Rohingya Muslims Being Eradicated 09/19 06:05
YANGON, Myanmar (AP) -- For generations, Rohingya Muslims have called
Myanmar home. Now, in what appears to be a systematic purge, the minority
ethnic group is, quite literally, being wiped off the map.
After a series of attacks by Muslim militants last month, security forces
and allied mobs retaliated by burning down thousands of Rohingya homes in the
predominantly Buddhist nation.
More than 500,000 people --- roughly half their population --- have fled to
neighboring Bangladesh in the past year, most of them in the last three weeks.
And they are still leaving, piling into wooden boats that take them to
sprawling, monsoon-drenched refugee camps in Bangladesh. Their plight has been
decried as ethnic cleansing by U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres. And
despite assurances Tuesday by Myanmar's leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, few believe
they will ever be welcomed back.
"This is the worst crisis in Rohingya history," said Chris Lewa, founder of
the Arakan Project, which works to improve conditions for the ethnic minority,
citing the monumental size and speed of the exodus. "Security forces have been
burning villages one by one, in a very systematic way. And it's still ongoing."
Using a network of monitors, Lewa and her agency are meticulously
documenting tracts of villages that have been partially or completely burned
down in three townships in northern Rakhine state, where the vast majority of
Myanmar's 1.1 million Rohingya once lived. It's a painstaking task because
there are hundreds of them, and information is almost impossible to verify
because the army has blocked access to the area. Satellite imagery released by
Human Rights Watch on Tuesday shows massive swaths of scorched landscape and
the near total destruction of 214 villages.
The Arakan Project has found that almost every tract of villages in Maungdaw
township suffered some burning, and that all of Maungdaw has been almost
completely abandoned by Rohingya.
Of the 21 Rohingya villages in Rathedaung, to the north, only five were not
targeted. Three camps for Rohingya who were displaced in communal riots five
years ago also were torched.
Buthidaung, to the east, so far has been largely spared. It is the only
township where security operations appear limited to areas where the attacks by
Rohingya militants, which triggered the ongoing crackdown, occurred.
The Rohingya have had a long and troubled history in Myanmar, where many in
the country's 60 million people look on them with disdain.
Though members of the ethnic minority first arrived generations ago,
Rohingya were stripped of their citizenship in 1982, denying them almost all
rights and rendering them stateless. They cannot travel freely, practice their
religion, or work as teachers or doctors, and they have little access to
medical care, food or education.
The U.N. has labeled the Rohingya one of the world's most persecuted
Still, if it weren't for their safety, many would rather live in Myanmar
than be forced to another country that doesn't want them.
"Now we can't even buy plastic to make a shelter," said 32-year-old Kefayet
Ullah of the camp in Bangladesh where he and his family are struggling to get
from one day to the next.
In Rakhine, they had land for farming and a small shop. Now they have
"Our heart is crying for our home," he said, tears streaming down his face.
"Even the father of my grandfather was born in Myanmar."
This is not the first time the Rohingya have fled en masse.
Hundreds of thousands left in 1978 and again in the early 1990s, fleeing
military and government oppression, though policies were later put in place
that allowed many to return. Communal violence in 2012, as the country was
transitioning from a half-century of dictatorship to democracy, sent another
100,000 fleeing by boat. Some 120,000 remain trapped in camps under
apartheid-like conditions outside Rakhine's capital, Sittwe.
But no exodus has been as massive and swift as the one taking place now.
The military crackdown came in retaliation for a series of coordinated
attacks by Rohingya militants led by Attaullah Abu Ammar Jununi, who was born
in Pakistan and raised in Saudi Arabia.
Last October, the militants struck police posts, killing several officers
and triggering a brutal military response that sent 87,000 Rohingya fleeing.
Then on Aug. 25, a day after a state-appointed commission of inquiry headed by
former U.N. chief Kofi Annan released a report about the earlier bloodshed, the
militants struck again.
They attacked more than 30 police and army posts, causing casualties.
It was the excuse security forces wanted. They hit back and hard. Together
with Buddhist mobs, they burned down villages, killed, looted and raped.
That sent a staggering 412,000 fleeing as of late Monday, according to U.N.
"The military crackdown resembles a cynical ploy to forcibly transfer large
numbers of people without possibility of return," Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein, the
U.N. high commissioner for human rights, said earlier this month in Geneva,
calling it a "textbook example of ethnic cleansing."
It could be months before the extent of the devastation is clear because the
army has blocked access to the affected areas. Yanghee Lee, the U.N. Special
Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar, said at least 1,000
civilians were killed. The government claims more than 400 died, the vast
majority Rohingya militants. They put the number of civilians killed at 30.
Whether it's the end game for the Rohingya in Myanmar remains to be seen,
said Richard Horsey, a political analyst in Yangon. It depends in part on
whether arrangements will be made by Bangladesh and Myanmar for their eventual
return and the extent of the destruction.
"We are still waiting for a full picture of how many villages are
depopulated versus how many were destroyed," he said.