Myanmar: Meiktila memories still fresh one year on

Many Muslim victims continue to live in Internally Displaced People camps, still dreaming of returning home.

Myanmar: Meiktila memories still fresh one year on

RANGOON, Myanmar 

It’s been one year since a Buddhist mob rampaged through the central Myanmar town of Meiktila, killing local residents and setting fire to their homes. Today, the violence is over, but many of the Muslim victims continue to live in Internally Displaced People (IDP) camps, still dreaming of returning home.

The violence started after a mob attacked a Muslim-owned gold shop in the center of Meiktila following a dispute. Later that evening, a Buddhist monk was dragged off a motorbike and beaten by a group of Muslims. He later died in hospital.

Over the next two days over 40 people were killed by the mob, which also set about destroying Muslim homes, setting fire to mosques and attacking religious schools.

 “They brought them out and killed them with swords,” said Thin Thin OO – an eyewitness to the violence. She told the Anadolu Agency that she was standing by the Muslim madrassa, having just got off her moped, when three students were brought out.

“All of the children were hit in the neck,” she said, as she placed the side of her straightened hand on her neck to illustrate a chopping motion. “One of the children was hit on the neck with a sword. He dropped to the ground but they carried on hitting him. They just didn’t stop.”

OO is Muslim, but she may have been left unscathed as there was no visible way the mob could determine her faith. It’s impossible to distinguish many Muslims and Buddhists, bar a beard, a hijab or other visible symbols of faith.

The memories, however, remain.

“The Buddhists were calling the children ‘Kalars,’ they were saying: ‘Don’t leave anyone, finish off all the Kalars’,” she said.

“I remember the children begging the Buddhists to let them go – they (the children) were around 16-years-old.”

One year on, she is still haunted by the moment, adding that she still sees some of “the murderers” around town.

Eighteen-year-old Assad Ullah was a student at the Madrassah. He said he still remembers what happened.

“We were hiding, and the police came to take us to safety, but when we came out and walked through the Buddhist area, the Buddhists attacked us,” he told the AA.

He said that his attackers were armed with knives and swords, and launched themselves at them in full view of the police who were helpless to do anything.

“The Buddhists told us to worship them… They said ‘if you worship us, you will be saved,'” he said. “Some did and (yet they) were still killed.”

He said he remembered one of his teachers – Maulana Shafi – refusing to bow down to the mob and being killed before his eyes.

“He was beaten and stabbed; he was still alive when they poured petrol on him and set him on fire.”

Ullah started to cry at the memory of the day: “Everyone ran, whoever was found was killed,” he said. “I was lucky.”

By the time police intervened and the shaken Muslims were taken to the station four teachers were missing and 30 students had been killed.

“I think about it a lot… It is hard to study now… It’s hard to bear. It is very hard to deal with,” said Ullah.

On that note, Ullah suddenly stopped talking, the pain of the memory clearly too much, our conversation coming to an abrupt end.

Two days later, with the town smoldering, the military intervened and declared martial law. What was left of the homes was a trail of destruction with thousands of Muslims displaced.

The properties destroyed in the center of Meiktila are still to be rebuilt, leaving many victims unable to return, their homes reduced to burnt-out rubble.

Those whose properties were not destroyed and have felt that it is safe to return have done so, while others have gone to live with relatives or remain in the IDP camps, where they are dependent on aid from charities such as the World Food Programme. In the town center. mosques remain closed and only a handful of businesses operate.

Tint Hetw, 70, sits outside the Chan Aye Tha Ya mosque in Meiktila. There have been attempts to rebuild the homes around it, but the mosque still stands.

“First a mob of around 40 people came. They had knives and sticks,” he told the AA. “Behind them were even more, thousands of Buddhists, that had come to destroy the Muslim area.”

He said that although police came to protect the Muslims “they could not do anything to stop the mob.”

Al Hajj Maulana Hanif still lives in a camp with his wife and two daughters, exactly one year after the mob burnt down his and his neighbors’ homes.

He told the AA that he was one of around 5,000 people who hid in a nearby forest as the mob laid siege, only to reappear when police arrived and said they would protect them.

“The police took us in vehicles to the police station. There were also Buddhists with us, their homes also burnt down as they lived in our area.”

Hanif told the AA that not only was his house razed, he has no job, no home, no goods to sell, and accused the government of taking their land.

“We have no solace, peace or security. We are always worrying. What is happening? What will the future hold?” he said.

