Ro­hingya refugees re­late tales of atroc­i­ties

Gov­ern­ment sol­diers ac­cused of rape, killing ba­bies, burn­ing fam­i­lies

The Dallas Morning News - - World - Jef­frey Gettleman, The New York Times

COX’S BAZAR, Bangladesh — Hun­dreds of women stood in the river, held at gun­point, or­dered not to move.

A pack of sol­diers stepped to­ward a pe­tite young woman with light brown eyes and del­i­cate cheek­bones. Her name was Ra­juma, and she was stand­ing chest-high in the wa­ter, clutch­ing her baby son, while her village in Myan­mar burned down be­hind her.

“You,” the sol­diers said, point­ing at her. She froze. “You!” She squeezed her baby tighter.

In the next vi­o­lent blur of mo­ments, the sol­diers clubbed Ra­juma in the face, tore her scream­ing child out of her arms and hurled him into a fire. She was then dragged into a house and gang-raped.

By the time the day was over, she was run­ning through a field naked and cov­ered in blood. Alone, she had lost her son, her mother, her two sis­ters and her younger brother, all wiped out in front of her eyes, she says.

Ra­juma is a Ro­hingya Mus­lim, one of the most un­wanted eth­nic groups on earth, and she now spends her days drift­ing through a refugee camp in Bangladesh in a daze.

She re­layed her story at the camp, one of sev­eral where hun­dreds of thou­sands of Ro­hingya like her have rushed for safety. Her ac­count of what hap­pened in her village, in late Au­gust, was cor­rob­o­rated by dozens of other sur­vivors and by hu­man rights groups gath­er­ing ev­i­dence of atroc­i­ties.

Sur­vivors said they saw gov­ern­ment sol­diers stab­bing ba­bies, cut­ting off boys’ heads, gang-rap­ing girls, shoot­ing 40-mil­lime­ter grenades into houses, burn­ing en­tire fam­i­lies to death, round­ing up dozens of un­armed male vil­lagers and sum­mar­ily ex­e­cut­ing them.

Much of the vi­o­lence was flam­boy­antly bru­tal, in­ti­mate and per­sonal — the kind that is det­o­nated by a long, bitter his­tory of eth­nic ha­tred.

“Peo­ple were hold­ing the sol­diers’ feet, beg­ging for their lives,” Ra­juma said. “But they didn’t stop, they just kicked them off and killed them, they chopped peo­ple, they shot peo­ple, they raped us, they left us sense­less.”

Hu­man rights in­ves­ti­ga­tors said that Myan­mar’s mil­i­tary killed more than 1,000 civil­ians in the state of Rakhine, and pos­si­bly as many as 5,000, though it will be hard to ever know be­cause Myan­mar is not al­low­ing the United Na­tions or any­one else into the af­fected ar­eas.

On Wednesday, the United Na­tions re­ported that in ad­di­tion to the mil­i­tary’s use of rape and other trau­matic tac­tics to drive sur­vivors out, the na­ture of the broader vi­o­lence — homes burned, crops and live­stock de­stroyed, the land­scaped lev­eled — “ren­der the pos­si­bil­ity of the Ro­hingya re­turn­ing to nor­mal lives and liveli­hoods in the fu­ture in north­ern Rakhine al­most im­pos­si­ble.”

Myan­mar’s army has claimed it was re­spond­ing to an at­tack by Ro­hingya mil­i­tants on Aug. 25 and tar­get­ing only the in­sur­gents. But ac­cord­ing to dozens of wit­nesses, al­most all of the peo­ple killed were un­armed vil­lagers, and many had their hands bound.

Satel­lite im­agery has re­vealed 288 sep­a­rate vil­lages burned, some down to the last post.

Hu­man rights groups said the gov­ern­ment troops had one goal: to erase en­tire Ro­hingya com­mu­ni­ties. The un­spar­ing de­struc­tion drove more than half a mil­lion peo­ple into Bangladesh in re­cent weeks. U.N. of­fi­cials called the cam­paign against the Ro­hingya a “text­book ex­am­ple” of eth­nic cleans­ing.

Many peo­ple in the refugee camps have been eer­ily stoic — seem­ingly trau­ma­tized past the abil­ity to feel. In dozens of in­ter­views with sur­vivors who said their loved ones had been killed in front of them, not a sin­gle tear was shed.

But as she reached the end of her hor­ri­ble tes­ti­mony, Ra­juma broke down.

“I can’t ex­plain how hard it hurts,” she said, tears rolling off her cheeks, “to no longer hear my son call me Ma.”

Sergey Ponomarev/The New York Times

Ro­hingya refugees from Myan­mar ar­rive in Shah Porir Dip, Bangladesh, after cross­ing the Naf River. United Na­tions of­fi­cials have called the cam­paign against the Ro­hingya in Myan­mar a text­book ex­am­ple of eth­nic cleans­ing.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.