Myanmar tries to evacuate resistant refugees

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SITTWE, Myanmar -- A massive evacuation to clear low-lying camps ahead of a cyclone has run into a potentially deadly snag: Many members of the displaced Rohingya minority living there have refused to leave because they don't trust Myanmar authorities.

Around 140,000 people -- mostly Rohingya -- have been living in cramped tents and makeshift shelters in Rakhine state since last year, when two outbreaks of sectarian violence between the Muslim minority and ethnic Rahkine Buddhists forced many Rohingya from their homes.

Nearly half those displaced are in coastal areas considered highly vulnerable to storm surges and flooding from Cyclone Mahasen, which is expected to make landfall early Friday.

Outside the state capital of Sittwe yesterday, one community of several hundred Rohingya refused to budge, despite coaxing from soldiers.

"When we told them the storm was coming, they didn't believe us," said army Lt. Lin Lin. "They're still refusing to move."

Inside the camp, cycle rickshaw driver Kyaung Wa said his people were tired of being ordered around by Myanmar authorities. First, he said, they were moved into the camps because their houses were destroyed after last year's violence.

"Now they say, 'You have to move because of the storm,' " he said. "We keep refusing to go . . . If they point guns at us, only then will we move."

The cyclone churning through the Indian Ocean appears to have weakened but could still bring "life-threatening" conditions to millions of people in coastal regions, the UN said yesterday.

Heavy rains and flooding in Sri Lanka were blamed for eight deaths earlier this week, said Sarath Lal Kumara, spokesman for Sri Lanka's disaster management center.

The brunt of the cyclone was barreling toward Chittagong, Bangladesh, but could, "depending on its final trajectory, bring life-threatening conditions for 8.2 million people in northeast India, Bangladesh and Myanmar," the UN said.

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