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Journalists who have toured villages in a crisis-stricken state in Myanmar have reported new fires burning in a village that has been abandoned by Rohingya Muslims, casting further doubt on government claims that the Muslims are burning down their own homes.
About two dozen journalists monitoring the developments in northern Rakhine State on a government-controlled trip reported on Thursday seeing new fires in Gawdu Zara Village.
They also reported seeing pages ripped from Islamic texts that were scattered on the ground. Among the buildings on fire was a school. Cattle and dogs wandered through the remains.
Myanmar’s government has been claiming that the Muslims are responsible for the fires and the destruction. However, the reporters who visited five blackened, obliterated, and deserted villages on Thursday said there had been no Muslims in the village to light any fires.
“They burned their own houses and ran away,” claimed local police officer Aung Kyaw Moe, referring to the Rohingya Muslims.
Buddhist-majority Myanmar refers to Rohingya as immigrants from Bangladesh, even though many Rohingya families have lived in Myanmar for generations.
Thousands of people from the Muslim minority group have already escaped Rakhine to neighboring Bangladesh amid a government crackdown. The burning down of the homes of the Rohingya makes it less likely for them to return.
Earlier, Bangladeshi government sources said Myanmarese forces were laying down mines on a section of the border to prevent the return of the Muslims. But Muslims have been using that path to move in the opposite direction — into Bangladesh — and several explosions have already been heard. A number of civilians, including children, have been reported maimed.
Myanmar’s de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, has dismissed the widespread reports of government and mob violence against the Rohingya as a misinformation campaign.
Her response to the crisis has sparked calls to have her Nobel Peace Prize taken back.
The crisis response director for Amnesty International has called Suu Kyi’s response to the crisis “unconscionable.”
There have been numerous reports of rape, murder, and arson against the Muslim population in Rakhine since a government siege began on the state late last year.
Prior to that, the Muslims were frequent targets of Buddhist mobs. Tens of thousands of Rohingya were driven from their homes in another wave of violence in 2012.
Death toll may be way higher, says UN
Meanwhile, Yanghee Lee, the United Nations (UN)’s special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, has announced that more than 1,000 people may already have been killed in Myanmar’s Rakhine State, most of them Rohingya Muslims.
“Perhaps about a thousand or more are already dead,” the UN official said on Friday. “This might be from both sides but it would be heavily concentrated on the Rohingya population.”
The Myanmarese government says 400 people have died so far.
UN agency says 270k Rohingya have fled
The UN’s refugee agency said some 270,000 Rohingya Muslims have been forced to flee state-sponsored violence in Myanmar and seek refuge in neighboring Bangladesh since August 25.
“An estimated 270,000 refugees arrived in Bangladesh in the last two weeks,” said UNHCR spokeswoman Vivian Tan on Friday.
“They burnt our house and drove us out by shooting. We walked for three days through the jungle,” said one refugee who arrived from Myanmar to Bangladesh in a fishing boat, braving a five-hour voyage through rough seas in the Bay of Bengal with his family.