Rohingya warn of ‘another Srebrenica’ if violence rages

Members of Myanmar’s Muslim minority urge international community to stop a ‘targeted military campaign’ against them.

A Rohingya refugee woman cries after crossing the Bangladesh-Myanmar border
UN office in Cox's Bazaar: over 164,000 refugees have crossed into Bangladesh since August 25 [Mohammad Ponir Hossain/Reuters]

The Rohingya are warning that unless the international community takes a firm stance against the violence in Myanmar, the country could witness “ethnic cleansing on the scale of the Srebrenica massacre”.

More than 22 years after 8,000 Muslim men and boys were slaughtered by Bosnian Serb troops in the UN “safe haven” of Srebrenica, separate Rohingya sources have told Al Jazeera that at least 1,000 of the persecuted Muslim minority, including scores of women and children, have been killed over the past two weeks.

Myanmar’s security forces say they have killed at least 370 Rohingya “fighters” since the latest round of violence in Rakhine state began on August 25.

The violence has sent more than 164,000 Rohingya fleeing to neighbouring Bangladesh, according to UN estimates.

AL JAZEERA WORLD: The Rohingya – Silent Abuse (45:33)

On Tuesday, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also warned of the risk of ethnic cleansing, appealing to Myanmar’s civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi and the country’s security forces to end the violence.

Two sources told Al Jazeera on Thursday that several people had been shot dead near the Maungdow township in Rakhine, with thick plumes of smoke seen billowing from the village of Godu Thara after security forces burned down the homes of fleeing Rohingya.

The sources said that in other villages affected by the violence, community leaders had been unable to offer Islamic burials after imams had fled into the forest.

Access to the area has been blocked to foreign media so Al Jazeera cannot independently verify the sources’ accounts.

Speaking to Al Jazeera from Maungdow township under a pseudonym, Anwar, 25, said there was a “sustained and targeted military campaign against Muslims”.

“The Myanmar army and Buddhist extremists are specifically targeting the Muslim population,” he said.

“Women, children, the elderly – no one has been spared. The situation is continuing to get worse, and Aung San Suu Kyi’s government is failing to raise its voice,” Anwar added.

OPINION: Aung San Suu Kyi does not deserve the Nobel Peace Prize

Aung San Suu Kyi, a former political prisoner of Myanmar’s military rulers, has so far not spoken publicly about the plight of the fleeing Rohingya.

Speaking for the first time on the issue on Wednesday, she said her government is doing its best to protect everyone in Rakhine and blamed “terrorists” for “a huge iceberg of misinformation” on the strife in the state.

But her silence has drawn sharp criticism from rights groups, activists and some politicians.

“Unless the international community acts, and stops giving our plight lip service, we will witness another genocide – our time is running out,” Anwar said.

IN PICTURES: Myanmar – The perilous journey of Rohingya refugees

The latest bout of violence began when suspected Rohingya fighters attacked police posts and an army base in Rakhine.

What’s Myanmar’s government doing to end the Rohingya crisis?

The Myanmar government blamed the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) for the violence. Yet, fleeing Rohingya refugees accused the country’s security forces of responding with a campaign of arson and murder in a bid to force them out of Myanmar.

Myint Lwin, a resident of Buthidaung township, said photos being widely circulated on Twitter and Facebook “exposed a systematic campaign against Muslims”.

“Our situation is no different to the massacres we witnessed in Bosnia,” Lwin said.

“Only Muslims are being targeted by the Myanmar army. Buddhists, Christians and other ethnic groups living in Rakhine have been spared from much of the violence. There is a clear plan to wipe out Rohingya Muslims.”

WATCH: Exclusive – ‘Strong evidence’ of genocide in Myanmar

The Rohingya, a Muslim-majority ethnic group who have lived in Myanmar’s Rakhine state for centuries, have suffered decades of repression under the country’s Buddhist majority.

Stripped of their citizenship by the military government in the 1980s, they have endured killings, torture and mass rape, according to the United Nations – between the 1970s and early 1990s, around one million were forced to leave the country.

“We have been denied food, water, shelter, identity and now our very existence,” said Ro Nay San Lwin, a 39-year-old Rohingya activist based in Europe.

“Other minorities are also being persecuted by the army, but our situation is far worse. We don’t have freedom, dignity and citizenship. We are surrounded and suffering on several fronts.”

READ MORE: Persecution of all Muslims in Myanmar ‘on the rise’

The latest surge of refugees, many of them sick and wounded, has strained the resources of aid agencies and communities that are already helping hundreds of thousands displaced by previous waves of violence.

Many of the Rohingya are stranded in “no-man’s land” – an area between the Myanmar-Bangladesh border – without shelter, with aid groups unable to provide clean water, sanitation and food, according to Joseph Tripura, a UN aid official in Cox’s Bazaar.

Jamila Hanan, an independent human rights activist and director of the #WeAreAllRohingyaNow online campaign, said the “current military operation was far greater than previous attacks”.

“The dehumanisation process has reached peak levels with the Rohingya no longer seen as human, rather as vermin and disease so that the military can kill them without any hesitation,” she said

“The government’s communication office has effectively given the military a green light to perpetrate these atrocities,” Hanan added.

“And with the international community failing to condemn the violence and regional powers eyeing up Myanmar’s economic potential, it’s unlikely we’ll see condemnation anytime soon.”

Follow Faisal Edroos on Twitter: @FaisalEdroos

Source: Al Jazeera