Rohingya say their village is lost to Myanmar’s spiralling conflict

Bula Katum (R), 35, a Rohingya refugee woman sits in a makeshift shelter at Kutupalang Makeshift Camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, September 4, 2017. (REUTERS)
Updated 07 September 2017
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Rohingya say their village is lost to Myanmar’s spiralling conflict

KUTAPALONG, Bangladesh: The villagers said the soldiers came first, firing indiscriminately. Then came civilians, accompanying the soldiers, to loot and burn.
Now in Bangladesh, 20 Muslims and Hindus gave interviews in which they recounted how they were forced out of their village of Kha Maung Seik in Myanmar’s Rakhine State on Aug. 25.
“The military brought some Rakhine Buddhists with them and torched the village,” said Kadil Hussein, 55.
“All the Muslims in our village, about 10,000, fled. Some were killed by gunshots, the rest came here. There’s not a single person left.”
Hussein is staying with hundreds of other new arrivals at the Kutapalong refugee settlement, already home to thousands of Rohingya who fled earlier.
Nearly 150,000 Rohingya have arrived in Bangladesh since Aug. 25, when insurgents of the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army launched attacks on security forces in Rakhine State.
Reuters interviewed villagers from Kha Maung Seik and neighboring hamlets, who described killings and the burning of homes in the military response to the insurgent attacks.
Reuters has been unable to verify their accounts. Access to the area has been restricted since October, when the same insurgent group attacked police posts, killing nine.
Myanmar says its forces are in a fight against “terrorists.” State media has accused Rohingya militants of burning villages and killing civilians of all religions.
Myanmar does recognize the 1.1 million Rohingya as citizens, labelling them illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
The refugees from Kha Maung Seik, and from numerous other villages across the north of Rakhine State, say Myanmar forces and ethnic Rakhine Buddhists are intent on forcing them out.
One refugee, Body Alom, 28, said he hid in forest with thousands of others when the soldiers arrived. He waited for hours before emerging to look for his family.
He says he saw corpses in paddy fields, and eventually found his mother and brother dead with gunshot wounds. Two other villagers said they saw bodies in the fields.
“It wasn’t safe, so I just left them,” he said. “I had no chance to give them a burial.”
TENSE MIX
A military official denied that Buddhist civilians were working with authorities and instead accused Muslims of attacking other communities.
“The military arrived at the village later but did not find any bodies,” said the military source, who declined to be identified as he is not authorized to speak to media.
Another military source in the state capital, Sittwe, said Kha Maung Seik was in the conflict zone and clear information about what happened had yet to emerge.
The main village of Kha Maung Seik was home to a mixed community, with Rohingya Muslims in the majority along with about 6,000 Rakhine Buddhists, Hindus and others.
The village is known to the Rohingya as Foira Bazar for its market of about 1,000 shops where everyone did business.
But relations have been strained for some time.
A government plan to grant Hindus citizenship, violence in the state in 2012 and October, and an identity card scheme that the Rohingya rejected as it implied they were foreign, all contributed to tension, the refugees said.
Since October, more soldiers were posted near the village, with border police. Patrols went house-to-house arresting anyone suspected of having militant links, they said.
Abu Kalam, 31, showed Reuters welts on his back, arms and legs, and what he said were cigarette burns on his arms. He said he was detained by the military last month, before the attacks, as he was working in his vegetable patch with a knife.
“After October, the military told us not to have knives. When they saw me using one they arrested me,” he said, adding he was kept in a barracks for six days.
“They regularly tortured me, asking ‘are you connected with Al-Yaqin?’,” he said, using another name for the rebels.
INDISCRIMINATE FIRING
Villagers in Kha Maung Seik say they heard shooting at 2 a.m. on Aug. 25. A military source in Maungdaw town and two Muslim residents said militants attacked a police post near the village that night.
According to the military source, the rebels attacked with grenades then turned their attention to a Hindu neighborhood.
Four Rohingya villagers separately gave Reuters accounts of how, at about 5 a.m., soldiers entered the village, firing indiscriminately. Thousands fled.
“I was at the front of a big group running for cover, but I looked back and could see people at the back getting shot,” said Abul Hussein, 28.
Later, grenades and mortar bombs were fired into the forest, according to Hussein and three other villagers.
“I saw a mortar hit a group of people. Some died on the spot,” he said.
From the forest, residents watched military and civilians loot and burn houses. Civilians helped gather bodies, according to Body Alom and two other villagers.
“They collected the bodies, searching for belongings,” said Body Alom. “They took money, clothes, cows, everything. Then they burned the houses.”
Members of Myanmar’s small Hindu community seem to have been caught in the middle. The military source said some Hindus from Kha Maung Seik were unaccounted after the militant attack.
A group of Hindu women refugees in Kutapalong said they saw eight Hindu men killed by Buddhist Rakhines after they refused to attack Muslims.
“They asked my husband to join them to kill Rohingya but he refused, so they killed him,” said Anika Bala, 15. Six months pregnant, she said Muslims helped her get to Bangladesh.
After seeing their homes burned, Kha Maung Seik’s Muslim leaders decided it was too dangerous to stay.
“We thought we might be able to return and live with other types of people,” said Mohammed Zubair, 30, assistant to the village chairman.
“But we realized that’s not possible.”
About 100 men decided to stay and fight, Body Alom said.
“One said to me ‘If I have to die, I will die here’.”