Hanif lives in a government camp where journalists are denied access. There are around 1,300 displaced people there. In Yandaw, at Madinatul Uloom mosque, there are 1,200 internally displaced people. They are all reliant on aid and have been there for a year.

AA was given access to Yandaw camp as is not run by the Myanmar government, but by local Muslims.

Laila Bi — a 33-year-old resident of Yandaw — told the AA that she used to have a restaurant in Meiktila but it was destroyed during the violence.

“We put everything into our restaurant, and when it was destroyed we fell into debt. How were we supposed to pay back the money if we did not have our business anymore?” she asked.

She said her husband has also now left, leaving Myanmar and travelling to Malaysia in search for work so he can pay back the debt.

“It’s very difficult. I feel depressed all the time,” she said, tears forming at the corners of her eyes. “I feel like it (the situation) is useless.”

As she tried to wipe the tears away, camp trustee Muhammad Ali stood over her and told her things will be “OK.”

Bi’s older brother was also killed during the violence. She now lives in a small, one room bamboo hut with her four-year-old daughter. All the families live in similar huts regardless of their size.

They all want to return to Meiktila but feel it is not yet safe, and there is always a concern that the violence could start again at any time.

Ali told the AA that Muslims from around Myanmar and others from overseas had donated aid to the people in the camp, but “right now we can only give them rice and oil,” to eat he said.

There may, however, be a bigger issue at the heart of the violence.

Most of the Muslims that the AA met believed that the violence was orchestrated, and not necessarily related to the argument at the gold shop, or the beating of the monk.

“I think it was a plan to move Muslims out of the main economic area. Some Buddhists are occupying the land and hoping that they will have future market control,” said Ali.

Unlike the Rohingya Muslims of Rakhine state, the Muslims of Meiktila are considered Myanmar citizens, but this does not appear to have stopped extremists from targeting them. Their businesses have been the focus of protests for some time, not least from extreme militant Buddhist monk – and leader of anti-Muslim 969 group – Ashin Wirathu, who has urged Buddhists to boycott Muslim businesses and even likened them to dogs.

Such attacks have led Myanmar’s Muslims — who make up 4 percent of the country’s population — to complain about such hate speech. They have lobbied the government to put a stop to it.

Leaflets distributed by Buddhist monks often claim that Muslims are conspiring against Buddhists with help and money from Saudi Arabia. The narrative the extremists adopt is one that Buddhism is under threat from Islam, and Buddhists must defend their faith.

Little has so far been done following the violence, however, Myanmar President U Thein Sein did touch on the subject soon after.

“I am deeply saddened to find out that a simple private dispute led to such deadly violence and those instigators, taking advantages of the disingenuousness of the public, attempted to exploit the situation to engineer violence in other parts of the country,” he said.

Read the original article published in Anadolu Agency on 20 March 2014

Myanmar’s Apartheid: Healthcare and memories of violence

The Rohingya of Myanmar are one of the most persecuted minorities in the world according to the United Nations.

Myanmar's Apartheid: Healthcare and memories of violence

SITTWE, Myanmar 

Myanmar’s Rohingya are mainly located in the Western state of Rakhine. There, violence against the minority in 2012 resulted in hundreds of deaths and, according to Human Rights Watch, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity were perpetrated against them – with the help of state forces.

The story of the Rohingya Muslim minority in Myanmar does not start with the outbreak of violence in 2012. Discrimination and marginalization against them dates back to post-British rule, with one of the most significant points being the 1982 citizenship law, introduced by the military junta, which stripped theRohingya of their citizenship and made them stateless.

The state commonly labels the Rohingya ‘Bengalis’, claiming they are recently arrived illegal immigrants from Bangladesh – despite a centuries-long Rohingyapresence in Myanmar. This has been further complicated by the historical placement of boundaries, with the historical kingdom of Rakhine stretching into present-day Bangladesh.

Across the border in Bangladesh, where more than 200,000 have fled, they have been met with hostility and resentment by the government. Rohingya fleeing to Bangladesh dates back to the 1990s and the majority are living in unregistered camps or Bangladeshi villages, where there is no legal protection from arrest or abuse and little to no humanitarian assistance. Not wanted by Myanmar or Bangladesh the Rohingya live as a stateless people invisible to the world.

