New fires be­lie Myan­mar claims

Ro­hingya ac­cused of burn­ing own homes

Bangkok Post - - ASEAN -

BANGKOK: Jour­nal­ists saw new fires burn­ing in a Myan­mar vil­lage that had been aban­doned by Ro­hingya Mus­lims, and pages ripped from Is­lamic texts that were left on the ground. That in­ten­si­fies doubts about gov­ern­ment claims that mem­bers of the per­se­cuted mi­nor­ity have been de­stroy­ing their own homes.

About two dozen jour­nal­ists saw the fires in Gawdu Zara vil­lage in north­ern Rakhine state on a gov­ern­ment-con­trolled trip.

About 164,000 Ro­hingya from the area have fled across the bor­der into Bangladesh in less than two weeks since Aug 25, when Ro­hingya in­sur­gents at­tacked po­lice out­posts in Gawdu Zara and sev­eral other vil­lages, the UN refugee agency said Thurs­day.

The mil­i­tary has said nearly 400 peo­ple, mostly Ro­hingya, have died in clashes and that troops were con­duct­ing “clear­ance op­er­a­tions”. It blames in­sur­gents for set­ting their own vil­lages on fire, with­out of­fer­ing proof.

Ro­hingya who have fled Myan­mar, how­ever, have de­scribed large-scale vi­o­lence per­pe­trated by Myan­mar troops and Bud­dhist mobs — set­ting fire to their homes, spray­ing bul­lets in­dis­crim­i­nately, stab­bing civil­ians and or­der­ing them to aban­don their homes or be killed.

On the Myan­mar side of the bor­der, re­porters saw no Ro­hingya in any of the five de­stroyed vil­lages they were al­lowed to tour on Thurs­day, mak­ing it un­likely they could have been re­spon­si­ble for the new fires.

An eth­nic Rakhine vil­lager who emerged from the smoke said po­lice and Rakhine Bud­dhists had set the fires. The vil­lager ran off be­fore he could be asked any­thing else.

No po­lice of­fi­cers were seen in the vil­lage be­yond those who were ac­com­pa­ny­ing the jour­nal­ists. But about 10 Rakhine men with ma­chetes were seen there. They looked ner­vous and the only one who spoke said he had just ar­rived and did not know how the fires started.

Among the build­ings on fire was a madrassa. Copies of books with texts from the Ko­ran were torn up and thrown out­side.

An­other vil­lage the jour­nal­ists vis­ited, Ah Lel Than Kyaw, was black­ened, oblit­er­ated and de­serted. Cat­tle and dogs wan­dered through the smoul­der­ing re­mains.

Lo­cal po­lice of­fi­cer Aung Kyaw Moe said 18 peo­ple were killed in the vil­lage when the vi­o­lence be­gan last month.

“From our side, there was one im­mi­gra­tion of­fi­cer dead, and we found 17 dead bod­ies from the en­emy side,” he said.

Vir­tu­ally all build­ings in the vil­lage seen by jour­nal­ists had been burned, along with cars, mo­tor­bikes and bi­cy­cles that flee­ing vil­lagers left be­hind. A mosque was also dam­aged.

Col­umns of smoke could be seen ris­ing in the dis­tance, and dis­tant gun­shots could be heard.

“They burned their own houses and ran away,” Aung Kyaw Moe said. “We didn’t see who ac­tu­ally burned them be­cause we had to take care of the se­cu­rity for our out­post. ... But when the houses were burned, Ben­galis were the only ones in the vil­lage.”

Bud­dhist-ma­jor­ity Myan­mar refers to Ro­hingya as Ben­galis, con­tend­ing they mi­grated il­le­gally from Bangladesh, though many Ro­hingya fam­i­lies have lived in Myan­mar for gen­er­a­tions.

Burn­ing the homes of Ro­hingya can make it less likely they will re­turn. Tens of thou­sands of Ro­hingya were driven from their homes in an­other wave of vi­o­lence in 2012. Many are now con­fined to camps, while the land they once held is ei­ther va­cant or oc­cu­pied by Bud­dhist squat­ters.

Nay San Lwin, a Ro­hingya ac­tivist and blog­ger based in Europe with con­tacts in north­ern Rakhine, said that ac­cord­ing to wit­nesses, the Myan­mar mil­i­tary, bor­der guard po­lice and Rakhine vil­lagers came to Ah Lel Than Kyaw and burned the houses from Mon­day to Wed­nes­day.

On Aug 25, he said, young men with swords and knives tried to at­tack bor­der guards in Aley Than Kyaw but failed. The au­thor­i­ties took away all Bud­dhist vil­lagers, and many Ro­hingya vil­lagers fled on their own.

Nay San Lwin said the re­main­ing vil­lagers left af­ter the mil­i­tary warned them they would be shot if they did not leave.

Myan­mar’s leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, has dis­missed the Ro­hingya cri­sis as a mis­in­for­ma­tion cam­paign. Ac­cord­ing to her of­fice, she said such mis­in­for­ma­tion helps pro­mote the in­ter­ests of “ter­ror­ists”, a ref­er­ence to the Ro­hingya in­sur­gents who at­tacked se­cu­rity posts on Aug 25.

The cri­sis re­sponse di­rec­tor for Amnesty In­ter­na­tional called Ms Suu Kyi’s re­sponse “un­con­scionable”.

On Thurs­day, Ms Suu Kyi told re­porters her gov­ern­ment was work­ing to im­prove se­cu­rity and liveli­hoods for Ro­hingya, but that “it’s a lit­tle un­rea­son­able to ex­pect us to re­solve ev­ery­thing in 18 months” since her ad­min­is­tra­tion took of­fice.

With Ro­hingya flee­ing by the thou­sands daily across the bor­der, push­ing ex­ist­ing camps in Bangladesh to the brink, the gov­ern­ment in Dhaka pledged to build at least one more.

The In­ter­na­tional Or­gan­i­sa­tion f or Mi­gra­tion has pleaded for US$18 mil­lion in for­eign aid to help feed and shel­ter tens of thou­sands now packed into makeshift set­tle­ments or stranded in a no man’s land be­tween the two coun­tries’ borders.

AFP

A house burns in Gawdu Zara vil­lage near Maung­daw in Myan­mar’s Rakhine state yes­ter­day.

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