UN gives Myanmar aid cut warning over Rohingya camp closures

Updated 18 June 2019
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UN gives Myanmar aid cut warning over Rohingya camp closures

  • Myanmar has closed several camps holding around 9,000 Rohingya
  • They have not been allowed to return to their former homes and remain dependent on handouts

YANGON: The UN has warned it will pare back aid to thousands of Rohingya Muslims left destitute as Myanmar’s government closes camps in Rakhine state, over fears its continued support “risks entrenching segregation.”
Aid agencies are facing an increasingly sharp dilemma in the region as they balance relief for desperate communities with leverage over the government.
The majority of Myanmar’s Rohingya were driven into Bangladesh by a 2017 army crackdown, but around 400,000 remain inside conflict-battered Rakhine.
Those include nearly 130,000 held since 2012 in squalid camps, currently supported by UN agencies and humanitarian groups.
As part of its strategy to address the crisis, Myanmar has closed several camps holding around 9,000 Rohingya.
But they have not been allowed to return to their former homes and remain dependent on handouts. Instead, they are being settled in new accommodation close to the former camps.
That has sparked fears aid agencies are effectively being used to prop-up a policy that fails to address the fundamental needs of the Rohingya, including housing, work, food and security.
The camp closure plan “risks entrenching segregation,” UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Myanmar Knut Ostby wrote to the government in a leaked letter, dated 6 June and seen by AFP.
The letter, also written on behalf of aid groups, warned support “beyond life-saving assistance” at the closed sites would in future be linked to “tangible” progress made on “the fundamental issue of freedom of movement.”
“Life-saving” support includes food, health and water, but site planning, shelter construction and education facilities could be phased out, aid agency sources told AFP.
The UN has faced criticism for a slow response to violence against the Rohingya, which escalated after 2012 riots between Muslim Rohingyas and ethnic Rakhine Buddhists.
A UN report released Monday admitted “systemic failures” in its handling of the build-up to the Rohingya crisis.
Limited access to Rakhine’s camps makes independent reporting on conditions difficult.
But AFP has reviewed recent interviews conducted in five camps by an NGO requesting anonymity to protect its work.
“If I build a house, it can be seized arbitrarily,” one Rohingya man said.
“I have no right to the land and I can also be arrested at any time.”
An aid worker called the remaining 23 sites in Rakhine little more than “concentration camps.”
On condition of anonymity, she spoke of the “complicity” humanitarian staff feel for perpetuating the segregation.
Amnesty International has described Rakhine as an “apartheid state.”
All aid must be “heavily conditioned,” researcher Laura Haigh said, warning donors that building infrastructure could make them complicit in crimes against humanity.
The government defended the camp closures, telling AFP it would continue working with the UN and NGOs on the issue.
Any former camp resident holding a National Verification Card (NVC) will be able to “move freely within their township” and access “education, health facilities and livelihood activities,” the social welfare ministry said.
Most Rohingya refuse to apply for the card believing they should already be treated as full citizens.
Those interviewed said the few to have caved had no more rights than anyone else.
They were also forced to designate themselves as “Bengali,” a term implying they are from Bangladesh.
“They are just trying to dominate us and make us illegal through different ways,” one Rohingya man said.