Rohingya Muslims: what is happening in Myanmar?Jean Kelley September 13, 2019 100 Comments
Listen… Those are gunshots. And
these are people’s homes on fire in a village in northern Rakhine.
Filmed on Wednesday by a Burmese Human Rights Activist from a group we
know and trust. The footage has just reached us. The Myanmar military
calls these clearance operations, in their hunt for what they say are
extremist Muslim terrorists. In reality it is a scorched earth
policy that is driving tens of thousands of Rohingya from their
homes. They have lived segregated from their
Buddhist neighbours for decades and denied basic rights, apartheid in
all but name. Now they are on the run. Stateless and friendless and
scared. As the Muslim world celebrates Eid al-Adha, the Rohingya are
sacrificing their sons, their daughters, their mothers
and fathers. TRANSLATION: Vigilantes, soldiers and police surrounded our
village. They started shooting at the villagers, men, women, children, even at
infants. They didn’t spare anyone. These are the survivors.
We have to protect their identities. TRANSLATION: Around 300 people died.
55 people were injured. Many small children went missing. They cut the
breasts off some women. The villagers say the military
fired rockets into the homes to set them ablaze.
TRANSLATION: We lost our husbands,
our children, our babies. Some of us managed to escape through the rice
fields and reached here. Those that remained in the village were killed.
They burned the dead bodies, they burned the village Mullah alive. Sittwe is the Rakhine state capital, the Burmese Buddhists’ front line Here are mosques lying in ruin, boarded up, overgrown, no Friday
prayers. We have journalist visas, but needed government permission to go to the conflict area. We spent hours
traipsing from office to office. We were told an answer would take a week to come
through. No journalist has reached north Rakhine to report
independently. Eventually we got in to see a top state official. Muslim
terrorists were trying to set up an Islamic State in his country, he
said. There is no Rohingya in our country,
in our history. No Rohingya. Who are they?
Maybe they are from the people who came from the foreign
country… Foreigners, they haven’t any identity.
But they’ve been here for many generations?
Right but they don’t have an identity.
1.1 million Rohingya don’t have identity because the
government of Aung Sang Suu Kyi denies them all citizenship. Hi, I’m Jonathan. What is your name? On the condition we took a goon with us, the
government official had finally given us permission to go to one of 13 camps
in Sittwe where 140,000 Rohingya have been held under armed guard for five
years, but we got away long enough to meet a Rohingya contact. Kamal is 20. He taught him English via YouTube on a smartphone and, on the same smartphone, he showed me pictures just sent by friends further north. They were all of dead people. It has been five years since we are living here in the camps.
You can’t move? You can’t get out? No.
No-one is safe here, he told me. It is worse since
Aung Sang Suu Kyi came to power. If it was Aung Sang Suu Kyi sitting
here, what would you say to her? I would say: please stop the war. I would say, Aung Sang Suu Kyi, we are not
extremists, from Bangladesh, and we are not also illegal immigrants
from Bangladesh, we are the citizens of this country and we have history,
about Rohingya. As I left the government official
headquarters, he handed me a book, a different version of reality, which
dismissed Muslims as Begalis, interlopers in a Buddhist land. Well this is the book, and in it, the term Rohingya is referred to in inverted commas throughout Whole chapters are devoted to
discussion as to what it calls the R word. The term Rohingya, it says, has no
basis in fact, or in history. It is a political construct based on a myth.
The Rohingya, in other words, don’t exist. They are non-people, and it is
beginning to look like the Aung Sang Suu Kyi regime wants to get rid of
them once and for all. Under armed guard, some journalists were allowed
into the conflict area on a government tour. They witnessed
burnt villages and some of the 12,000 Myanmar citizens evacuated by the military to
protect them from Rohingya insurgents. But this new conflict is a
very lopsided war. And as ever, the victims are mostly civilians.
40,000 Rohingya have now fled into Bangladesh. Some have not made it
alive. Many, many, tens of thousands more have been displaced within Rakhine and it’s likely that the numbers killed will inexorably rise.