Myanmar has long persecuted the country’s Rohingya Muslim minority, denying it basic rights to citizenship, to marry, to worship and to an education. After violence unleashed in 2012 by Buddhist extremists drove tens of thousands of Rohingya out of their homes, many risked their lives to escape in smugglers’ boats; more than 100,000 others are living in squalid internment camps. Now, a counterinsurgency operation by Myanmar’s military is again forcing thousands of Rohingya to abandon their villages.
Over the weekend and on Monday, according to Reuters, hundreds of Rohingya Muslims crossed from Myanmar into Bangladesh seeking shelter from the escalating violence. An official from the International Organization for Migration, a United Nations agency, told the news agency that he had seen more than 500 people enter its camps in the hills near the border. Meanwhile, Reuters also reported fighting between security forces and rebels on Myanmar’s border with China.
The military’s counterinsurgency operation began as a response to an attack on Oct. 9 by armed assailants that left nine police officers dead in Rakhine State. It is not clear who the assailants were, and theories range from drug gangs to Islamist terrorists. Since then, more than 100 people, mostly civilians, have been killed by the military. Satellite images published by Human Rights Watch indicate that at least 430 homes were burned in villages in northern Rakhine State between Oct. 22 and Nov. 10.
There are credible allegations of soldiers looting, killing unarmed people and raping women. The government denies this. U Aung Win, the chairman of a Rakhine State investigation into the Oct. 9 attack, said soldiers would not rape Rohingya women because they “are very dirty.”
The Oct. 9 attack may have been set off by an earlier government announcement that it planned to destroy illegal structures in the area, including more than 2,500 homes, 600 shops, a dozen mosques and more than 30 schools. “That was saying we have to reduce the population of Rohingya,” said U Kyaw Min, a Rohingya who is the chairman of the Democracy and Human Rights Party.