End ‘ethnic cleansing’ in Myanmar, says rights body

Bangkok, April 22 (IANS) Myanmar authorities and members of Arakanese groups have committed crimes against humanity in a campaign of ethnic cleansing against Rohingya Muslims in Arakan State since June 2012, Human Rights Watch said Monday.

A 153-page report describes the role of the Myanmar government and local authorities in the forcible displacement of more than 125,000 Rohingya and other Muslims and the ongoing humanitarian crisis.

Myanmar officials, community leaders and Buddhist monks organised and encouraged ethnic Arakanese backed by state security forces to conduct coordinated attacks on Muslim neighbourhoods and villages in October 2012 to terrorize and forcibly relocate the population, it said.

The tens of thousands of displaced have been denied access to humanitarian aid and been unable to return home, it added.

“The Burmese government engaged in a campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya that continues today through the denial of aid and restrictions on movement,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

“The government needs to put an immediate stop to the abuses and hold the perpetrators accountable or it will be responsible for further violence against ethnic and religious minorities in the country.”

Following sectarian violence between Arakanese and Rohingya in June 2012, government authorities destroyed mosques, conducted violent mass arrests, and blocked aid to displaced Muslims, Human Rights Watch said.

On Oct 23, after months of meetings and public statements promoting ethnic cleansing, Arakanese mobs attacked Muslim communities in nine townships, razing villages and killing residents while security forces stood aside or assisted the assailants.

Some of the dead were buried in mass graves, further impeding accountability.

Human Rights Watch traveled to Arakan State following the waves of violence and abuses in June and October, visiting sites of attacks and every major displaced person camp, as well as unofficial displacement sites.

The report draws on more than 100 interviews with Rohingya and non-Rohingya Muslims and Arakanese who suffered or witnessed abuses, as well as some organisers and perpetrators of the violence.

Displaced Rohingya told Human Rights Watch how in October security forces stood by or joined with large groups of Arakanese men armed with machetes, swords, homemade guns and Molotov cocktails who descended upon and attacked their villages.

In some cases, attacks occurred simultaneously in townships separated by considerable distance.

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