Burmese authorities have resumed a brutal crackdown on Rohingya minorities throughout Arakan State, according to terrified sources in the villages who contacted Asia Sentinel, saying they are burning homes, beating women and children and arresting Rohingya males as the majority ethnic Arakanese go on a rampage, destroying and confiscating property.
“The UN intervention is seemingly not effective,” said an exiled leader of the Paris-based National Democratic Party for Human Rights.
Scores of people are said to have died so far in the violence, which is being compounded by refusal to allow Rohingya access to relief supplies. At least four Rohingya in Sangadaung village were said to have died from starvation and exposure to the elements.
The reports are difficult to corroborate independently. The government has tightened press controls on reporting from the region in western Burma, spurring the press freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders to issue a statement saying the government is continuing to restrict press freedom despite recent promises to end censorship.
“Until now, the government has been relaxing its abusive control of the media but, as it does not know how to assist the media in the new, rapidly emerging political and economic environment, it has reacted in an instinctive manner to what it regards as the excessive liberties the media are taking and has initiated at least three prosecutions since the start of the year,” the organization said on its website Friday.
The Rohingya, who are minority Muslims whose centuries-old origin is in India and Bangladesh, are continuing to face attacks and abuses by both authorities and the ethnic Arakanese majority in the province, the villagers say. Although Burmese President Thein Sein has been attempting to promote ceasefires between government forces and ethnic minorities, it appears to have had little effect in the province.
Adding to the misery, the region has been inundated by heavy rains and flooding. Two homeless villagers were said to have drowned Friday in flooding of the Kaladan River. In all, scores of people have reportedly been killed on both sides since the violence began in early June. The violence abated in mid-June but has since resumed, the Rohingya say.
The Rohingya, who number about 1 million people in the Buddhist-majority Burmese country of about 55 million, have been persecuted for decades, both in Burma and in Bangladesh. They are a desperately poor people, even in a desperately poor country with per capita gross domestic product by purchasing power parity of only US $1,300 in 2011. In 1982 the then-dictator, Ne Win, declared them stateless.
As early as 1991, the United Nations Commissioner on Human Rights reported that thousands of Rohingya were fleeing to Bangladesh to escape alleged persecution by authorities in Rangoon, now known as Yangon. However, they are hardly more welcome in Bangladesh despite their Muslim kinship, as the Bangladeshis regard them as interlopers in an overcrowded and poor rural country and have periodically forced them over the border. In 1993, 30,000 refugees were reported by the UNHCR to have fled Bangladeshi camps to avoid repatriation to Burma.
They are seemingly unwanted everywhere although commendably Malaysia has taken in refugees. A year ago, it was discovered that Thai military officials were towing boatloads of refugees away from the Thai coast to leave them at the mercy of the elements.
Terrified villagers are managing to get news of the scale of violence to exile groups outside the country, the source said. Yesterday, hundreds of military forces were reported to have descended on one village, taking away about 20 villagers and going from house to house, beating women and children and destroying virtually all household items, breaking dishes and looting gold and cash money. The source said that except for side walls of the flimsy structures, everything had been damaged “by stamping and pounding with guns.”
The violence, never very far from the surface, flared out of control in early June when a 27-year-old Buddhist woman was raped and murdered, allegedly by Muslims. That triggered a savage retaliation, with a mob reportedly dragging 10 Muslims off a bus and murdering them. An estimated 1,500 houses have been burned down on both sides since the current round of unrest began, according to relief agencies.
Some 172 under-age Rohingya were detained in a military camp on Friday, the exile sources reported, after being tortured by Arakanese. Thirty of the group were removed and reportedly taken to an unknown location. One was said to have been killed and returned to his village, where he was buried. That afternoon, Arakanese were said to have attacked the home of a Rohingya leader in the Ambala area and looted it of goods and money as police and paramilitary forces looked on, the sources said.
Six international and local staff of international NGOs have been reported arrested including aid workers from the World Health Organization and Artsen Zonder Grenzen, the Dutch version of Médecins Sans Frontières, although Asia Sentinel has been unable to verify that.
On Friday, according to the reports, a 700 year-old mosque, the Myoatma Jarmae Mosque, was destroyed by ethnic Arakanese mobs. By the time military forces arrived after being informed of the violence, the structure’s walls and veranda had already been destroyed. Rohingya shops in the town of Kyauktaw were said to have been seized and looted Thursday by municipal authorities.
The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, established in Burma after the devastation of Tropical Storm Nargis in May 2008, which killed as many as 100,000 people, reported that the United Nations World Food Program has provided 725 tonnes of food commodities such as rice, pulses, oil and salt to more than 92,000 affected people in the townships of Sittwe, Pauktaw, Maungdaw, Rathedaung and Buthidaung. However, refugees charge, the aid supplies are only being delivered to Arakanese families and deliveries have not been made to homeless Rohingya.