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Myanmar’s Rohingya ‘Deserve Hope’ ahead of Peace Talks, says UN Chief Ban Ki-moon

Some 120,000 Rohingya remain displaced in squalid "internally displaced persons" (IDP) camps since fighting erupted in Rakhine state between Buddhists and Muslims in 2012

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Children belonging to Rohingya Community. Image source: Wikimedia Commons
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United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on Myanmar to improve living conditions for its Rohingya Muslim minority on Tuesday, ahead of peace talks between leader Aung San Suu Kyi and many of the country’s ethnic armed rebel groups.

1.1 million Rohingya of Mayanmar will not be represented at the conference starting on Wednesday, but the fact Ban raised their plight – and used the term for the group that is divisive in Myanmar – may add to international pressure on Suu Kyi to address the issue.

“The government has assured me about its commitment to address the roots of the problem,” Ban told a news conference in the capital Naypyitaw.

“Like all people everywhere, they need and deserve a future, hope, and dignity. This is not just a question of the Rohingya community’s right to self-identity.”

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Ban and Suu Kyi met reporters as the Nobel Peace Prize laureate launched a push to end decades of fighting between Myanmar’s military and ethnic rebels.

Suu Kyi has made the peace process a priority for her administration, which faces sky-high expectations at home and abroad after sweeping to power in an election last November to end more than half a century of military-backed rule.

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Tensions between Buddhists and Muslims in western Myanmar, however, are not being tackled as part of that process.

Many in the Buddhist-majority country regard the largely stateless Rohingya as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, and they are not among the 135 ethnic groups recognized by law. Suu Kyi has asked foreign diplomats and leaders not to use the term “Rohingya” because in her view it is inflammatory.

Some 120,000 Rohingya remain displaced in squalid “internally displaced persons” (IDP) camps since fighting erupted in Rakhine state between Buddhists and Muslims in 2012.

Thousands have fled persecution and poverty.

“I conveyed the concern of the international community about tens of thousands of people who have been living in very poor conditions in IDP camps for over four years,” said Ban.

He added that if they had lived in the country for generations, all people in Myanmar should enjoy the same legal status and citizenship as everyone else. Many Rohingya families have lived in Myanmar for that long.

Last week Suu Kyi picked former U.N. chief Kofi Annan to lead a commission to stop human rights abuses in Rakhine.

Peace conference

Few concrete proposals are to emerge from this week’s talks, with delegates expecting to meet every six months to discuss issues ranging from security, political representation and culture to sharing the fruits of Myanmar’s mineral riches.

The gathering has been compared to the Panglong Conference, a meeting between Suu Kyi’s father, Myanmar’s national hero General Aung San, and ethnic minorities in 1947 that led to the formation of the Union of Burma after independence from Britain.

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“The 21st Century Panglong conference is a promising first step,” said Ban. “I congratulate all participants for their patience, determination, and spirit of compromise.”

The fact that Suu Kyi has been able to bring the vast majority of the rebels to the negotiating table only five months after taking power is a sign of progress, experts say.

Powerful armed groups from regions bordering China, who refused to sign a ceasefire last October under the previous military-backed government, are now set to take part, partly owing to China’s tacit support for the talks.

As Myanmar’s economy opens up, China is vying for influence with the United States. President Xi Jinping pledged his country would play a “constructive role” in the peace process when Suu Kyi visited China this month.

Suu Kyi is travelling to Washington in September where she is likely to face questions on the treatment of the Rohingya.

Myanmar has been torn by fighting between the military, which seized power in the 1962 coup, and ethnic armed groups almost without a break since the end of the Second World War.

Casting a shadow over the talks is a recent flare-up in fighting in northernmost Kachin State and clashes in northeastern Shan State, which is home to several large groups operating close to borders with China and Thailand.

The still-powerful military has also strongly opposed talks with three groups that fought it in the remote Kokang area last year unless they disarm. The groups have said they cannot, citing continued pressure from the army. It was unclear whether they would be allowed to attend the summit.

Ethnic delegates have complained about what they saw as an arbitrary schedule set by the government.

Suu Kyi, who said little at Tuesday’s joint appearance with Ban, has not consulted the groups about the date of the conference or the specific agenda, diplomats familiar with the situation said.

“I will do my best to let all ethnic leaders attend tomorrow’s conference,” said Suu Kyi. “It’s their own decision whether they attend or not.” (VOA)

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As Climate Talks Come to a Halt, Africa Suffers From Global Warming

The World Health Organization warns that climate change will exacerbate the impact of some disease and health problems.

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Drought, Climate change, global warming
A farmer stands on cracked earth that three weeks earlier created the bottom of a reservoir on his farm, in Groot Marico, South Africa. VOA

Efforts to boost global action against climate change are stuttering, as several key nations have objected to a key United Nations-backed report on the impacts of rising temperatures at the COP24 talks in Poland.

Many developing nations say they are already suffering from the impact of climate change, especially in south Asia and Africa, where water shortages and intense storms are putting lives and livelihoods in danger.

In Malawi in southern Africa, a bustling fish market stood at Kachulu on the shores of Lake Chilwa just five months ago. Now, hundreds of fishing boats lie marooned across the vast bay as vultures circle over the cracked, sun-baked mud. Water levels here fluctuate annually, but scientists say climate change is making the seasonal dry-out of the lake far more dramatic. Fishermen are being forced to leave and look for work elsewhere, says Sosten Chiotha, of the non-governmental organization ‘LEAD’ – Leadership for Environment and Development.

“Climate change contributes to the current recessions that we are experiencing, because you can see that in 2012 there was a recession where the lake lost about 80 percent of its water. Then it recovered in 2013, but not fully. So since then every year we have been experiencing these recessions,” Chiotha said.

Scientists gathering at the COP24 climate talks say it is developing countries like Malawi that are being hit hardest by the impacts of climate change.

The charity Water Aid has released a report ranking the countries worst-hit by water shortages, with Sudan, Niger and Pakistan making up the top three.

“There are people who are living with the impact of climate change right now. And they’re feeling those impacts not through carbon, but through water. And as we’ve seen over the past few years and will continue to see for many years to come unfortunately, is a huge increase in water stress and absolute water scarcity,” Water Aid’s Jonathan Farr told VOA from the climate talks currently underway in the Polish city of Katowice.

Richer nations have pledged $100 billion a year for poorer nations to deal with the consequences of climate change. Water Aid says they are failing to deliver the money.

Scientists say emissions of carbon dioxide would have to be reduced by 45 percent by 2030 to have any hope of keeping global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius – the target agreed in the Paris climate deal.

 

 

Global Warming, Climate Change, Africa
Climate activists attend the March for Climate in a protest against global warming in Katowice, Poland, Dec. 8, 2018, as the COP24 UN Climate Change Conference takes place in the city. VOA

However, the number of coal-fired power stations – the most polluting for

m of energy generation – is growing. The German organization ‘Urgewald’ calculates that $478 billion had been invested into expansion of the coal industry between January 2016 and September 2018.

Also Read: To Help Poor Countries Adapt To Global Warming, World Bank Doubles Its Funding

Meanwhile the World Health Organization warns that climate change will exacerbate the impact of some disease and health problems, including malaria, malnutrition and heat exposure.

Also Read: To Help Poor Countries Adapt To Global Warming, World Bank Doubles Its Funding

There is little optimism at the talks that much concrete progress will be made, as several countries including the United States, Russia and Saudi Arabia have already voiced objections to a key scientific report from the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. (VOA)