffering have prompted international condemnation and resonated particularly in Muslim countries.

Suu Kyi complained to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in a phone call Tuesday that Turkey’s deputy prime minister was a victim of fake news when he posted photos purportedly showing dead Rohingya that were not related to the crisis. The photos on Mehmet Simsek’s Twitter account have been taken down.

According to her office, Suu Kyi said such misinformation helps promote the interests of “terrorists,” a reference to the Rohingya insurgents whose attacks on Myanmar security posts on Aug. 25 triggered the latest military crackdown and streams of refugees.

National Security Advisor Thaung Tun said Wednesday that security forces “will use only calibrated force and force where necessary” and are making every effort to avoid harming innocent civilians.

Speaking at a news conference in Myanmar’s capital, Naypyitaw, he said he was “deeply disappointed and saddened by the disinformation campaign being waged around the world with regard to the situation in Rakhine.”

He said the recent violence “clearly indicates the intention of the extremist terrorist group to separate the territory of Rakhine from Myanmar and to create a Muslim state in that region.”

The group that claimed responsibility for the attacks, the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, says it acted to defend Rohingya communities, but has been vague about its ideology and ultimate goals.

The military has said nearly 400 people, most of them insurgents, have died in clashes. Security forces responded to the attacks with days of “clearance operations” the government says were aimed at rooting out insurgents it accuses of setting fire to Rohingya villages.

Many displaced Rohingya, however, said it was Myanmar soldiers who set their homes aflame and fired indiscriminately around their villages in Rakhine state. Rohingya Muslims have long faced discrimination in the Southeast Asian country.

Turkey said that Myanmar agreed to allow its aid officials to enter Rakhine state with a ton of food and goods for Rohingya.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said it was crucial that Myanmar’s government immediately give Rohingya either nationality or legal status so they can lead normal lives and freely move, find jobs, and get an education.

Guterres cited the longstanding history of “discrimination, hopelessness and extreme poverty” for Rohingya and warned about possible ethnic cleansing.

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