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Why Saudi Arabia Is Not Vocal On the Issue of Rohingya Muslims
Local Editor

When Rohingya Muslims fled persecution and slaughter in Myanmar in past decades, tens of thousands found refuge in Saudi Arabia, home to Islam's holiest sites. This time around, Muslim leaders from the Gulf to Pakistan have offered little more than condemnation and urgently needed humanitarian aid.

Oil pipeline

The lack of a stronger response by Muslim-majority countries partly comes down to their lucrative business interests in Southeast Asia, experts say. Much of the Middle East is also buckling under its own refugee crisis sparked by years of upheaval in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Afghanistan.

More than 500,000 people -- roughly half the Rohingya Muslim population in Myanmar -- have fled to neighboring Bangladesh over the past year, mostly in the last month. The United Nations human rights chief described Myanmar's military crackdown and allied Buddhist mob attacks as "a textbook example of ethnic cleansing."

A recently opened pipeline running through Myanmar, also known as Burma, carries oil from Arab countries and the Caucuses to China's land-locked Yunnan Province. The 771-kilometre pipeline starts at the Bay of Bengal in western Myanmar's Rakhine state, from where most of the Rohingya have been forced out.

In 2011, a subsidiary of state oil giant Saudi Aramco and PetroChina, an arm of China's state-owned CNPC, signed a deal to supply China's southwestern Yunnan Province with up to 200,000 barrels per day of crude oil, just under half of the pipeline's capacity.

"One could argue that Saudi Arabia is less likely to be outspoken on this [Rohingya] issue because it actually relies on the Burmese government to protect the physical security of the pipeline," said Bo Kong, a senior associate at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies who has written about China's global petroleum policy.

The pipeline became operational in April following years of delays. It allows tankers to bypass the Strait of Malacca, cutting typical voyages by about seven days. A natural gas pipeline from Myanmar's Shwe gas field runs alongside it.

Daniel Wagner, founder of consulting firm Country Risk Solutions, said Saudi Arabia is moving ahead with its economic and political agenda in Mynamar and Southeast Asia, yet can still "claim to have stood the moral high-ground" by previously taking in refugees and providing financial aid.

"The important point is that natural gas and oil flows through Rakhine state," he said.

Meanwhile, images of burnt Muslim villages in Myanmar and of traumatized and often barefoot Rohingya women, children and elderly crossing into Bangladesh sparked protests in several Muslim countries.

In this regard, Jason von Meding, a specialist in disaster response at the University of Newcastle in Australia, said religious differences are not the only reason Rohingya are being forced out.

The government in Myanmar has designated 3 million acres in Rakhine state for development of the area's rich mineral resources, he said. Farmers and vulnerable minority groups in the state have protested such schemes, calling them land grabs for which they receive little to no compensation.

"There's no question that there is a lot of religious tension and ethnic division in society there," von Meding said.

"The problem is that it's a convenient excuse for some people to get on with some very dirty political and business dealings behind the scenes."

Source: News Agencies, Edited by website team

22-09-2017 | 13:49


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