HONG KONG — At least 46 people believed to be Rohingya fleeing violence in western Myanmar have been found dead on the banks of a river along the boundary with Bangladesh, Bangladeshi officials said on Friday.
The dead, which included 19 children, 18 women and 9 men, were found at points along the Naf River over the past three days, the officials said.
“We believe they were Rohingyas,” said Lt. Col. S. M. Ariful Islam, commanding officer of the local border guard battalion. “They died because their boats capsized when they were coming to Bangladesh by boat from Myanmar.”
An Associated Press photo showed Bangladeshi villagers on a beach covering the bodies of dead Rohingya women and children with a tarp.
The Rohingya are a predominantly Muslim ethnic group that faces oppression in Myanmar, which denies them citizenship rights.
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Last week a Rohingya militant group attacked police posts and a military base in Rakhine State in western Myanmar, near the country’s border with Bangladesh. More than 100 people were killed, including at least 12 members of the security forces and 80 militants.
Following those attacks, Myanmar security forces and armed local residents carried out a campaign of mass violence against Rohingya that killed more than 200 people in Chut Pyin, a village in Rakhine State, according to Fortify Rights, a human rights group that focuses on Southeast Asia. The organization based its report on interviews with survivors and eyewitnesses.
“The situation is dire,” Matthew Smith, chief executive of Fortify Rights, said in the group’s statement. “Mass atrocity crimes are continuing. The civilian government and military need to do everything in their power to immediately prevent more attacks.”
The violence touched off an exodus of Rohingya to Bangladesh, where more than 300,000 Rohingya live in squalid refugee camps. Since the fighting began one week ago, at least 27,000 people have crossed into Bangladesh, with another 20,000 stranded between the two countries, the United Nations said Thursday.
Two of the three boats that capsized and were then recovered by villagers in Teknak, Bangladesh, on Thursday. Credit Suvra Kanti Das/Associated Press
Many Rohingya have been blocked at the border by Bangladeshi guards, according to the United Nations’ human rights agency, which called on Bangladesh to allow people fleeing violence to cross freely into the country from Myanmar.
A Rohingya extremist group called the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army claimed responsibility for the attacks last week. The government of Myanmar also blamed the group for the Aug. 26 killing of six Hindu villagers on in Maungtaw Township in northern Rakhine State.
The Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army has also killed some civilians it accused of being government informants and blocked Rohingya men and boys from fleeing Maungdaw, a township in Rakhine, Fortify Rights said.
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The government of Myanmar denies that the Rohingya are citizens, instead calling them illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. About one million of them live in Rakhine State, where their ability to work and travel is limited.
Fires broke out in several parts of Rakhine State last week. The government said it was the result of “Bengalis” setting fire to their own homes, using the term that Myanmar officials often use in referring to the Rohingya.
Human Rights Watch, which documented the fires from satellite photos, said it was impossible to tell the causes remotely, but said the information “bears a close resemblance to that found during widespread arson attacks in Rakhine State during violence against the Rohingya in 2012 and 2016.”
In 2012, 10 Rohingya men were killed after three Rohingya were accused of raping and murdering a Buddhist woman. In the riots that followed, dozens of people were killed and some 90,000 Rohingya fled into Bangladesh.
The United Nations top human rights official condemned the attacks last week and called on Myanmar’s military to show restraint toward civilians. Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, also criticized statements from the office of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s de facto leader, accusing United Nations agencies of aiding Rohingya militants.
The fighting last week began just over a day after a panel created by Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi and headed by Kofi Annan, the former United Nations secretary general, issued a report saying that Myanmar need to grant basic freedoms to the Rohingya or risk more “violence and radicalization.”
In February, a United Nations report said a wide-ranging anti-insurgency campaign in Rakhine state had led to the killings of hundreds of men, women and children by the military and police. Those acts were “very likely” crimes against humanity, the report said.
Julfikar Ali Manik contributed reporting from Dhaka, Bangladesh.
SOURCE: New York Times