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Rohingya Muslims Being Eradicated      09/19 06:05

   YANGON, Myanmar (AP) -- For generations, Rohingya Muslims have called 
Myanmar home. Now, in what appears to be a systematic purge, the minority 
ethnic group is, quite literally, being wiped off the map.

   After a series of attacks by Muslim militants last month, security forces 
and allied mobs retaliated by burning down thousands of Rohingya homes in the 
predominantly Buddhist nation.

   More than 500,000 people --- roughly half their population --- have fled to 
neighboring Bangladesh in the past year, most of them in the last three weeks.

   And they are still leaving, piling into wooden boats that take them to 
sprawling, monsoon-drenched refugee camps in Bangladesh. Their plight has been 
decried as ethnic cleansing by U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres. And 
despite assurances Tuesday by Myanmar's leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, few believe 
they will ever be welcomed back.

   "This is the worst crisis in Rohingya history," said Chris Lewa, founder of 
the Arakan Project, which works to improve conditions for the ethnic minority, 
citing the monumental size and speed of the exodus. "Security forces have been 
burning villages one by one, in a very systematic way. And it's still ongoing."

   Using a network of monitors, Lewa and her agency are meticulously 
documenting tracts of villages that have been partially or completely burned 
down in three townships in northern Rakhine state, where the vast majority of 
Myanmar's 1.1 million Rohingya once lived. It's a painstaking task because 
there are hundreds of them, and information is almost impossible to verify 
because the army has blocked access to the area. Satellite imagery released by 
Human Rights Watch on Tuesday shows massive swaths of scorched landscape and 
the near total destruction of 214 villages.

   The Arakan Project has found that almost every tract of villages in Maungdaw 
township suffered some burning, and that all of Maungdaw has been almost 
completely abandoned by Rohingya.

   Of the 21 Rohingya villages in Rathedaung, to the north, only five were not 
targeted. Three camps for Rohingya who were displaced in communal riots five 
years ago also were torched.

   Buthidaung, to the east, so far has been largely spared. It is the only 
township where security operations appear limited to areas where the attacks by 
Rohingya militants, which triggered the ongoing crackdown, occurred.

   The Rohingya have had a long and troubled history in Myanmar, where many in 
the country's 60 million people look on them with disdain.

   Though members of the ethnic minority first arrived generations ago, 
Rohingya were stripped of their citizenship in 1982, denying them almost all 
rights and rendering them stateless. They cannot travel freely, practice their 
religion, or work as teachers or doctors, and they have little access to 
medical care, food or education.

   The U.N. has labeled the Rohingya one of the world's most persecuted 
religious minorities.

   Still, if it weren't for their safety, many would rather live in Myanmar 
than be forced to another country that doesn't want them.

   "Now we can't even buy plastic to make a shelter," said 32-year-old Kefayet 
Ullah of the camp in Bangladesh where he and his family are struggling to get 
from one day to the next.

   In Rakhine, they had land for farming and a small shop. Now they have 
nothing.

   "Our heart is crying for our home," he said, tears streaming down his face. 
"Even the father of my grandfather was born in Myanmar."

   This is not the first time the Rohingya have fled en masse.

   Hundreds of thousands left in 1978 and again in the early 1990s, fleeing 
military and government oppression, though policies were later put in place 
that allowed many to return. Communal violence in 2012, as the country was 
transitioning from a half-century of dictatorship to democracy, sent another 
100,000 fleeing by boat. Some 120,000 remain trapped in camps under 
apartheid-like conditions outside Rakhine's capital, Sittwe.

   But no exodus has been as massive and swift as the one taking place now.

   The military crackdown came in retaliation for a series of coordinated 
attacks by Rohingya militants led by Attaullah Abu Ammar Jununi, who was born 
in Pakistan and raised in Saudi Arabia.

   Last October, the militants struck police posts, killing several officers 
and triggering a brutal military response that sent 87,000 Rohingya fleeing. 
Then on Aug. 25, a day after a state-appointed commission of inquiry headed by 
former U.N. chief Kofi Annan released a report about the earlier bloodshed, the 
militants struck again.

   They attacked more than 30 police and army posts, causing casualties.

   It was the excuse security forces wanted. They hit back and hard. Together 
with Buddhist mobs, they burned down villages, killed, looted and raped.

   That sent a staggering 412,000 fleeing as of late Monday, according to U.N. 
estimates.

   "The military crackdown resembles a cynical ploy to forcibly transfer large 
numbers of people without possibility of return," Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein, the 
U.N. high commissioner for human rights, said earlier this month in Geneva, 
calling it a "textbook example of ethnic cleansing."

   It could be months before the extent of the devastation is clear because the 
army has blocked access to the affected areas. Yanghee Lee, the U.N. Special 
Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar, said at least 1,000 
civilians were killed. The government claims more than 400 died, the vast 
majority Rohingya militants. They put the number of civilians killed at 30.

   Whether it's the end game for the Rohingya in Myanmar remains to be seen, 
said Richard Horsey, a political analyst in Yangon. It depends in part on 
whether arrangements will be made by Bangladesh and Myanmar for their eventual 
return and the extent of the destruction.

   "We are still waiting for a full picture of how many villages are 
depopulated versus how many were destroyed," he said.


(KA)

 
 
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