A United Nations (UN) official says the “ethnic cleansing” of the Rohingya Muslim community is continuing in Myanmar, despite denials by the government in Naypyidaw of any violence against the minority Muslims.
More than 700,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled Myanmar since its military launched a bloody campaign against them across the western Rakhine State following a number of alleged attacks on security checkpoints on August 25 last year.
The refugees have settled at squalid camps in a region in Bangladesh known as Cox’s Bazar. There, they have been recounting the horrific violence they were exposed to back in Rakhine, which the government has blockaded.
According to the witness accounts, soldiers and Buddhist mobs have been murdering and raping the Rohingya, and torching their villages. Satellite imagery obtained by rights groups have shown entire villages bulldozed in what seems to be an attempt at destroying crime scenes.
The UN has formerly floated the idea that the atrocities constitute ethnic cleansing. On Tuesday, a UN official used that term definitively to describe the violence, which he said is continuing.
“The ethnic cleansing of Rohingya from Myanmar continues. I don’t think we can draw any other conclusion from what I have seen and heard in Cox’s Bazar,” UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Andrew Gilmour said after speaking to newly-arrived Rohingya Muslims in Bangladesh’s crowded refugee camps.
“The nature of the violence has changed from the frenzied blood-letting and mass rape of last year to a lower intensity campaign of terror and forced starvation,” he said.
The UN official said it was “inconceivable” that any Rohingya would be able to return to Myanmar in the near future, despite an agreement between Myanmar and Bangladesh.
“The Government of Myanmar is busy telling the world that it is ready to receive Rohingya returnees, while at the same time its forces are continuing to drive them into Bangladesh,” Gilmour said. “Safe, dignified, and sustainable returns are of course impossible under current conditions.”
Myanmar’s military claims its crackdown on Rohingya villages is aimed at eradicating “terrorists,” who allegedly attacked border police posts in August 2017.
An estimated 6,700 Rohingya Muslims were killed by security forces joined by Buddhist mobs in the first month of the crackdown alone, according to Doctors without Borders.