Extremist Buddhist monks from the “969 Movement” have targeted Muslim minorities in Myanmar, including the Rohingya,  telling their followers not to do business with Muslims, not to marry them, not to engage with them and even likening them to animals. One of the most prominent monks, Wirathu, has been likened to neo-Nazis for allegedly using hate speech against Muslims and warning of a Muslim takeover of the country.

– Health

Sittwe hospital is off-limits for the Rohingya. If the case is serious enough, they can be admitted by the International Committee for the Red Cross but are not able to freely enter by themselves.

They are also afraid that ethnic Rakhine doctors will not treat them properly; there are frequent stories ofRohingya dying at Sittwe hospital allegedly because of poor treatment at the hands of Rakhine staff. The claims cannot be substantiated but increase suspicions. Women who need to give birth are refusing to go to Sittwe hospital, even when NGO staff secure their access.

Some doctors visit the camps, where most Rohingyaare forced to live, but stay only for a short while, unable to treat everyone in the queues of people that go on and on. Like all goods, medicine has to be brought into Rohingya areas from the Rakhine side of town. There are makeshift pharmacies selling everything from painkillers to anti-biotics but, as with everything else, medicine is more expensive in the camps than in central Sittwe.

At the end of February, Medicines Sans Frontiers (MSF) was told by the Myanmar regime to leave the country. The move came after MSF reported that they had treated 22 Rohingya that had been injured and traumatized after January’s massacre in Maungdaw. The government denied anyone had been killed.  MSF were also accused by the government of hiring “Bengalis”. A few days later they were allowed to resume their activities – but only outside Rakhine state.

– Memories

Everyone remembers the violence.  They share stories of what happened, how their homes were destroyed, how their family members were killed in front of them and how they fled. Muhammed Hussein tells AA of the time that they were forced out, told to leave by police only to see their homes being burnt by Buddhist extremists.

“The police had first told us to stay in our homes but then told us to leave. They told us that we could come back later after everything had settled down, but as soon as we left the village our houses were set on fire,” he says.

“Everything was fine with our Buddhist neighbors until some men from the Rakhine authorities visited.  I do not know what they said to them but our Rakhine neighbors turned on us. We left the old and sick behind in the village believing that we would be back shortly,” he said.

The people gathered around him to listen to the story fell silent; all in the camp from the same village know the story. “A woman in our village with a two-day-old baby. The Rakhine killed her, and they did not spare the baby,” he said.

Hussein says the police did not even let them take their rickshaw bikes: “If they had let us then we could have brought her and the baby with us,” he says regretfully.  Others around him share the sense of guilt for leaving people behind, and for believing the authorities that they would be allowed to return.

“When we tried to go back and help, the police fired on us,” claims Hussein.

One man has memories of a time before the 1982 citizenship law, when Rohingya were considered citizens of the state. “My great grandfather and grandfather were recognized as Rohingya. They had passports. My father had an identity card that stated he was a Rohingya. Why am I called a Bengali?” protests 77-year-old Abdul Rahman.

He produces a green identity card, from when he was just 21-years-old, and reminisces of a time when he could live in his family home in Sittwe, rather than a camp.

“Are we not humans? Do we not have a right to exist?” he asks. His grandson shows his white identity card; a temporary one that states he is Bengali, not Rohingya.

In every camp the stories are of pain and suffering. Qadir told AA’s reporter: “We are just living, we are like the living dead.  We live without a life, just to survive each day.”

One of AA’s contacts has not stepped out of her house in nine months. It’s a self-imposed restriction in a way but comes from her fear of what would happen if the police decide to arrest her for speaking to foreigners.

She has been targeted because she is known amongst the Rohingya for providing education, distributing food and medicine, listening to people’s grievances and being amongst the few who are educated and capable of communicating in English about the Rohingya’s problems to the outside world.

“The international community just offers us words. Nothing in real terms. I do not expect anything from them anymore,” she says. “We have lost hope,” she adds with a tone of sadness.

While all this takes place in Myanmar, one of its most prominent political figures remains silent. Nobel peace laureate Aung Sun Suu Kyi chooses not to condemn the violence against the Rohingya, who she does not consider part of her support base. In 2013 in an interview with the BBC she said that violence against the Rohingya was not “ethnic cleansing”, despite reports by various human rights organizations.

It is not only the Noble peace laureate that remains silent on the plight of the Rohingya, the international community is doing very little to help the Rohingya on a meaningful level.

