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Is the Myanmar Army resorting to new tactics to mask a crackdown?

Rohingya women who fled prosecution in Mayanmar by crossing the Naf River into Bangladesh 
Adil Sakhawat

By Adil Sakhawat
August 22, 2017

'The Moghs took away everything from the houses. They snatched the ornaments from the women’s bodies. When there are no men in the houses, they even take away the livestock'

Rohingya refugees that have fled across the Naf river into Bangladesh say that the Myanmar Army is resorting to new tactics, including the use of civilian vigilantes, to mask a fresh crackdown on the Muslim minority in the country’s troubled Rakhine State.

The Dhaka Tribune gathered consistent descriptions about new forms of violence that have been unleashed in Rakhine in interviews with newly arrived Rohingyas in the Balukhali area of Ukhiya upazila in Cox’s Bazar over the last two days.

Since the fresh military crackdown which reportedly began from the second week of August, there has been a renewed influx of Rohingya refugees into Bangladesh. Several videos purportedly showing Myanmarese soliders torturing Rohingyas are circulating on social media, but their authenticity could not be independently verified.

A UN field agent, refusing to be named, told the Dhaka Tribune that during the first three weeks of August, 700 families have fled to Bangladesh.

The Myanmar Army was heavily criticised last year after the UN said its offensive against Rohingya villages amounted to crimes against humanity. Naypyidaw has rejected the charges, arguing that it is hunting militants in Rakhine.

Encircling villages with heavy firepower

Based on interviews with two familites, the Dhaka Tribune collected graphic descriptions of the latest tactics deployed by the Myanmar Army.

On August 18, soldiers surrounded Bali Baazar, a village in Rakine, “to look for extremists”.

A Rohingya man who is now in hiding near Bali Baazar told the Dhaka Tribune over the phone that: “They came in 20 trucks with heavy military hardware. We saw military helicopters overhead. In the morning, the army stormed the villages to look for ‘extremists’. After sunset, the villages were surrounded by the army.”

A new mode of terror?

When the Myanmarese Army surrounds a village, they tend to shoot 3-4 blank rounds to announce their arrival. There is a language barrier as the army is largely composed of Burmese-speaking soldiers, whereas Rohingyas speak Arakan.

“The Myanmar military raided the houses and they were shouting outside ‘En Ma La!’ (come out from the houses) and ‘Ammia La Ba!’ (why are you late? Come out fast),” said Abdur Rob, who fled to Bangladesh on Saturday.

The Myanmar Army also uses young men from the Mogh community, which are local Rakhine Buddhists, to raid the Rohingya houses.

“Because the army’s horrifying actions have been recorded and circulated on social media, they were compelled to change tactics,” Rob said.

The army’s crackdown have been defined as crimes against humanities by a UN fact-finding team after the October 2016 crackdown.

Rob’s wife Marium Bibi added: “The Mogh took everything from the houses. They snatched jewelery from the women’s bodies. When there are no men in the houses, they even take away the livestock.”

Rob also said: “The military is not setting fire to our houses this time because the last attack was well-publicised in the media. Now they are encouraging young Buddhist Moghs to destroy our possessions.”

The latest Rohingya refugees said the military’s main target is to find “Bagi”, a term used for suspected insurgents or extremists. Many men have fled their houses, afraid of being accused of being a “Bagi” and detained by the army.

Rohingyas have also been accused of murdering other Rohingyas in Kya Maung village. Newaj claimed the accusations were baseless.

He said: “The army killed them with knives to pin the blame on the locals.”

Restricted entry

When the new refugees were asked if the humanitarian agencies still have access to the village tracts, they replied that UN agencies or any international NGOs have very limited access to locations where the army is operating.

Various Bangladesh-based international NGO workers said their colleagues have received very limited acces to those villages, namely Cha Ni Para, Keyari Para and Mohali.

A media representative of the Office of the UN Resident Coordinator in Myanmar told the Dhaka Tribune: “The UN is closely following the situation in Rakhine State, including in Maungdaw township, through contact with government authorities, partners, communities and our staff. We continue to emphasise our communication with the government that lifesaving programmes should be uninterrupted and carried out in the safest manner possible. We also keep reminding all sides of their responsibility to exercise restraint, protect civilians, and resolve differences through dialogue.”

Names of people interviewed in this article have been changed for security reasons

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