Wednesday 30, August
Kutupalong Refugee Camp
Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh
“The devastating cruelty to which these Rohingya children have been subjected is unbearable — what kind of hatred could make a man stab a baby crying out for his mother's milk. And for the mother to witness this murder while she is being gang-raped by the very security forces who should be protecting her.” – UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
The usual power and athletic vibrancy of the body had slumped into a despondent stoop; the dark brown hair was tousled and damp; the appealing features with prominent cheekbones and well-defined chin were obscured by days of unshaven stubble; and the usual empathetic honesty that glowed in the eyes had faded into a gloom blurred by another humanitarian crisis. Despite being easy-going by nature, Mike Walker had never managed to contain his feelings of incomprehensible outrage whenever confronted by humanity’s emotional detachment from the barbarity being perpetrated daily against millions of innocent people.
Emotional detachment from the plight of others — easily achieved by simply looking the other way — always favoured the perpetrators rather than the victims who were reduced to being inconsequential nonentities; were persecuted and denied legal and human rights; were starving, sick, and dying; were victims of Apartheid policies with racial segregations inclusive of political and economic discrimination; were harassed, internally displaced, or forcibly deported; were imprisoned, tortured, or simply “disappeared”; were enslaved, exploited, or trafficked; and were ultimately the victims of mindless massacres that defied the comprehension of anyone even remotely humane.
As a freelance war correspondent covering conflicts for over a decade, Walker was no stranger to humanity’s capacity for ethno-religious hatred and brutality as had once again become evident. The Katupalong camp — just another of the more the 140 camps around the world currently harbouring a record number of over 65,000,000 refugees stripped of their past and without any hope for the future — started out as a refuge in 1991 following the influx of thousands of Rohingya Muslims fleeing from neighbouring Myanmar (formerly Burma) where military forces had launched a campaign dubbed “Operation Clean up and Beautiful Nation.” That still ongoing task of “cleaning up and beautifying” Myanmar by ridding it of Rohingya “pests,” had intensified to the extent of becoming a full scale genocide that prompted Walker’s visit to the region.
According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), more than 723,000 Rohingya Muslim men, women, and children had so far fled to Bangladesh with estimates of at least 18,000 women and girls raped, 116,000 beaten, and 36,000 thrown into fires. Those who suffered most were the women and girls who bore the mental scars of shocking sexual violence, pregnancy as a result of rape, and the duress of a forced hazardous journey.
Equally appalling for Walker was the high number of unaccompanied children who had either lost their parents or were in some cases brought over by extended family or friends. Walker’s outrage was still simmering as he and his companion set off on the drive back to Myanmar. He had no illusions about the horrendous crimes yet to be encountered; the regular reminders — that irrespective of any optimistic declarations about mankind owing “the child the best it has to give” — mankind had so far failed miserably to do so; and that further unforeseen hazards ahead would have to be overcome.
There was also the ever-present threat from Myanmar’s intelligence services whose fanatical dedication to preserving the Union had combined with the military leadership’s intention to impose a ruthless stranglehold on the population. In pursuit of its main objectives for stability, unity and sovereignty, Myanmar’s government relied on mass surveillance, arbitrary detentions, and indiscriminate torture: three possibilities constantly faced by journalists.
Arabian Peninsula coastal fog desert
North of Al Hudaydah on Yemen’s Red Sea Coast
Despite the shortage of rainfall during the summer months from June to September when temperatures reached 40ºC, there was still sufficient moisture coming from the thick Red Sea fogs to sustain the native flora and fauna that had so far managed to survive the lack of wildlife conservation and environmental protection. Further inland, however, most of the Arabian Peninsula consisted of desert where this morning Arabian darkling beetles were busy burrowing into the sand for some respite from the heat of the blazing sun; overhead, sharp-eyed lappet-faced vultures soared effortlessly on rising columns of warm air in search of scarce sustenance; and the low-pitched squeaking sound of singing sand dunes was being marred by the lamentable whimpering of a dusky, unshaven, and perspiring Colombian mercenary in sweat soaked battle fatigues.
He had been taken by surprise, disarmed, and with a Glock 9mm automatic pointing at his head, forced to kneel in the sand by Stuart Maclean, a wiry, red-haired Scotsman. On realising that begging for his life would be to no avail, the Colombian desperately sought divine intervention with a shaking hand on heart and pleading squint towards the blinding blueness of the sunlit sky. The gods, however, were not in a forgiving mood. They granted the weatherbeaten wretch only enough time for a hurried prayer and one final loving thought of his wife and two children before presiding over his swift deliverance from this life to the next. The full metal jacket bullet fired from Maclean’s automatic shattered the desert’s tranquility and blew the back of his head away. “Bas no Beatha,” Maclean proclaimed with heartfelt jubilation in Scots Gaelic. He paused momentarily to contemplate the spattered blood and brain tissue that was already starting to sizzle and shrivel on the burning hot sand. He figured the corpse would not be around for long. Vigilant vultures would soon spot it and with ravenous haste clean it to the bone. Maclean’s nonchalant lack of compassion was the consequence of many years exposure to death and destruction. Apart from believing that his actions were always justified in the struggle between good and evil, Maclean in all his time as a soldier and mercenary had never paused to wonder why it was that those entrusted with protecting human life, were also the ones most responsible for ending it.
He wiped the beads of sweat that were rolling down his face with a shirt sleeve and holstered the automatic. Bending down to reach into the dead Latino’s rear pocket, he removed a wad of $100 bills which he pocketed before ambling back to the open top desert patrol vehicle. The hour plus journey back across the border to Jizan in the south-west corner of Saudi Arabia would be the first stage of his return to the UK where he was urgently needed to prevent any further revelatory and negative reports about Myanmar by an English war correspondent. The options for doing so included blackmail, intimidation, or if necessary, some more drastic course of action.
Maclean was already familiar with the persuasiveness of blackmail: a word derived from the Scots “mail” which in Scots English used to mean “tax” or “rent.” In ancient times, farmers living along Scotland’s border were in constant danger of being robbed by criminal gangs. As they lacked the means to defend themselves, the poor peasant farmers made payments in exchange for immunity from attack and plunder. Such extortion became known as “blackmail,” meaning “black tax” or “black rent.” While Maclean appreciated the potential of blackmail as an effective weapon for coercion, past experience and an unforgiving gut instinct had taught him that the only sure-fire way to get rid of troublesome people was to snuff them out completely.