Persecution of all Muslims in Myanmar on the rise, rights group says
Persecution of all Muslims in Myanmar on the rise, rights group says
The systematic persecution of minority Muslims is on the rise across Burma and not confined to the northwestern state of Rakhine, where recent violence has sent nearly 90,000 Muslim Rohingya fleeing, a Burma rights group said on Tuesday.
The independent Burma Human Rights Network said that persecution was backed by the government, elements among the country's Buddhist monks, and ultra-nationalist civilian groups.
"The transition to democracy has allowed popular prejudices to influence how the new government rules, and has amplified a dangerous narrative that casts Muslims as an alien presence in Buddhist-majority Burma," the group said in a report.
The report draws on more than 350 interviews in more than 46 towns and villages over an eight-month period since March 2016.
Burma's government made no immediate response to the report. Authorities deny discrimination and say security forces in Rakhine are fighting a legitimate campaign against "terrorists".
Besides Rohingya Muslims, the report also examines the wider picture of Muslims of different ethnicities across Burma following waves of communal violence in 2012 and 2013.
The report says many Muslims of all ethnicities have been refused national identification cards, while access to Islamic places of worship has been blocked in some places.
At least 21 villages around Burma have declared themselves "no-go zones" for Muslims, backed by the authorities, it said.
In Rakhine state, the report highlighted growing segregation between Buddhists and Muslim communities and severe travel restriction for the Muslim Rohingyas, which limited their access to health care and education.
Tens of thousands of Rohingya have fled into neighbouring Bangladesh since 25 August, when Rohingya insurgents attacked dozens of police posts and an army base. The ensuing clashes and a military counter-offensive have killed at least 400 people.
The treatment of Burma's roughly 1.1 million Rohingya is the biggest challenge facing Burma de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who critics say have not done enough to protect the Muslim minority from persecution.
The London-based Burma Human Rights Network has been advocating among the international community for human rights in Burma since 2012, it says on its website.
Rohingya clashes kill nearly 90 in Myanmar's Rakhine state
At least 89 people including a dozen security forces were killed as Rohingya fighters besieged border posts in northern Rakhine State, Myanmar's authorities said Friday, triggering a fresh exodus of refugees towards Bangladesh.
The state is bisected by religious hatred focused on the stateless Rohingya Muslim minority, who are reviled and perceived as illegal immigrants in Buddhist-majority Myanmar.
The office of de-facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi said 12 security officials had been killed alongside 77 "militants" -- the highest declared single day toll since fighting broke out last year.
Friday's fighting exploded around Rathedaung township which has seen a heavy build-up of Myanmar troops in recent weeks, with reports filtering out of killings by shadowy groups, army-blockaded villages, and abuses.
Some 20 police posts came under attack in the early hours of Friday by an estimated 150 insurgents, some carrying guns and using homemade explosives, Myanmar's military said.
"The military and police members are fighting back together against extremist Bengali terrorists," Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing said in a statement on Facebook, using the state's description for Rohingya fighters.
One resident in Maungdaw, the main town in northern Rakhine, said gunfire could be heard throughout the night.
"We are still hearing gunshots now, we dare not to go out from our house," the resident said by phone, asking not to be named.
Footage obtained by AFP showed smoke rising from Zedipyin village in Rathedaung township where fighting was ongoing Friday.
- Rohingya militancy -
Despite years of persecution, the Rohingya largely eschewed violence.
But a previously unknown militant group emerged as a force last October under the banner of the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), which claims to be leading an insurgency based in the remote May Yu mountain range bordering Bangladesh.
A Twitter account (@ARSA_Official) which purports to represent the group confirmed its fighters were engaging Myanmar's military in the area and accused the soldiers of carrying out atrocities in recent weeks.
Myanmar says the group is headed by Rohingya militants who were trained abroad but it is unclear how large the network is.
Suu Kyi's office posted pictures of weapons that had been taken from militants, mainly home-made bombs and rudimentary knives and clubs.
Friday's violence pushed new waves of Rohingya to flee towards Bangladesh.
But border guards there said they would not be allowed to cross.
"More than a thousand of Rohingya women along with children and cattle have gathered near the land border between Myanmar and Bangladesh since this morning," Manjurul Hasan Khan, commander of Ukhiya town's border guards, told AFP.
