Thousands of Rohingyas are waiting at the border for shelter in Bangladesh in a bid to flee from a fresh spate of violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine State.
Their houses were bombarded and torched by the Myanmar army in what they called the fight against insurgency. The atrocities carried out by Myanmar’s army are haunting the Rohingya Muslims, triggering a fresh exodus of refugees to Bangladesh.
Although the reports could not be independently verified, the fleeing Rohingya families carried consistent accounts of brutal military raids and the use of indiscriminate force against Rohingya villages.
The latest outburst of violence marks the intensification of a long-simmering conflict between Yangon and the Rohingya Muslims, who are denied citizenship in the predominantly Buddhist Southeast Asian state. The UN has called the Rohingya one of the most persecuted people in the world.
The Rohingyas, including women and children, have gathered just on the other side of a small canal lying on the international border in Ghumdum area in Naikhongchhori area of Bandarban district.
Call for action
This Dhaka Tribune correspondent crossed the small canal to talk to the Rohingyas on the afternoon of August 25. From there, he learned that many of the Rohingya men were ready to join Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army to fight back to regain their rights.
An estimated 115 Rohingya men have already left Bangladesh to join the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, said the Rohingyas living in makeshift refugee camps. They took their mobile phones with them, but those were found switched off till Saturday night.
On a visit to the Rohingya camp, this correspondent found recruiters collecting the names of those who wanted to join the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army movement and fight against the Myanmar army.
Some Rohingya men looked anxiously and furiously towards the other side of the canal as they heard the sound of mortar shells and gunshots in the villages adjacent to the border.
They told Dhaka Tribune that they were not here to enter Bangladesh to flee Myanmar military atrocities; they only wanted to push their family members, including women, children and elderly persons safely through the Bangladesh border.
“We want to go back to our village to join the fight against the Myanmar military,” said a Rohingya man named Irfain. “Either the Myanmar army personnel will die or we. We cannot endure such atrocities anymore. We are all members of Harakat al-Yaqeen, [the former name of Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army].”
Gunshots and mortar shells have increased since August 25, said several Border Guards Bangladesh men patrolling the Ghumdum border.
The Rohingya men waiting at the border did not seem afraid of the heavy firing and sound of the mortars, rather they were motivated to fight back.
Dhaka Tribune received an audio clip of Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army chief Ata Ullah aka Abu Umar Al Junoni from the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army followers and supporters. Ata Ullah said: “I am not fighting to grab power. If there are any Rohingya brothers who are ready to fight, please join us, please save our mothers and sisters.”
Several Rohingyas sent pictures of Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army leaders and fighters to the Dhaka Tribune, claiming they were freedom fighters.
Dhaka Tribune could not contact Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army leaders directly as followers said their leaders were in the battle field.
Sources said Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army was fighting with a small team, but it was getting larger as many Rohingyas were joining them.
The Central Committee for Counter Terrorism of Myanmar, in a statement published on August 25, declared armed attackers and Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army as terrorist groups in accordance with the Counter-Terrorism Law of the country, China’s Xinhua news agency reported.
But the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army followers and members told Dhaka Tribune that they started the movement as the Myanmar military’s atrocities became intolerable.
Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, on its Twitter page, claimed they began the resistance as a defence against the Myanmar military and security forces. Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army supporters also said that several Rohingya Muslims had been killed in Maungdaw, Rathedaung and Buthidaung townships in the Rakhine state, but there were no Buddhist casualties during the crackdown.
Supporter claimed their leader Ata Ullah and fighters were not targeting the Rakhine people, rather their target was the Myanmar military.
In many videos provided by several Rohingyas, hundreds of Rohingyas in Rathedaung were seen hiding in the nearby forests and mountains to escape the military atrocities. They were afraid of further Myanmar security forces’ raid in those hideouts as well.
Rohingya homes were being burned down by the state armed forces and Rakhine extremists, Rohingyas hiding in the mountains said.
Most of the houses in Rathedaung, Chein Khali, Chein Halivillages were torched by the Myanmar joint forces, said the terrified Rohingyas.
“Our region is in total chaos now,” said villager Zaydi Pyinover over the phone. “They have burnt down our homes using fire, mortars. They have seized our properties and forced us to leave our homes. We have become totally helpless. We don’t know where we will go now.”
Myanmar military and joint security forces are carrying out offensives in many villages of Rakhine state including Kwan Thi Pin, MiHtaikChaungWa, Nat Chaung, Taman Thar, Zee Pin Chaung, Lon Doong, Zin Paing Nya, Ye MyetTaung, Kyi KanPyin, Tharay Kun Baung, Pa Nyaung Pin Gyi, Padin, Alay Than Kyaw, ThawanChaung, ThinbawKwe, Udaung, MyintHlut, Taung Bazaar, Phaung Daw Pyin.
This article first appeared on Dhaka Tribune.