Read the original article published in Anadolu Agency on 13 March 2014

Myanmar’s Apartheid: Arbitrary arrest & torture

In a series of features, Anadolu Agency correspondent Assed Baig, reveals the extent of oppression inflicted on the Rohingya.

Myanmar’s Apartheid: Arbitrary arrest & torture

SITTWE, Myanmar 

In 2013, in preparation for Myanmar’s census the government asked the Rohingya Muslims of western Myanmar to sign papers declaring that they were illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

The result would have been the Rohingya identity being wiped from official records. Instead of agreeing, they responded by defiantly chanting: “Rohingya, Rohingya, Rohingya!” Following the protests the police began to arrest people they believed to have organized the demonstrations. The authorities refused to accept that they were not actually organized but were instead a spontaneous expression of the frustration the Rohingya felt at having their identity denied to them and forced to sign papers calling themselves illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

According to the UN, the Rohingya are one of the most persecuted minorities in the world. Hundreds of thousands remain in camps and tens of thousands have been forced to flee the country, risking a perilous journey at sea.  In 1982, under the citizenship act brought in by the military junta, the Rohingya had their citizenship removed and became stateless.

Win, one of Anadolu Agency’s contacts within Myanmar, was arrested on the accusation that he had organized a Rohingya demonstration against the census, though he is adamant that he had not.  Win was held in detention for a week.  “They beat and electrocuted me,” he says and then falls silent, not saying another word.  He has clearly been traumatized by the ordeal. Win was only released after his family paid a ransom of one million Burmese Kyat, around US$1000, which they raised by borrowing and asking for help from relatives abroad. His family now say that he is suffering from the psychological effects of the torture.  “He is not the same man,” his sister says. “He has changed,” she says, with a dejected look in her eyes.

Win’s family said that since his release every time he sees police near the house he begins to cry and becomes gripped with fear. His wife and children have to deal with the psychological damage the torture has left on Win’s mind. There are no doctors in the camps in Sittwe, let alone psychiatrists to help with the trauma.

Though Win was arrested for allegedly organizing protests, the authorities do not need any particular reason to detain the Rohingya. Muhammed Shafiq owns a little store that is little more than a roadside shack. He was arrested after going to a nearby military base in search of a soldier who had purchased some goods from him on credit but had disappeared. He did not even enter the base, he simply asked if the soldier was there but was detained and beaten by soldiers belonging to battalion 354.  “They tied my hands behind my back and kicked and punched me for half an hour,” he told me. “I only wanted to see if the soldier was there, he owed me money,” said the 22-year-old.  “They stripped me naked and searched me,” said Shafiq.

In one of the many Internally Displaced Persons camps an old woman approaches AA and asked to tell her story. Shugu Begum has not seen her son for two years.

“He was arrested in front of me during the violence,” she says. “We have been moved to camps and I have not seen him for two years,” she says as tears roll down her face.

Shugu looks tired and skinny.  Her grey hair is tied back and she has the look of desperation on her face, she asks, “Do you know where he is?”

Read the original article published in Anadolu Agency on 4 March 2014

Myanmar’s Apartheid: The camps & gaining an education

In a series of features, Anadolu Agency correspondent Assed Baig, reveals the extent of oppression inflicted on Rohingya Muslims.

Myanmar’s Apartheid: The camps & gaining an education

SITTWE, Myanmar 

In Sittwe, the capital of the Rakhine state in Western Myanmar, reaching Rohingya camps and villages means navigating past police checkpoints manned by armed officers. The Rohingya are not allowed beyond this point. They are essentially trapped in their own areas because leaving requires special permits that can only be obtained through a long and expensive process.

“We look at that checkpoint everyday, we can never go past there. We’re stuck here, how many people have the money to pay for the permits and bribes to be able to travel to other areas?” says Tahir, a driver who took the Anadolu Agency (AA) to the Rohingya camps.

Boxed in by land, their only route of escape is the sea, where hundreds have perished trying to reach Malaysia, Bangladesh and sometimes more distant destinations. Regardless, they still risk the perilous journey, sometimes paying people traffickers only to end up in the hands of criminals in Thailand, who demand Rohingya families pay ransoms for their release. Others set out on fishing boats by themselves, risking imprisonment by Myanmar’s authorities if intercepted; those stopped by Bangladesh’s authorities are forced back to sea. Some Rohingya have ended up being sold into slave labor on fishing boats at sea.

