Newly arrived Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh said people who attacked their villages in Rakhine state used megaphones to threaten them with death if they did not leave Myanmar, the United Nations reported on Wednesday.
Attacks carried out by the Myanmar military in concert with Rakhine Buddhist militia were well-organized and systematic, as well as intended to drive out the state’s minority Muslim population, according to a U.N. report based on 65 interviews with eyewitnesses, individuals, and groups at refugee camps in southeastern Bangladesh.
In its report the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner Human Rights (OHCHR) challenged assertions that the violence was collateral damage following alleged attacks on police outposts by Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) insurgents on Aug. 25.
Efforts to expel Rohingya from Myanmar started as early as the beginning of August, the report said. Since late August, more than 500,000 Rohingya – or half of Rakhine’s Muslim population – have fled to neighboring Bangladesh following the outbreak of violence.
Some refugees told U.N. interviewers that before and during attacks, their attackers used megaphones to announce: “You do not belong here – go to Bangladesh. If you do not leave, we will torch your houses and kill you.”
A majority of eyewitnesses told of attacks by security forces and Buddhists.
“Testimonies referred to apparently well-organized and coordinated action, where first the Myanmar security forces came into a village followed by the Rakhine Buddhists individuals using knives or machetes to inflict death, injury, or damage,” the report stated.
‘I buried her myself’
Investigators were told about women and girls, some pregnant and some as young as 5 to 7, being raped – often in front of family members. Others told of witnessing people being killed and houses and villages being destroyed.
A 12-year-old girl, who could not find her mother and four brothers (her father was jailed a month earlier), recounted horrors that she faced when security forces and Buddhists surrounded her house.
“They shot my sister in front of me, she was only 7 years old. She cried and told me to run. I tried to protect her and care for her, but we had no medical assistance on the hillside and she was bleeding so much that after one day she died,” the girl said. “I buried her myself.”
Others said attackers used a “launcher” (most likely a rocket-propelled grenade launcher) to set fire to their properties.
“Several victims reported the killing of close family members by random gunfire or referred to the Myanmar security forces surrounding villages at some distance and then shooting indiscriminately at houses and individuals alike,” the “Mission Report of OHCHR Rapid Response Mission to Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh,” stated.
Testimony indicated that Myanmar security forces and Rakhine Buddhist militia “incited hatred, violence and killings against the Rohingya population within northern Rakhine State through extremely derogatory abuse based on their religion, language and culture and ethnic identity.”
Desperate attempts to cross border
The violence in Rakhine has not stopped and many Rohingya have expressed grave reservations over the possibility of returning there, the report said.
According to Bangladesh Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal, more than 530,000 Rohingya have crossed into Bangladesh since Aug. 25.
Meanwhile, the U.N. estimates that the exodus to Bangladesh takes from two to 16 days and many refugees have been forced to pay 5,000 to 10,000 taka (U.S. $60 to $120) to cross the Naf River, which separates the two countries, by boat. It said Bangladesh reported that 100 people, including 42 children, had drowned while attempting to cross the river.
Khan said the Bangladesh Coast Guard rescued 11 men who were trying to cross the river by using makeshift flotation devices.
“They have been coming with plastic jerry cans as we have been stopping the boats ferrying Rohingya,” he said.
The U.N. report ended by praising the Bangladesh government and aid agencies, but pointed out that the burden created by the mass exodus of Rohingya was too burdensome for the immediate future.
“The health and sanitation conditions are critical and described by onsite medical doctors as ‘a perfect storm in the making,’” the report said.
Reported by BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.