Myanmar minority resist Cyclone Mahasen evacuation

By Tim Sullivan

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, May 15 2013 10:58 a.m. MDT

Myanmar's government had planned to move 38,000 people within Rakhine state by Tuesday but "it is unclear how many people have been relocated," the U.N. office said, adding that Muslim leaders in the country have called on people to cooperate with the government's evacuation.

With sprawling camps still crowded with people, it appeared very few Rohingya had agreed to leave, despite offers of additional food rations.

The ones that had left said they had little choice.

"They just put us on the truck and brought us here," said Mahmoud Issac, a day laborer now living with his family and about 500 other Rohingya on the grounds of a small mosque. His wife and five children live on the ground floor of a two-room school, while he and the other men sleep on the mosque's portico.

He has no idea if he'll be allowed to return to the camp that had become his home.

The Rohingya trace their ancestry to what is now Bangladesh, but many have lived in Myanmar for generations. Officially, though, they are dismissed as illegal aliens. They face widespread discrimination in largely Buddhist Myanmar, and particularly in Rakhine, where many of the Rohingya live.

Tensions remain high in Rakhine nearly a year after sectarian unrest tore through the region and left parts of Sittwe, the state capital, burned to the ground. At least 192 people were killed.

The violence has largely segregated Rakhine state along religious lines, with prominent Buddhists — including monks — urging people not to employ their Muslim onetime neighbors, or to shop in their businesses.

International rights groups and aid agencies urged that the evacuations be stepped up.

The British-based aid agency Oxfam welcomed the government's evacuation efforts, but said "swifter action is needed to ensure people are moved before the storm hits."

"It is essential that humanitarian principles are adhered to in moving all affected populations safely to suitable locations and that no one is left out," the group's director for Myanmar, Jane Lonsdale, said in a statement.

Weather experts have warned that the storm could shift and change in intensity before hitting land.

Myanmar's southern delta was devastated in 2008 by Cyclone Nargis, which swept away entire farming villages and killed more than 130,000 people. Two days before hitting Myanmar, Nargis weakened to a Category 1 cyclone before strengthening to a Category 4 storm.

Associated Press writers Jocelyn Gecker in Bangkok, Farid Hossain in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, and Krishan Francis in Colombo, Sri Lanka, contributed to this report.

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