Even those who pay bribes to seek official permission to travel are not guaranteed permits. Simply reaching other Rohingya villages within Rakhine state is sometimes impossible. Couples waiting to get married, but who live in separate parts of Rakhine, struggle with arranging the unlikely event of coming together for their wedding union.

The first village beyond the police checkpoint is Bu May. Police stand around doing nothing except watching the Rohingya come in and out. They enforce a curfew at 8pm everyday, putting out barbed wire fences and not allowing anyone to leave or enter. In the event of an attack by Rakhine Buddhists, this village is first in the firing line. The police presence however, is hardly reassuring for the Rohingya. According to a Human Rights Watch report published in 2013, the police were implicated in the violence against the Rohingya who, like other minorities in the country, place little faith in the authorities’ willingness to protect them.

Even children remember the role of the authorities in the violence. One child told AA: “I remember the police attacking the village, first it was the Buddhist mobs, then the police.” She trembles as she looks directly at a police officer standing at the barbed wire fence outside Bu May.

The conditions in Rohingya areas are a world away from the Rakhine parts of Sittwe. Apart from a few who have generators, the Rohingya go without power. There is no running water, only some hand-powered water pumps installed by international aid agencies. The road, if you can call it that, has potholes that limit travel speeds to 10 mph, although bicycle rickshaws and walking are the main form of transportation anyway. Most of the area has no roads, only a dusty, sandy terrain that cars attempt to tackle with wheels that struggle for traction.

In contrast, downtown Sittwe has roads, electricity, hotels, restaurants, Internet cafes and running water. You can buy a fridge and washing machine in Sittwe town; the Rohingya can only dream of these comforts. Abandoned mosques in Sittwe town are left as a quiet symbol of the attacks which forced the Rohingya Muslims out; police stand guard at their entrances, preventing extremists from wiping away the last signs that Rohingya ever existed in Sittwe town.

The Rohingya rely on supplies from a handful of Rakhine, motivated by compassion or economic benefit, who will still do business with them. Last year, the consequences for one such Rakhine driver was to be beaten by Buddhist extremists and paraded through Sittwe town with a sign around his neck, labeling him a traitor.

Though the goods are coming from only a few miles away, the Rohingya have to pay drivers extra to bring the goods in, leading to prices comparable to international imports. For food, many rely on the distribution of rice bags provided by international donors and the World Food Programme.

– The camps

Two years on from the violence that drove the Rohingya into camps, there are still Rohingya living in make-shift tents; made from empty rice bags to protect themselves from the sun and rain and dry grass to separate themselves from the earth below. Some have only one small tent for families of five or more. Inside, they are bare, with whatever little food they have placed in the corner.

The camps fall into two categories, registered Internally Displaced Peoples (IDP) camps, which are eligible for food aid and have some wooden structures in place; and neglected, unregistered camps, which have to rely on the generosity of other Rohingya.

Almost everyone wants to return to their original homes in Sittwe town. One man, who lives in an unregistered camp, told AA that the Rohingya were being punished for fighting back against the mobs that attacked them.

Children play in the dirt whilst used water runs beside them through small self-made trenches in the camps. Others kick around an improvised football made from compressed paper. Two children sit in the shade making toys; cars out of empty food tins.

“We find it hard to get food, our children cannot get an education and it’s been two years and I have not received food from anywhere,” says Muhammed Raheem, a Tay Kyawan camp resident.

“I just want to go home to the Nasi quarter where I used to live, life was not like this, it was not this difficult, we are suffering,” he adds.

The state, for their part, continues to downplay any violence against the Rohingya and imply that both sides are equally responsible for violence by calling it a ‘conflict.’ It denies any sort of massacre has taken place, as was the case in January’s Du Che Yar Tan Massacre.

“The Rohingya burnt down their own houses,” says one Rakhine man in Sittwe.

The Myanmar authorities have repeated the same claim but AA could not find any Rohingya or eyewitnesses who saw people setting fire to their own homes.

– Education

Rohingya are not allowed to join Rakhine students at Sittwe University, which is located just beyond the checkpoint, its shiny windows and well-kept gardens taunting them.

Xavi, an English-speaking Rohingya NGO worker, is one of those who struggles with being denied the basic right to education.

“Studying before the violence was difficult enough with the discrimination we faced, but now, it is non-existent,” he says. “I had the grades to study medicine but I cannot. I’m not allowed to go to university.”

Despite the difficulties Xavi — like many of his compatriots — does not want to leave Myanmar.

