‘They burned their own houses and ran away’: Myanmar police tell journalists Rohingya torched their own village
The International Organisation for Migration has pleaded for US$18 million in foreign aid to help feed and shelter tens of thousands now packed into makeshift settlements
Myanmar security officials on Thursday took journalists to a still-smouldering Rohingya village where officials say members of the Muslim minority set fire to their own homes and vehicles.
Cattle and dogs wandered through the blackened, obliterated and deserted village of Ah Lel Than Kyaw in northern Rakhine state when about two dozen journalists visited. A dozen border police officers accompanied them and restricted journalists’ movement during the trip.
Some 146,000 Rohingya have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh in less than two weeks since Rohingya insurgents attacked police outposts in this village and several others August 25.
The military has said nearly 400 people, most of them described as insurgents, have died in clashes and that troops have conducted “clearance operations”.
It blames insurgents for setting villages on fire, without offering proof. Rohingya say they were driven out by troops and Buddhist mobs who attacked them.
Local police officer Aung Kyaw Moe said 18 people were killed in the village alone.
“From our side, there was one immigration officer dead, and we found 17 dead bodies from the enemy side,” he said.
He said the fires were set August 25, though some of them continued to burn on Thursday. Virtually all buildings in the village seen by journalists had been burned, along with cars, motorbikes and bicycles that fleeing villagers left behind. A mosque was also damaged.
Columns of smoke could be seen rising in the distance, and distant gunshots could be heard.
“They burned their own houses and ran away,” Aung Kyaw Moe said. “We didn’t see who actually burned them because we had to take care of the security for our outpost ... But when the houses were burned, Bengalis were the only ones in the village.”
Myanmar refers to Rohingya as Bengalis, contending they migrated illegally from Bangladesh, although many Rohingya families have lived in Myanmar for generations.
With the influx pushing existing Rohingya refugee camps to the brink, Bangladesh pledged to build at least one more. The International Organisation for Migration has pleaded for US$18 million in foreign aid to help feed and shelter tens of thousands now packed into makeshift settlements or stranded in a no-man’s-land between the two countries.
UN agencies said they were distributing food to new arrivals, about 80 per cent of whom were women and children, joining about 100,000 who had already been sheltering in Bangladesh after fleeing earlier convulsions of violence in majority-Buddhist Myanmar.
“We’ve not had something on this scale here in many years,” Pavlo Kolovos, the Bangladesh mission leader for Medecins Sans Frontieres, said in a statement. “Our teams are seeing streams of people arriving destitute and extremely traumatised,” including many in need of urgent medical care for violence-related injuries, severe infections or childbirth complications.
With so many Rohingya fleeing, it is unclear how many remain in Myanmar amid reports of soldiers burning villages and killing civilians. Before the recent violence, aid experts had estimated about 1 million Rohingya were living in northern Rakhine state, but aid agencies have been unable to access the area since.
“We are unable to reach the 28,000 children to whom we were previously providing psychosocial care or the more than 4,000 children who were treated for malnutrition in Buthidaung and Maungdaw” townships in Rakhine, Unicef Executive Director Anthony Lake said. “Our clean water and sanitation work has been suspended, as have school repairs that were under way.”
Turkey said Myanmar agreed to allow its aid officials to enter Rakhine state with a ton of food and goods for Rohingya, and that its foreign minister would visit a refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar on Thursday.