Women and chil­dren shot where they fell


When the Myan­mar army stormed Nur Ali’s north­ern Rakhine state vil­lage of Boli Bazar on Au­gust 27, set­ting fire to houses and shoot­ing at peo­ple as they ran from their burn­ing build­ings, there was no at­tempt to sort civil­ians from al­leged mil­i­tants.

“They didn’t ask any ques­tions. They didn’t say any­thing. They just started shoot­ing,” Nur Ali told The Aus­tralian from his tar­pau­lin shel­ter at the Balukhali refugee camp in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar.

“All they said is: ‘You’re all Ro­hingya. You’re all al Yaquin’ (the lo­cal term for the Arakan Ro­hingya Sal­va­tion Army).

“If peo­ple fell as they ran they were shot. Among them were chil­dren, women and old men too. Those who could not come out of their houses were burned alive.”

Ro­hingya men and boys of all ages were treated as mil­i­tants, ac­cord­ing to many refugees in­ter­viewed in Bangladesh camps and at bor­der cross­ings.

Whether through fear or ig­no­rance, few among the 400,000 Ro­hingya now jostling for space and scant re­sources in­side Bangladesh’s over­crowded Cox’s Bazar on Myan­mar’s western bor­der will ad­mit to know­ing any­thing of the newly formed ARSA. The group says it is fight­ing for the restora­tion of Ro­hingya rights and cit­i­zen­ship in Bud­dhist-ma­jor­ity Myan­mar and de­nies any re­li­gious mo­ti­va­tion or links to Is­lamic mil­i­tants.

That hasn’t stopped ex­trem­ist groups such as Is­lamic State, alQa’ida and Pak­istan’s Lashkar-eTaiba from us­ing the lat­est Ro­hingya cri­sis as a ral­ly­ing cry for re­cruit­ment.

ARSA has also de­nied tar­get­ing civil­ians, though its mil­i­tants have been ac­cused of killing at least six Hin­dus — in­clud­ing three chil­dren — and tar­get­ing other non-Mus­lim groups in north­ern Rakhine state dur­ing last month’s at­tacks, which sparked the mil­i­tary’s lat­est counter-of­fen­sive.

Within hours of ARSA’s deadly Au­gust 25 at­tacks on Rakhine se­cu­rity posts, the gov- ern­ment de­clared it a ter­ror­ist or­gan­i­sa­tion. While many Ro­hingya el­ders con­demned the group’s vi­o­lent tac­tics, there are fears sup­port is grow­ing among dis­af­fected young men in par­tic­u­lar. Nur Ali said that within Bangladesh’s ex­plod­ing Ro­hingya refugee com­mu­nity there was talk of fight­ing back, though he was quick to add the idea was hope­less.

“How will Ro­hingya fight back?” he asked. “The mil­i­tary have weapons they can use to at­tack us from two miles (3.2km) away. We have noth­ing. If a Ro­hingya is found with even a six­inch (15cm) knife they’re jailed for 20 years.”

At Bangladesh’s Pa­longkhali bor­der cross­ing, Sala­mat Ul­lah said: “No one knows much about ARSA. We heard about them but we don’t see them. All we know about them is what the gov­ern­ment has said. If we had known them to re­ally ex­ist then we would have wanted to join them. But how can we do that? We don’t know who they are.”

Myan­mar’s gov­ern­ment in­sisted it was tar­get­ing only ARSA mil­i­tants, whom it ac­cuses of try­ing to cre­ate an Is­lamic state in Rakhine. It claims to have killed close to 400 com­bat­ants, though refugees flee­ing the re­gion uni­formly tell of mass civil­ian killings, and of bod­ies lin­ing roads and paths to the bor­der.

Hos­sain Shaha, a Ro­hingya busi­ness­man from Sha­hab Bazar in north­ern Rakhine who was forced to flee with his fam­ily on Au­gust 26, said he be­lieved ARSA was “fight­ing for the cause of the Ro­hingya” even if their emer­gence had “made things worse”.

Myan­mar’s 1.1 mil­lion Ro­hingya mi­nor­ity has for years been sub­jected to state per­se­cu­tion, in­clud­ing the re­trac­tion of cit­i­zen­ship rights and the de­nial of pub­lic health and ed­u­ca­tion ser­vices. The Myan­mar state in­sists Ro­hingya are re­cent Mus­lim in­ter­lop­ers from Bangladesh, de­spite many fam­i­lies trac­ing their Myan­mar an­ces­try back gen­er­a­tions. But Mr Hos­sain added: “We don’t blame ARSA for (the cri­sis). The mil­i­tary was look­ing for an ex­cuse to do such things. We had no other op­tion but to fight for our rights.”


Ro­hingya refugees line up at Ku­tu­pa­long camp in Bangladesh to await bio­met­ric regis­tra­tion last week

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