The flare-up came just hours after former UN chief Kofi Annan released a milestone report detailing conditions inside Rakhine and offering ways to heal the festering sectarian tensions there.
Commissioned by Myanmar's own government, it urged the scrapping of restrictions of movement and citizenship imposed on the roughly one million-strong Rohingya community in Rakhine.
In a statement Annan said he was "gravely concerned" by the latest outbreak of fighting.
"The alleged scale and gravity of these attacks mark a worrying escalation of violence," he said.
- New crackdown fears -
The UN's top official in Myanmar, Renata Lok-Dessallien, called on all sides to "refrain from violence, protect civilians (and) restore law and order".
The wedge of Rakhine closest to Bangladesh has been in lockdown since October 2016.
Deadly attacks by the militants on border police sparked a military response that left scores dead and forced some 87,000 people to flee to Bangladesh.
The UN believes the military crackdown may have amounted to ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya.
But the army and Aung San Suu Kyi's civilian government vehemently deny allegations of widespread abuses, including rapes and murders.
They have so far refused to grant visas to UN investigators tasked with probing the allegations.
Amnesty International said there were now fears over how Myanmar's notoriously abusive security forces might respond.
"This cannot lead to (a) repeat of last year's vicious military reprisals responding to a similar attack, when security forces tortured, killed and raped Rohingya people and burned down whole villages," said Amnesty's regional campaigns director Josef Benedict.
Myanmar security forces have conducted sporadic operations to flush out suspected militants this year, often resulting in casualties among Rohingya villagers.
They have spoken of their fear at being trapped in between security forces and the militants, who are accused of conducting a shadowy assassination campaign against those perceived as collaborators with the state.
Access to the area is severely restricted and verifying information is difficult.
Activists and supporters on both sides of the sectarian divide have a history of posting false images and footage online.
Tragedy lingers as Rohingya Muslims flee Myanmar crackdown: Over 18,000 Rohingya Muslims fled violence
Stuck between the brutal crackdown by the Myanmar army and a closed border with Bangladesh, the ethnic Rohingya Muslims' chance of survival is slim. Since Friday, "thousands of Muslims were killed" according to the European Rohingya Council as security forces launched operations against what they called a series of attacks by Rohingya "insurgents" in the north of the country's Rakhine State, home to the ethnic group in Buddhist-majority Myanmar.
Bangladesh, home to more than 400,000 Rohingya Muslims who fled the systematic persecution in Myanmar, turned down appeals to open the borders.
Bangladeshi border guard officials told Reuters they had sent back about 550 Rohingya since Monday, via the Naf river that separates the two countries. United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called on Dhaka to let Rohingyas in. A senior border guard official speaking to AFP said around 6,000 Myanmar nationals have gathered on the border and were trying to enter the country. Some 3,000 people managed to cross into the country according to figures by a U.N. refugee agency.
The Bangladeshi official said the situation was "still volatile," noting heavy gunfire by automatic weapons and smoke over burnt villages across the border. Officials expect thousands more to arrive on the border from hills and forests they have been hiding near the border. An 11-year-old Rohingya girl named Marium was separated from her parents amid the turmoil. Stranded on the border, the crying girl told AFP she was in the toilet when the guards drove her parents away. "Where shall I find them now?" she wailed. Mohammad Ismail had taken shelter from the rain under a plastic sheet erected by border guards just inside Bangladeshi territory, but the shelter has since been torn down.
"The border guards let us take shelter here, but I don't know now what I will do with my son," he told AFP, gesturing to the shivering boy. Speaking to Anadolu Agency (AA), Anita Schug, spokeswoman for the European Rohingya Council, said 2,000 to 3,000 Muslims died in Rakhine state between Friday and Monday. She said thousands of others were injured in "a slow-burning genocide." She said almost a thousand Muslims were killed on Sunday in Saugpara village, Rathedaung alone. The region has seen simmering tension between its Buddhist and Muslim populations since communal violence broke out in 2012.
A security clampdown launched in October last year in Maungdaw, where Rohingya form the majority, led to a U.N. report on human rights violations by security forces that indicated crimes against humanity.
The U.N. documented mass gang rape, killings, including that of babies and children, brutal beatings and disappearances.
