'These Weapons Are Killing Our People’: Rohingya Activist Urges Israel to Halt Arms Sales to Myanmar

‘I’ve studied the history of the Jewish people, what happened to you in the 1940s,’ Tun Khin tells Haaretz, though Israel has declined to comment on a report that the U.S. has convinced it to stop the weapons sales

Rohingya refugees continue their journey after crossing the Myanmar-Bangladesh border in Palong Khali, Bangladesh, November 1, 2017.
HANNAH MCKAY/REUTERS

WASHINGTON – A leading activist for the Rohingya minority in Myanmar has urged Israel to stop selling arms to the country’s military, saying he hoped the Jewish people would show solidarity amid signs of another genocide.

“I’ve studied the history of the Jewish people, what happened to you in the 1940s. I hope Israel stops selling equipment to the Burmese military. It needs to stop,” said Tun Khin, the head of the Burmese Rohingya Organization, referring to the country also known as Burma.  

“These weapons are killing our people,” he told Haaretz. “The military is slaughtering pregnant women, placing mines inside villages, it’s genocide. We ask the Israeli government to stop any cooperation with the military, and we ask the Jewish people to show solidarity with us."

On Wednesday, both the U.S. State Department and the Israeli Defense Ministry declined to comment on a report by news website Intelligence Online stating that Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman had ordered a halt to weapons sales to Myanmar as a result of American pressure.

The Myanmar military has been accused by the United Nations and human rights groups of committing ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya, a Muslim minority. As Haaretz reported last week, weapons sales continued even after the extent of the violence against the Rohingya became known.

Tun Khin, a leading activist against the ethnic cleansing being carried out by the Myanmar military.
Courtesy of AJWS

Khin recently visited refugee camps in Bangladesh where the Rohingya have found sanctuary, albeit in cramped and unsanitary conditions.

“I was there for four weeks. I saw thousands of people with very little access to clean water, no proper sanitation, living in overcrowded conditions. The situation is dangerous,” said Khin, who is visiting Washington this week to speak with members of Congress in the hope of putting international pressure on the Myanmar regime to stop the atrocities.

“I met so many refugees, but what I remember the most were some women with small babies, three or four weeks old, who told me they were unable to feed their babies. I also met pregnant women who have gone for weeks without medical aid, without proper food, and are afraid for the fate of their babies,” Khin told Haaretz before the Intelligence Online report came out.

Khin was invited to Washington by the American Jewish World Service, which supports human rights and social justice groups in the developing world, including Khin’s organization in Myanmar. For years the New York-based group has been supporting organizations that have been trying to help the Rohingya. Khin said that throughout his years of activism on the subject, “the situation has never been worse than it is right now.”

“The military is going from village to village, house to house, telling people ‘get out of here or we will kill you.’ We don’t want you here. Get out of the country. After the people leave, they burn down entire villages. We appreciate the media around the world for raising the issue, but so far, there has been no action,” he said.

“We want to see sanctions and a global arms embargo. We want an international fact-finding mission to go out to the region immediately. That’s what I’ve been telling all the people I met in Congress. Please, no more words. Give us action.”