“I want to stay and help my people. I want to raise the level of education and situation here,” he says.

He says he thinks 98 percent of Rohingya are uneducated, not through any fault of their own, but because circumstances mean they have no opportunities to pursue academic studies.

“We need to educate ourselves. No one is going to help us, not the Rakhine, not the government and not the international community,” he says defiantly. “We do not have the luxury of being afraid anymore, we must speak out.”

Xavi still has his certificate with the grades he achieved before the violence started. Articulate and well-spoken in English, he has not given up on his dream of going to university, no matter how distant or unachievable it may seem. As far as he is concerned, he has the grades and that should be all that he needs.

But in reality, grades are not enough on their own — Xavi is not the only one. Another young man pulled AA’s reporter aside in a market, keen to talk about education. “I want to tell the world that we are suffering, but we don’t need anything, we just need an education. I want to go to university,” he says.

Visibly upset, he bit his lip to hold back his emotions. With those few sentences he walked off. There are similar stories throughout the camps of young men and women trying to gain an education. They teach others and try to raise the consciousness of their people, but too often they themselves are targeted by the authorities.

The schools in the Rohingya areas are limited and cannot teach children until the age of eight or nine. Instead, many children are forced to work.

Five-year-old Abdullah sits on the beach with his father, picking fish out of a net. He started work when he was four-years-old.

“If they don’t work, we don’t eat,” says one father.

Read the original article published in Anadolu Agency on 26 February 2014

16-year old Rohingya Muslim girl allegedly raped by Myanmar police

A 16-year-old Rohingya Muslim girl has told AA that she was gang raped by police and a group of Rakhine villagers.

16-year old Rohingya Muslim girl allegedly raped by Myanmar police


A 16-year-old Rohingya Muslim girl has told Anadolu Agency that she was gang raped by police and local Rakhine villagers following an alleged massacre in Du Chee Yar Tan village, Rakhine state, Myanmar.

According to AA sources, at least 50 people were killed last month when a group of local Buddhists, backed by police, rampaged through the village killing the elderly, women and children. Following the violence, the western side of the village tract was set on fire; sources allege that the police were involved in this incident.

The girl, who has asked AA to protect her anonymity out of fear of the Myanmar authorities, said that the police and Rakhine villagers started the fire in the west of the village. She claims that after some Rohingya villagers tried putting out the flames the police fired on them, forcing them to flee into the fields. She was running away with her mother and aunt when the police grabbed her and placed her under arrest. However, she was not taken to a police station.

“The police took me to a market place between Du Chee Yar Tan and the Rakhine Khayae Myuing village,” she said. “They kept me in a grocery shop. Everything was locked,” she added. At first she said that the police spoke to her and asked her to convert to Buddhism, “I said no, I refused to convert,” she told AA. “They then beat me. I was slapped. Beaten with sticks,” she recounted. At this point her voice began to crack and she then began to cry.

“I remember it clearly. Just before dawn the first Rakhine man came in. He raped me. Then the others came in, one by one. It was four Rakhine men, and three police officers,” she sobbed. “One by one,” she repeated.

The account of the kidnapping was confirmed by the girl’s family members. The family is currently in hiding, as are many villagers from Du Chee Yar Tan village. Her family told AA that the 16-year-old has not seen a doctor or gone to a hospital out of fear of what may happen to them. The girl’s aunt said that they had given her some medicine to make sure that she would not get pregnant; the aunt could not name the pill, just that they purchased it from a local makeshift pharmacy.

Since the violence in 2012 that saw hundreds killed and over a 100,000 displaced, Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar have faced continuing violence and oppression at the hands of Buddhists and Myanmar security forces. The Rohingya Muslims, who the UN say are among the most oppressed minorities in the world, reside mainly in the Western Myanmar state of Rakhine.

Last year’s violence involved, according to Human Rights Watch, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity perpetrated with the aid of state forces.

Rohingya Muslims are not recognised as Myanmar citizens and have been the victims of a string of sectarian attacks perpetrated by local Buddhists and state forces for decades. Many Rohingya are forced to live in camps which lack adequate sanitation, access to water and food.

Last year an article claimed to have uncovered evidence that the Myanmar military had been raping Rohingya women. The Myanmar authorities have denied that anybody has been killed and have accused media organisations of fabricating the news.

Still crying the girl told AA: “I still remember their faces. I can point them out if I see them again.”

