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Who are the Rohingya and why are they fleeing Myanmar?

Thirteen-month-old Hares was sleeping when the military lit his family's straw house on fire in Myanmar. He received extensive burns.

Nathan VanderKlippe/The Globe and Mail

An estimated 400,000 Rohingya Muslims are fleeing to Bangladesh in what the United Nations is calling a "textbook example of ethnic cleansing". But the plight of the Rohingya people isn't new by any means.  Here's a primer on who's who and what's happening now:

WHO ARE THE ROHINGYA?

The Rohingya, a Muslim minority group, account for about 1.1 million people in Myanmar. The group has faced decades of discrimination and persecution in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, where they are denied citizenship despite centuries-old roots in the country.

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QUICK HISTORY

Myanmar's military, which ruled for almost 50 years until it began a transition to democracy in 2011, retains significant political powers and has full control of security.

But anti-Rohingya sentiment is common in Myanmar, where Buddhist nationalism has surged since the end of military rule.

Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi, whom the military blocked from becoming president and who says Myanmar is at the beginning of the road to democracy, could risk being denounced as unpatriotic if she were seen to be criticising a military operation that enjoys widespread support.

Though Suu Kyi is not Myanmar's president, she effectively serves as leader of the Southeast Asian nation.

WHY ARE THE ROHINGYA BEING PERSECUTED?

Muslims are regarded with suspicion in the deeply Buddhist country of Myanmar. Buddhists have lived for millennia in what is now Myanmar, while Muslims are more recent arrivals, with the first coming perhaps in the late 15th century. Rakhine state, where they are concentrated, includes territory that was part of the ancient Buddhist Arakan kingdom and where Muslims also lived.

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WHAT PROMPTED THE LATEST CLASH?

The crisis erupted on Aug. 25, when an insurgent Rohingya group attacked police outposts in Rakhine state. That prompted Myanmar's military to launch "clearance operations" against the rebels, setting off a wave of violence that has left hundreds dead and thousands of homes burned — mostly Rohingya.

WHAT DOES MYANMAR SAY?

Myanmar says its security forces are fighting Rohingya militants and they are doing all they can to avoid harming civilians.

WHAT IS AUNG SAN SUU KYI DOING ABOUT IT?

Suu Kyi, a Nobel peace laureate, is under intense pressure to stop the violence against the Rohingya, and there have been calls for her to be stripped of her Nobel prize. But so far, Suu Kyi has been largely silent. On Wednesday, she cancelled her UN appearance to deal with the crisis.

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IS CANADA STEPPING IN?

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has expressed "deep concerns" to Ms. Suu Kyi in a phone call. He stressed her role "as a moral and political leader," even though she does not have the constitutional authority to control the military.

Mr. Trudeau also called on Myanmar's military, which retains significant power in the country, and civilian leaders "to take a strong stand in ending the violence, promoting the protection of civilians and promoting unimpeded access for the UN and international humanitarian actors."

RELATED READING

Rohingya tales of terror emerge from Bangladeshi hospital wards

In transit to nowhere: Rohingya move from one bleak horizon to another

Opinion: How the wider world enables Myanmar's ethnic cleansing

Globe editorial: What has happened to Aung San Suu Kyi?

With files from Associated Press, Reuters and Globe staff

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