Reuters reported that an estimated 5,000 Rohingya have been able to cross into Bangladesh over the past few days, most slipping in at night over the land border near the Bangladeshi village of Gumdhum. Many are sick and at least six have died after crossing in, an aid worker said, adding that fear of being caught and sent back meant some refused to seek help. "What we're seeing is that many Rohingya people are sick," said the worker with an international agency in Bangladesh who declined to be identified or have his agency identified. "This is because they got stuck on the border before they could enter. It's mostly women and children. "We're making all out efforts but a rapid response is needed," the aid worker said. "Some are refraining from getting treatment to avoid arrest." Rohingya Muslims, who trace their roots to Myanmar centuries ago, are denied citizenship by Myanmar that defines them as illegal immigrants. They are often subject to violence by Buddhist extremists.
Over 18,000 Rohingya Muslims fled violence in Myanmar last week, IOM says
About 18,000 Rohingya Muslims are estimated to have crossed into Bangladesh in the last week, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said on Wednesday, seeking to escape the worst violence in Myanmar's northwest in at least five years.
A series of coordinated attacks by Rohingya insurgents on security forces in the north of Myanmar's Rakhine state on Friday and ensuing clashes triggered the exodus, while the government evacuated thousands of Rakhine Buddhists.
The IOM said it was difficult to estimate the number of people stranded in the no man's land at the border between the neighbors, but added there were "hundreds and hundreds" of people stuck there.
The treatment of about 1.1 million Muslim Rohingya in Myanmar has become the biggest challenge for leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been accused by Western critics of not speaking out on behalf of a minority who have long complained of persecution.
The Rohingya are denied citizenship in Myanmar and regarded as illegal immigrants, despite claiming roots there that go back centuries.
26 Rohingya women, children drown fleeing Myanmar violence
Bangladeshi border guards on Thursday recovered the bodies of 26 Rohingya women and children whose boat capsized as they fled violence in Myanmar, an official said, amid rising pressure on Bangladesh to shelter thousands marooned at its borders.
Around 18,500 Rohingya Muslims, many sick and some with bullet wounds, have managed to slip into Bangladesh since Friday, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM).
They fled after a series of coordinated attacks by Rohingya insurgents on security forces in the north of Myanmar's Rakhine state led to a military crackdown.
Myanmar has evacuated thousands of Rakhine Buddhists from the area, where clashes have so far killed at least 117 people, most of them Rohingya insurgents but also security officials, according to the Myanmar government.
The treatment of about 1.1 million Rohingya in Buddhist-majority Myanmar is the biggest challenge facing national leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been accused by Western critics of not speaking out for a minority that has long complained of persecution.
Bangladesh border guard commander Lt. Col. S.M. Ariful Islam said at least three boats carrying an unknown number of Rohingya Muslims capsized in the Naf River at Teknaf in Cox's Bazar on Wednesday. He said the bodies of 15 children and 11 women were recovered, and it was unclear whether anyone was still missing.
The bodies of two Rohingya women and two children were recovered on Wednesday after their boat was fired on by Myanmar's Border Guard Police, Islam said.
The top official in the Bangladeshi border district of Cox's Bazar, Mohammad Ali Hossain, said the bodies would be buried because no one had claimed them.
In the town, makeshift camps for the displaced set up since similar violence last October were being expanded to accommodate thousands arriving in the past week.
One of those arrivals, Mohammed Rashid, 45, wore a surgical dressing under his eye, which he said was the result of bullet splinters hitting him after the Myanmar army opened fire on a group of Rohingya.
He said about 100 people made their way to the border together, and that he saw explosions and people dying.
"We hid in the forest for two days and then we were stopped at the border, but we got through. We heard that the houses in our village have burned down," Rashid told Reuters at the camp.
The recent violence marks a dramatic escalation of a conflict that has simmered since October, when a similar but much smaller series of Rohingya attacks on security posts prompted a brutal military response dogged by allegations of rights abuses.
The Rohingya are denied citizenship in Myanmar and regarded as illegal immigrants, despite claiming roots that date back centuries.
Bangladesh on Wednesday pushed back 366 Rohingya trying to enter the country mainly by small wooden boats, though thousands of others have set up temporary camps along the porous land border between the countries, borders guards said.
Hundreds of people have been stranded in a no man's land at the countries' border, the IOM said. Satellite imagery analyzed by U.S.-based Human Rights Watch indicated that many homes in northern Rakhine state were set ablaze.