Rohingya Muslims are not recognised as Myanmar citizens under the 1982 Citizenship Law.

Read the original article published in Anadolu Agency on 5 February 2014

40 Rohingya confirmed dead after violence in Myanmar

Protests take place in UK against violence and arbitary arrests of Rohingya men and boys.

40 Rohingya confirmed dead after violence in Myanmar


At least 40 Rohingya Muslims are now believed to have been killed in last week’s violence in Myanmar, according to a human rights group Fortify Rights.

The group said that hundreds of Rohıngya Muslıms have been forcibly displaced and warned that the number of dead could be higher, but it was hard to gain information because of government restrictions.

 According to AA sources, Rakhine authorities have been arresting male Rohingya over the age of ten, something confirmed by Fortify human rights group.  Following the attacks last week a verbal order was issued on January 14 to riot police to indiscriminately arrest all male Rohingya, including children over the age of ten, in the areas surrounding Du Char Yar Tan village.

“These arbitrary detentions broaden the scope of the human rights violations in the area and should be immediately brought to an end,” said Matthew Smith, Executive Director of Fortify Rights.

The news comes as demonstrations took place in the UK outside the Myanmar  – also referred to as Burma –  embassy and the UK Foreign and Commonwealth office (FCO).  Over 30 demonstrators gathered to vent their opposition to the Myanmar government’s policy towards the Rohingya Muslims, who are not considered Myanmar citizens.  Outside the FCO the protestors called on the British government to live up to their international responsibility, stand up for human rights and for the UK military to stop training the Myanmar military.

The US and UK said in a joint statement: “We are saddened to hear reports that several people have been killed, many injured, at least one missing, and hundreds of civilians displaced in violence that included looting and destruction of homes and property in Du Chee Yar Tan village.

We are particularly disturbed by reports that security forces used excessive means and thus perpetrated some of the violence. We strongly condemn such acts of violence, which negatively impact all inhabitants of Rakhine State. We urge the authorities to thoroughly investigate and hold accountable those responsible for the violence, whether civilian or security personnel.”

Fortify Rights said that the Myanmar government should act immediately to stop attacks and abuses against the Rohingya Muslims. Fortify Rights also asked that access to the area should be granted to humanitarian organisations, independent observers and international media.

Matthew Smith said: “There needs to be accountability for this wave of horrific violence in Maungdaw Township but mass arrests of Muslim men and boys are not the way.”

This was something mirrored by protestors in London, they called for an international inquiry into what is happening in Rakhine state.

President of the Arakan Rohingya National Organisation, Nur ul Islam said: “We need an investigation into the killings”.

“We call on the UN to act on its responsibility to protect.

“Save us!” he pleaded.

Nur ul Islam said that what was happening to the Rohingya was ‘genocide’ and that Western powers needed to speak up and put pressure on Myanmar.

Tun Khin, President of the British Rohingya organisation said: “The Myanmar government is practicing genocide against the Rohingya population.”  He also said that Rohingya properties had been looted and burnt down, something AA sources in Rakhine have confirmed.

The situation in Rakhine state is still tense, men and boys from the village that was attacked last week are still in hiding according to the rights group.

“What we’re seeing is a protracted pattern of atrocities inflicted upon Rohingya, in addition to abuses they’ve endured for decades,” Matthew Smith said.  “The authorities in Naypyidaw and Rakhine State are unable or unwilling to put an end to the violence; an international investigation is long overdue,” he added.

After repeated attempts to contact the Myanmar embassy no response was received.  However, on the Myanmar embassy website there was a document entitled, ‘Myanmar Government’s efforts for peace and stability and development in the Rakhine State”; the document refers to the Rakhine Buddhists but not the Rohingya Muslims, the Rohingya are referred to as ‘Bengali’, something the Rohingya reject as they have been in Myanmar for centuries.

With regards to allegations that the British military were training the Myanmar military, the FCO admitted that they had been working with the Myanmar military but said that it was not to ‘build any military capacity or capability’.  The FCO said: “From 6-17 January 2014, the UK Defence Academy successfully delivered an educational course to 30 students drawn from government and the Burmese military with academic partners from Cranfield University.”

“This course aimed to develop the professionalism of the Burmese Armed Forces within a democratic framework,” they added.

The FCO said that they “believe in the importance of engaging the Burmese military to encourage them to support reforms in Burma. It is only through engagement with all actors, including the military, that we will see greater democracy in Burma.”

