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In Myanmar, Military Action Forces Some to Flee: ‘We Just Had to Run Away to Save Our Lives’

Residents of a Rohingya village outside Maugndaw, Myanmar, on Thursday. Military action in the area has forced thousands of people from their homes, rights groups said. Photo: Soe Zeya Tun/Reuters

October 29, 2016

The owner of a small grocery store in western Myanmar, Ko Thu Ya fled his home nearly three weeks ago with his family and has been on the run ever since.

Mr. Thu Ya, 25, is from Maungdaw Township, a coastal town on the Bangladesh border, where military action has left scores of people deadand forced thousands of people from their homes, rights groups have said. Most of the victims, like Mr. Thu Ya, are members of the Rohingya ethnic group.

The Myanmar government has described the action by the army and the border police as a counterinsurgency response to an attack this month on a nearby border post that killed nine police officers.

Rights groups in the region say they have received reports that soldiers and police officers have shot unarmed people, raped women, looted shops and burned homes. Local officials deny those reports.

Mr. Thu Ya, who said he was planning to sleep in a tent on Friday in a neighboring village, spoke by phone on Friday to Saw Nang, a reporter for The New York Times in Mandalay, Myanmar:

On the night of Oct. 9, I was fast asleep. Suddenly I heard the sound of a gun at 3 in the morning.

At first I thought it was a firecracker. But finally I realized that it was a gun shooting. The sound was coming from the Border Guard post.

I woke up my family and ran away, passing through the farm. We could not carry anything with us because we just had to run away to save our lives.

We ran to the west of the village. I heard the sound of guns shooting until early dawn.

When we reached the western Kyee Kan Pyin villages, we had to stay two or three families in one house together. After two or three days, we went back to our home.

Then the village administrator, U Zaw Phyo Tun, told everyone in the villages that we had to destroy our fence. If not we would be arrested. So we destroyed our fence. We slept one night in our home.

The next day U Zaw Phyo Tun called two imams to meet with supervisor Thura San Lwin of the Border Guard force. The imams said they were told by Mr. Thura San Lwin that all the villagers from Kyee Kan Pyin must leave our homes and go away. If not they will beat, torture and kill us with guns, they threatened.

We packed our belongings as much as we could and had to leave our village, and we are now staying at western Kyee Kan Pyin village.

Supervisor Thura San Lwin from the Border Guard force also told the imam that our leaving home was according to the mandate.

Now we have a shortage of food. I have nine family members, and our village has 300 families.

Now about 100 Border Guard forces are pitching a camp in our village’s school.

They also are arresting the men. So if we hear news that the Border Guard force is coming, we have to run away from one place to another. Now all the men here have no settled place.

They also rape the women when men are away. They took all the foodstuffs from our village’s store.

No journalists are coming to our villages to see the real situation. I saw some journalists who were wearing a press jacket with the military truck. But they didn’t speak with any of us.

The Border Guard police are arresting 20 or 30 men from each village and torturing them. One of them was trying to run to escape and was shot. Then the government announced that they had killed a terrorist.

I know attacking and killing the Border Guard police is insulting sovereignty. But it’s nothing to do with us.

They should not treat us in an inhuman manner.

I want to go back to our home and live peacefully again. Now our lives have no guarantees anymore. You can talk with me by phone now, but maybe I will die tomorrow.

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Rohingya Exodus