YANGON – Fleeing death and persecution in their home country, hundreds of Rohingya Muslim villagers were targeted by Burmese troops fire yesterday, in the latest episode of violence against the minority.
“They have fired on civilians, mostly women and children, hiding in the hills near the (border) zero line,” Border Guard Bangladesh station chief Manzurul Hassan told Agence France Presse (AFP) on Sunday, August 27.
“They fired machine guns and mortar shells suddenly, targeting the civilians.”
Thousands of Rohingya Muslims fleeing violence in Burma were trying to cross the border with Bangladesh, Bangladeshi security officials said yesterday.
Denied entry by the authorities, many were left without shelter in no-man’s land on the border, or forced to return to villages, trapping them between militants and security forces.
The attacks marked a dramatic escalation of the conflict that had simmered since last October when a similar offensive prompted a major military sweep beset by allegations of serious human rights abuses.
“About 500 Rohingya, mostly women and children, spent the last night in a marshy area waiting to cross over,” Manzurul Hassan Khan, a Bangladeshi border guard commander, told Reuters.
“We protected them the whole night. Today they went back.”
Reuters reporters saw hundreds of Rohingya crossing into Bangladesh near the border village of Gumdhum as gun shots could be heard from the Myanmar side.
“We managed to escape the shooting in Myanmar and tried to enter Bangladesh. We waited all night after we were pushed backed by Bangladesh border guards last night. This morning, we managed to enter somehow,” said Hamid Hossain, 42, who crossed into Bangladesh on Saturday with a group of three families.
A 25-year-old man whose relatives said he had been shot by Burmese security forces on Friday died as he was carried to Bangladesh for treatment.
Back to Fire
A few hours after reaching Bangladesh, border forces detained and forcibly returned 90 Rohingya migrants to Burma on Sunday.
“All 70 were detained and later pushed back to Myanmar by the border guards,” local police chief Abul Khaer told AFP.
“They were pleading with us not to send them back to Burma,” said one policeman on condition of anonymity.
Rakhine State, one of Burma’s poorest regions, is home to an estimated 125,000 stateless Rohingya Muslims, the majority of whom remain confined to temporary camps following waves of deadly violence in 2012 between Buddhists and Muslims.
Described by the UN as one of the world’s most persecuted minorities, Burma’s ethnic-Bengali Muslims, generally known as the Rohingyas, are facing a catalog of discrimination in their homeland.
They have been denied citizenship rights since an amendment to the citizenship laws in 1982 and are treated as illegal immigrants.
Burma’s government as well as the Buddhist majority refuse to recognize the term “Rohingya,” referring to them as “Bengalis.”
Construction of mosques and religious schools in the region was banned in 1962 when military rule was first established in the country.