Since violence erupted in Rakhine State in June 2012, hundreds have been killed, at least 145,000 Rohıngya Muslims have been displaced, tens of thousands are in desperate need of humanitarian aid with similar numbers having fled the country. A year-and-a-half after initial violence, displaced Rohingya in Rakhine State still lack adequate shelter, drinking water, sanitation, and health care.

Rohingya Muslims are not recognised as Myanmar citizens under the 1982 Citizenship Law.

In 2013 the President of Myanmar, Thein Sein visited the UK on the first official visit of a Myanmar President to the UK.

Read the original article published in Anadolu Agency on 23 January 2014

Sittwe. Keep out!

Rakhine driving around Sittwe June 2012 at time of first attack.

Rakhine driving around Sittwe June 2012 at time of first attack.

We are being followed. Everyone we speak to is then in turn spoken to. We are being watched, our movements, what we buy, what we say, what we eat. The regime is scared of something.

In Sittwe where the Rohingya Muslims were murdered last year the attitude towards us has further darkened. Some of the local Rakhine women, who first received us with smiles and waves, possibly thinking we were tourists, now have dropped all the niceties after word has gotten around that we are visiting the Rohingya IDP camps.

I have become increasingly aware that my skin complexion makes me seem less of a Westerner than others around me, especially now that I am being associated with the Muslim Rohingya.

We took a walk to the local internet café in the Rakhine part of town where we are staying. That night as we walked a man said “Why don’t you guys go down here,” pointing towards a side road. The last remaining Rohingya ward, surrounded by barbed wire and guns, is in that direction. We politely said “No, thank you,” and moved on. On the way back he said it again, looking me directly in the eyes, but this time adding, “The Muslims are down there.”

Further up the road a man pulls up next to us whilst we are walking back to our guesthouse and aggressively asks, “Where are you going?” We answer, “Our guest house,” and he continues to speak aggressively and coldly.

“Come with me!” he demands. At any point I was expecting him to pull out a police badge or even attack. We say, “No thank you,” he drives off and shouts some words that we do not understand.

Associating with Rohingya is very dangerous. The local Rakhine do not like it, and neither do the authorities. The Rohingya are who we are here to see.

Last night as I returned to my hotel, a man signalled at me whilst talking to another man and called me a “Rohingya”. The implication is clear; the brown guy is a Muslim, Rohingya, the same as the people they massacred and continue to persecute today. I see men riding on the back of motorcycles at night whilst carrying long blades, the same blades, maybe, that were involved in the hacking of the Rohingya, including children, last year.

Men on motorcycles follow us. Thuggish looking men, overly fed and built, wait outside our hotel, constantly informing someone on the phone of when we leave and come back. Men sit close to us when we have dinner. Our hotel that advertises wifi internet connection suddenly has connection problems, we are unable to contact the outside world via the net. What are they preventing from getting out?

Local Rakhine, who attempt to help the Rohingya, or try and bring goods into the camp markets face being ostracised. Last week, three such Rakhine were beat up in the Rakhine part of town then forced to wear and parade around with signs calling them traitors. They are considered traitors or ‘kalar’ lovers. Kalar is a racist term that is used for the Rohingya and other Muslim minorities in Burma.

Although the attitude towards us has changed, it is nothing compared to what the Rohingya face. I am a foreigner. I was born In England and because of that I am a British citizen with all the rights and protection that come along with my nationality. The British consulate is about an hour’s plane ride away and could be on hand to help if need be. I have the option of flying out; I have the protection and privilege that a foreigner usually has.

The Rohingya have no such protection. They cannot leave their areas as the military impose curfews and roadblocks. The Rohingya cannot fly out of the airport; they don’t have passports or travel documents. They have to pay and apply to the police and military for official permission to leave their villages, wards and camp restricted areas. The Rohingya are always watched and tracked. Their only escape is to risk death by going out to sea or escape by death itself, not much of a choice. They continue to live in imposed sub-human conditions because they are not recognised as Burmese citizens, not even recognised as human with simple and basic human rights.

The Rohingya that talk to me risk their lives. Even in the IDP camps we are being watched and followed. If the regime so wants, anyone that talks to us can end up in a jail, tortured or just disappear. The Rohingya we meet are brave and loving people. A day has not gone past that we have not been received with hospitality, access to their lives and harrowing accounts. We will soon leave; the Rohingya will continue to endure.

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