Myanmar’s ‘systematic’ crackdown on the Rohingya is aimed at permanently expelling the minority Muslim community from their home in Rakhine state, the United Nations said Wednesday.
The UN report, which is based on interviews with refugees who have fled to Bangladesh, details a campaign by Myanmar’s military to terrorise the Rohingya through atrocities that range from indiscriminate killings to rape.
‘Brutal attacks against Rohingya in northern Rakhine State have been well-organised, coordinated and systematic, with the intent of not only driving the population out of Myanmar but preventing them from returning to their homes,’ the UN said.
UN researchers spoke to people who arrived in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar area since August 25, when militant attacks on Myanmar’s security forces in Rakhine sparked a major military backlash.
More than half a million people have fled, UN figures show.
But the probe found that the latest wave of military ‘clearance operations’ in Rakhine actually began before that date, possibly in early August, contradicting government claims that the crackdown was a response to militant strikes.
The investigation outlines an army-led campaign to erase the Rohingya’s connection to their homeland in the majority Buddhist nation, where they have suffered persecution for decades.
Myanmar’s troops also often operate ‘in concert with armed Rakhine Buddhist individuals,’ the UN said.
‘In some cases, before and during the attacks, megaphones were used to announce: ‘You do not belong here – go to Bangladesh. If you do not leave, we will torch your houses and kill you,’ it said.
The findings were based on interviews conducted in Bangladesh between September 14 and 24, with researchers finding evidence of abuses designed to ‘instil deep and widespread fear’ among the Rohingya population.
This included accounts of soldiers surrounding homes and firing indiscriminately as residents ran for their lives as well as uniformed men gang-raping women and girls, some as young as five.
One statement, ‘received by an extremely credible source, referred to a (pregnant) woman whose stomach was slit open after she was raped’, the report said.
Speaking to reporters in Geneva, researcher Thomas Hunecke also said the UN had ‘very credible information’ that Myanmar’s military had planted landmines along the Bangladesh border.
‘It is highly likely that these mines have been planted in order to prevent the Rohingya population from returning’, he said.
Teachers, as well as cultural, religious and community leaders have also been targeted in the latest crackdown ‘in an effort to diminish Rohingya history, culture and knowledge’, the report said.
‘Efforts were taken to effectively erase signs of memorable landmarks in the geography of the Rohingya landscape and memory in such a way that a return to their lands would yield nothing but a desolate and unrecognisable terrain,’ it added.
The UN team said it spoke to hundreds of people in a series of 65 interviews, some with individuals and some with groups of up to 40 people.
UN human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, has previously described the crackdown as ‘a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.’
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