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Rohingya exodus swells amid reports of Myanmar security forces' atrocities

Sydney Morning Herald - January 10, 2017

Lindsay Murdoch More than 65,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled Myanmar's strife-torn Rakhine state amid new reports of atrocities allegedly committed by Myanmar security forces.

The United Nations' relief agency says 22,000 Rohingya have arrived in Bangladesh camps in the past week alone, the largest number since renewed violence broke out Rakhine in October.

Puttanee Kangkun, a researcher with the human rights group Fortify Rights, says she and her colleagues have documented dozens of atrocities during two weeks interviewing Rohingya families in Bangladesh border camps.

"Many witnessed Burmese (Myanmar) soldiers killing loved ones, including children. Some had their throats cut, while others were burned alive," she said. "Wives, mothers and daughters witnessed soldiers kill husbands, sons and fathers."

Ms Puttanee said women told how their families were molested during body searches in their homes for jewellery and cash.

"Because of the stigma rape carries in Rohingya society, we believe that the cases reported to us represent only a fraction of that rapes that occurred," she said.

Ms Puttanee said many of the Rohingya in the camps have nothing but the clothes on their backs and are in need of medical and psycho-social support

"Many survivors want to share their in-depth testimonies and participate in the truth-telling process. But they can't do it alone. Now is the time for the international community to act," she said.

Myanmar's security forces have been accused of waging a brutal crackdown on one million minority Rohingya in Rakhine after a series of attacks targeting police and military in an area near Myanmar's north-western frontier with Bangladesh.

The initial attacks are believed to have been carried out by an armed group known as Harakah al-Yaqin (Faith Movement), whose emergence has raised concerns that local Rohingya grievances could be exploited by transnational jihadis, which could inflame religious tensions across majority Buddhist Myanmar.

The UN describes Rohingya as among the world's most persecuted people. Myanmar's government views them as illegal immigrants, denying them citizenship and other basic rights, despite that they have been living in Rakhine for generations.

Myanmar's government, led by Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, has insisted the claims of abuse are fabricated, saying in an interim report last week there is insufficient evidence of genocide or religious persecution, or that its troops had committed rapes. The government insists that a lawful counter-insurgency operation is underway in Rakhine.

The UN's human rights envoy for Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, has begun a 12-day visit to the country, including Rakhine, to investigate the reported violence.

"The events in the last few months have shown that the international community must remain vigilant in monitoring the human rights situation in Myanmar," she said in a statement.

In December a group of prominent world leaders and Nobel laureates called for the UN Security Council to initiate an independent investigation into the alleged violence in Rakhine as well as intensified fighting between Myanmar's military and rebel groups in Kachin and Shan states.

The group criticised Ms Suu Kyi for failing to stand-up for the Rohingya after her National League for Democracy was swept into power at election in late 2014 promising peace and national reconciliation to be its top priority.

Source: http://www.smh.com.au/world/rohingya-exodus-swells-amid-reports-of-myanmar-security-forces-atrocities-20170110-gtoqn7.html.

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