Matt Dillon puts rare celebrity spotlight on persecuted Rohingya

By Robin McDowell, AP

SITTWE, Myanmar–American actor Matt Dillon put a rare star-powered spotlight on Myanmar’s long-persecuted Rohingya Muslims, visiting a hot, squalid camp for tens of thousands displaced by violence and a port that has served as one of the main launching pads for their exodus by sea.

It was ��heartbreaking,�� he said after meeting a young man with a raw, open leg wound from a road accident and no means to treat it.

Mothers carrying babies with clear signs of malnutrition stood listlessly outside row after row of identical bamboo huts, toddlers playing nearby in the chalky white dust.

��No one should have to live like this, people are really suffering,�� said Dillon, wearing his trademark black T-shirt and jeans. ��They are being strangled slowly, they have no hope for the future and nowhere to go.��

Though Rohingya have been victims of state-sponsored discrimination for decades, conditions started deteriorating three years ago after the predominantly Buddhist country of 50 million began its bumpy transition from a half-century of dictatorship to democracy.

Taking advantage of newfound freedoms of expression, radical monks started fanning deep-seated societal hatred for the religious minority. Hundreds have been killed by machete-wielding mobs and a quarter million others now live under apartheid-like conditions in camps or have fled by boat �X hundreds of dehydrated, hungry Rohingya washing onto Southeast Asian shores in recent weeks.

As they become increasingly marginalized, several groups are warning that the building blocks of genocide are in place.

��I know that’s a very touchy word to use. But there’s a very ominous feeling here,�� said Dillon, one of the first celebrities to try to get a first-hand look at what life is like for Rohingya in the western state of Rakhine.

Denied citizenship, they are effectively stateless with almost no basic rights

Dillon said he decided to come to Myanmar following a desperate, urgent appeal by Rohingya activist Thun Khin at a Refugees International fundraiser in Washington, D.C., just over a month ago. In Japan to promote his new television series, Wayward Pines, he decided it was a good time to make the trip.