Massive refugee-influx expected in Bangladesh as Muslim villages burn

(KUTUPALONG, September 1, 2017)—Myanmar state security forces should immediately end attacks on civilians and ensure the protection of those fleeing violence, Fortify Rights said today. Myanmar state security forces and local armed-residents committed mass killings of Rohingya Muslim men, women, and children in Chut Pyin village, Rathedaung Township, on August 27.

State security forces and local armed-residents killed Rohingya and burned down numerous villages throughout northern Rakhine State during the last week, displacing tens of thousands of mostly ethnic Rohingya as well as ethnic Rakhine civilians in response to the killing of 12 officials by Rohingya militants on August 25.

“The situation is dire,” said Matthew Smith, Chief Executive Officer of Fortify Rights. “Mass atrocity crimes are continuing. The civilian government and military need to do everything in their power to immediately prevent more attacks.”

This is the second major attack on Rohingya civilians in northern Rakhine State by Myanmar state security forces since October 2016, when the military attacked dozens of villages, killing an untold number, and displacing more than 80,000 people.

Fortify Rights interviewed 24 survivors and eyewitnesses of attacks in the last week from 17 villages in the three townships of northern Rakhine State—Maungdaw, Buthidaung, and Rathedaung. Survivors and eyewitnesses described mass killings and arson attacks by the Myanmar Army, Myanmar Police Force, Lon Tein (“security guards”) riot police, and local armed-civilians.

“Sultan Ahmed,” a 27-year-old survivor from Chut Pyin village, witnessed armed residents from a nearby village working in concert with the Myanmar Army, killing Rohingya civilians. He told Fortify Rights: “Some people were beheaded, and many were cut. We were in the house hiding when [armed residents from a neighboring village] were beheading people. When we saw that, we just ran out the back of the house.”

Myanmar Army soldiers and non-Rohingya armed-residents from a nearby village entered Chut Pyin village around 2 p.m. on August 27. Survivors described how soldiers shot and killed several residents, while people from a neighboring village armed with swords and knives hacked and, in some cases, beheaded Rohingya residents, including children. Soldiers reportedly arrested a large group of Rohingya men, marched them into a nearby bamboo hut, and set it on fire, burning them to death.

“Abdul Rahman,” a 41-year-old survivor of the attacks on Chut Pyin village told Fortify Rights:

“My brother was killed—[Myanmar Army soldiers] burned him with the group. We found [my other family members] in the fields. They had marks on their bodies from bullets and some had cuts. My two nephews, their heads were off. One was six-years old and the other was nine-years old. My sister-in-law was shot with a gun.”

Survivors and eyewitnesses from Chut Pyin told Fortify Rights that soldiers and armed residents burned every house in the village. They explained that they had accounted for the whereabouts and well-being of 596 survivors from the village that had an estimated population of 1,400.

After the Myanmar authorities and local armed-residents left the village, Rohingya survivors returned to the village to assess damage, at great personal risk, and to count the dead. Survivors estimated the death toll to be more than 200.

The killing spree lasted for approximately five hours—from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m.

Survivors from Kyet Yoe Pyin and Ba Da Kha Ywa Thit villages—both in Maungdaw Township—also described beheadings and throats being slit. Residents from many other villages described arson attacks and soldiers opening fire on fleeing civilians, including children.

The violence in northern Rakhine State is continuing daily and requires urgent international attention, Fortify Rights said.

The United Nations said more than 20,000 Rohingya arrived in Bangladesh since August 25. Fortify Rights believes a “massive influx” of tens of thousands of other Rohingya are likely to arrive at the Bangladesh border in the next several days. 

Soldiers with the Border Guards Bangladesh (BGB) have turned away thousands of Rohingya refugees in recent days, though most were subsequently allowed to enter the country the following day or, in some cases, hours after being initially denied entry.

New arrivals in Bangladesh are sheltering on roadsides and in makeshift shelters in formal and informal refugee camps, stretching already thin resources in the camps. Fortify Rights said international and local aid groups are poised and ready to work with the authorities to respond to this crisis.

“Bangladesh should open the border to refugees and coordinate with humanitarian organizations to prepare for a large influx,” said Matthew Smith. “It’s imperative that Bangladesh allows refugees across the border to avoid a further loss of life.”

Fortify Rights also documented how Rohingya militants with the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) or Al Yaquin, as it is known locally, are also accused of killing civilians—suspected government “informants”—in recent days and months as well as preventing men and boys from fleeing Maungdaw Township. 

“Some militants won’t let the men go, they only let the women pass,” a Rohingya man in central Maungdaw Township told Fortify Rights by telephone. “They threaten people and say that if they try to cross the border, they will kill them.”

Another Rohingya man from Kha Maung Seik village in northern Maungdaw Township told Fortify Rights that Rohingya militants stopped him and a large group of displaced civilians for two hours. He told Fortify Rights: “They didn’t beat us but they beat our guide who was showing us the way. They said we all had to go back and fight against the government.”

Survivors and refugees described the Rohingya militants as small groups of young men—local residents—wearing civilian clothing or all-black “uniforms”—black pants and black short-sleeve and long-sleeve shirts—and armed with sticks, small knives, and, in some cases, swords and improvised explosive devices (IEDs). They reportedly received sticks, knives, and small sums of money in exchange for joining the group.

Members of ARSA must respect the rights of the civilian population, including the right to freedom of movement, Fortify Rights said. 

The Myanmar authorities have blocked access to affected areas in Maungdaw, Buthidaung, and Rathedaung townships, including humanitarian deliveries.

“We can’t stress enough the urgency of the situation. The Myanmar authorities are failing to protect civilians and save lives,” said Matthew Smith. “International pressure is critically needed.”

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