The Economist reports: Syed, a 33-year-old Muslim religious teacher, feared the worst. On October 9th Rohingya militants attacked border posts near Maungdaw, a township in the north of Rakhine state in western Myanmar, killing nine Burmese border guards. Syed, himself a Rohingya from Rakhine, was sure that a vicious crackdown by Myanmar’s army would follow. So he put on non-religious clothes and shaved his beard. Along with 16 others he left his home village. For days the group hid in a forest. Eventually they crossed the Naf River, which separates Myanmar from Bangladesh, and found their way to the sprawling, ramshackle Kutupalong camp near the coastal town of Cox’s Bazar.
Syed’s fears were justified. Myanmar’s army has blocked access to much of Maungdaw, keeping away journalists, aid workers and international monitors (troops claim to be searching for stolen guns and ammunition). But reports have emerged of mass arrests, torture, the burning of villages, killings of civilians and the systematic rape of Rohingya women by Burmese soldiers. At least 86 people have been killed. Satellite imagery analysed by Human Rights Watch suggests that soldiers have burned at least 1,500 buildings — including homes, food shops, markets and mosques (one devastated area is pictured). The organisation says this could be a conservative estimate; it includes only buildings not obscured by trees. Amnesty International says the army’s “callous and systematic campaign of violence” may be a crime against humanity. Myanmar’s government denies all such allegations, dismissing many of them as fabrications.
Around 27,000 Rohingyas — members of a Muslim ethnic group native to Rakhine — have recently, like Syed, fled to Bangladesh. But about 1m of them remain. Before the recent turmoil, tens of thousands of Rohingyas in northern Rakhine relied on aid for food, water and health care. The blockade has severed that lifeline.
Such brutality does not reflect well on Aung San Suu Kyi, a winner of the Nobel peace prize who has led Myanmar since her party’s resounding electoral victory in 2015. Neither does ethnic conflict, which has been intensifying on the other side of the country, speak well of her skills as a peacemaker. She entered office saying her priority was to resolve Myanmar’s decades-long civil wars. [Continue reading…]