The Dalai Lama has spoken out for the first time about the Rohingya refugee crisis, saying Buddha would have helped Muslims fleeing violence in Buddhist-majority Myanmar.
Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya have arrived in Bangladesh in recent weeks after violence flared in neighbouring Myanmar, where the stateless Muslim minority has endured decades of persecution.
The top Buddhist leader is the latest Nobel peace laureate to speak out against the violence, which the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar says may have killed more than 1,000 people, most of them Rohingya.
“Those people who are sort of harassing some Muslims, they should remember Buddha,” the Dalai Lama told journalists who asked him about the crisis on Friday evening.
“He would definitely give help to those poor Muslims. So still I feel that. So very sad.”
Myanmar's population is overwhelmingly Buddhist and there is widespread hatred for the Rohingya, who are denied citizenship and labelled illegal “Bengali” immigrants.
Buddhist nationalists, led by firebrand monks, have operated a long Islamophobic campaign calling for them to be pushed out of the country.
Myanmar's de facto civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi has been condemned for her refusal to intervene in support of the Rohingya, including by fellow Nobel laureates Malala Yousafzai and Desmond Tutu.
Archbishop Tutu, who became the moral voice of South Africa after helping dismantle apartheid there, last week urged her to speak out.
“If the political price of your ascension to the highest office in Myanmar is your silence, the price is surely too steep,” Tutu said in a statement.
Myanmar accused of laying mines
Myanmar's military has been accused of planting land mines in the path of Rohingya Muslims fleeing violence in its western Rakhine state, with Amnesty International reporting two people wounded on Sunday.
Refugee accounts of the latest spasm of violence in Rakhine have typically described shootings by soldiers and arson attacks on villages. But there several cases that point to antipersonnel land mines or other explosives as the cause of injuries on the border with Bangladesh, where 300,000 Rohingya have fled in the past two weeks.
AP reporters on the Bangladesh side of the border on Monday saw an elderly woman with devastating leg wounds: one leg with the calf apparently blown off and the other also badly injured. Relatives said she had stepped on a land mine.
Myanmar has one of the few militaries, along with North Korea and Syria, which has openly used antipersonnel land mines in recent years, according to Amnesty. An international treaty in 1997 outlawed the use of the weapons; Bangladesh signed it but Myanmar has not.
Lt Col Ariful Islam, commanding officer of the Bangladesh border guard in Teknaf, said on Friday he was aware of at least three Rohingya injured in explosions.
Bangladeshi officials and Amnesty researchers believe new explosives have been recently planted, including one that the rights group said blew off a Bangladeshi farmer's leg and another that wounded a Rohingya man. Both incidents occurred Sunday. It said at least three people including two children were injured in the past week.
“It may not be land mines, but I know there have been isolated cases of Myanmar soldiers planting explosives three to four days ago,” Ariful said on Friday.
Myanmar presidential spokesman Zaw Htay did not answer phone calls seeking comment Sunday. Military spokesman Myat Min Oo said he couldn't comment without talking to his superiors.
A major at the Border Guard Police headquarters in northern Maungdaw near the Bangladesh border also refused to comment.