How do you break a city or a town or any human settlement? You can demolish it with heavy machinery or weaponry, but it can always be rebuilt. To destroy a township, you must destroy its people and their will to return, and kill their hopes and dreams of reconciliation.

Maungdaw may be the only township in Rakhine that has been publicly declared a military operational zone, but Buthidaung is just as much at risk, if not more so. With over 250 residents already reported dead, another chapter in this sordid tragedy of humanity is unfolding.

But why are we only hearing about this now, when the latest conflict ignited on August 25? Because it takes 11 days to cross the hills and jungles from Buthidaung to Bangladesh.

The worst is yet to be heard

The August 25 attack by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army or ARSA on Myanmar security forces started at Buthidaung. If the latest group of Rohingya refugees are to be believed, then the conditions in Buthidaung and Rathedaung (another township) eclipse those of Maungdaw.

The Dhaka Tribune could only talk to former denizens of Buthidaung. According to the escape routes the refugees are taking, it will take at least another two days for the Rathedaung refugees to reach Bangladesh.

The distances on foot are considerable. While Maungdaw lies just across the Naf river, less than 10 km from Bangladesh, the town of Buthidaung is a further 25 km into Myanmar and Rathedaung around 55 km more distant from there.

Therefore it is a 90 km trek through jungles and over the hills and across rivers from Rathedaung to Bangladesh. According to witnesses, the Myanmar army has a very heavy presence in the river and hilly areas, making the flight for the Rathedaung refugees even harder.

The survivors’ accounts

The Buthidaung refugees scarcely mention the ARSA. For them, the Tatmadaw (official name of the Myanmar armed forces) is terror manifest.

It was difficult to get coherent accounts from the latest refugees. Traumatised by the horrors visited upon them, they wept, cried openly, shook uncontrollably and gripped with bony hands whatever they could to steady themselves.

With eyes agape, two Rohingya men who used to live in a village tract called Taung Bazar in Buthidaung gradually expressed what they saw.

Riajul Karim and Mohammad Nosim claimed at least 250 of the village’s nearly 10,000 people were killed by the Tatmadaw. That equates to 2.5% of the population snuffed out in a matter of days. Lives are becoming more and more arbitrary as the statistics pile up.

“The military came to our village armed with heavy weaponry, looking for Baghi,” Riajul said, using the local term for Rohingya insurgents. “They would get on their knees about 200 metres from the houses and let loose with a volley from their rocket launchers. It was a hellish scene, fire and smoke all around, and the indiscriminate slaughter of our people.”

Riajul said he had seen “at least 200” houses in Taung Bazar destroyed by the army, and he named several of his neighbours who were killed in the onslaught. He remembered Jaber, Mojibullah Moulovi, Amir ad-Din, Omar Faruq and Abdul Aziz.

Nur Ankish is a 21-year-old woman who fled Khanjarpara village in Buthidaung. She described the same wanton use of heavy weaponry and the destruction of a minimum of 200 houses. But she had more to add.

“The Tatmadaw grabbed as many men as they could from our village and lined them up,” Nur told the Dhaka Tribune. “Their hands were tied behind their backs. We cried and begged for their release (and) then they fired. They shot dead my sister’s husband, they shot two of my neighbours. And they took the rest away.”

With tears in her eyes and jagged nails pressed between her teeth, Nur ceased describing her ordeal.

Dying young

Mohammad Rafiq was one of those shot dead. He was a 26-year-old neighbour of Nur who lived with his mother, Kulsuma Khatun. The bereaved mother sat on her haunches, dejected and exhausted.

“How do you fight fate? How do you speak up against people with big weapons pointing towards you?” she asked. “These soldiers strutted into our village, looking for young men. My boy was so young, so strong. So he must be an insurgent, right? That’s what they decided. They dragged him out of the house, threw him in with the other men and just shot him.

Her voice reduced to a whisper, Kulsuma said, “Any Rohingya who looked young and healthy was an immediate threat. So the army now plans on making sure they are all dead.”

‘Run! Run! Run!’

The Rohingya from Buthidaung Township also alleged that the Mogh people (a Buddhist ethnic community in Rakhine) had attacked them with machetes following the Myanmar army’s operations.

“The Moghs came screaming ‘Run! Run! Run!” Nosim said.

Nosim said the blood-curdling battle cry of the Moghs in the wake of the army’s devastation had scattered the Rohingya people. Those who ran, survived. Anyone who froze where they stood, or stumbled in escape, were cut down by the blades of the young Mogh zealots.

Border Guard Bangladesh provide new shelters

From September 3, the Border Guard Bangladesh has been directing the stream of refugees to a new makeshift camp in the Lombar Bil area of Putibunia in Teknaf. The Putibunia camp looks like it can support about 10,000 people, but there are already too many people as it is and more are arriving every day.

For every person who finds shelter, 10 other remain under the open sky. But at least they are not being gunned down.

This article first appeared on Dhaka Tribune.