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The Burmese army and police force have played a leading role in targeting Rohingya Muslims in northern Arakan state through mass arrests, arbitrary violence, rape and systematic discrimination since a state of emergency was declared on 10 June, according to a group of UK-based NGOs speaking to the British parliament on Wednesday.
As many as 650 Rohingyas have been killed, 1,200 are missing and more than 80,000 have been displaced since sectarian violence erupted, said Tun Khin, the President of the Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK (BROUK), contradicting official reports that place the death toll at 80.
“We really need UN observers in Arakan State,” said Tun Khin.
Speaking to the All Party Parliamentary Group for Democracy in Burma together with Benedict Rogers from Christian Solidarity Worldwide and Chris Lewa from the Arakan Project , Tun Khin accused regime hardliners “who do not want to see reforms in Burma” of coordinating the violence.
“In recent months, there have been an increasing number of anti-Rohingya activities, including seminars in Rangoon and in Arakan State organised by the Rakhine Nationalities Development Party (RNDP), and anti-Rohingya demonstrations,” he said.
Communal riots flared earlier this month after the rape and murder of an ethnic Arakanese girl, allegedly by three Rohingya Muslims, prompted a revenge attack on ten Muslim pilgrims in the state capital Sittwe. Some reports suggest that leaflets advertising graphic pictures of both incidents had been circulated in different parts of Arakan state.
Chris Lewa told DVB that since the violence subsided, the police and border frontier forces (NaSaKa) have been rounding up hundreds of young Rohingya men. Earlier this week, there were reports that more than 100 men fleeing ongoing unrest were detained by police in southern Arakan state’s Thandwe district. Described as “illegal Bengali immigrants” by police, their current whereabouts are unknown.
“The NaSaKa said at a meeting with village leaders that they will arrest people for interrogation and will severely punish those involved in the violence,” said Lewa in an email interview. “They are interrogating the arrested youths together with military intelligence.“
“We are not sure yet about what happens to those found guilty but some of those found not guilty have not been released but instead sent back to NaSaKa camps, where their families have been contacted to pay a huge bribe to release them,” said Lewa
She added that at least twenty rapes of Rohingya women by Burmese soldiers have been reported in Ba Gone Nah, Du Chee Yan Tar, Pa Din and Zaw Ma Tet villages south of Maungdaw in recent weeks.
However, certifying the validity of reports coming from Arakan state has been notoriously difficult and statistics presented by different groups vary significantly.
“It is difficult to collect the number of refugees exactly as some of them have returned home while others are still coming in,” Chief Law Officer U Hla Thein of Rakhine State told Eleven Media Group.
Hundreds of Rohingya refugees fleeing the violence and attempting to enter Bangladesh have been turned away by authorities, despite growing international clamour for them to be let through. A group of refugees told Radio Free Asia that a Burmese helicopter opened fire on three boats attempting to make the crossing earlier this month, killing all fifty people on board.
The Bangladeshi government insists that they do not have the capacity to accept any more of the stateless minority group, described by the UN as one of the most persecuted in the world. Some 200,000 Rohingyas already live in exile in Bangladesh, but the government only recognises 32,000.
President Thein Sein is set to visit Bangladesh next month to discuss the ongoing humanitarian crisis. He has come under pressure from both human rights groups and anti-Rohingya nationalists to clarify his position on the minority group.
“During his trip, the president needs to firmly state that the Rohingya are not a Burmese ethnic group, and I hope he will say that he will tackle the problem with a strong policy,” Dr Aye Maung, an MP and chairman of the RNDP told The Irrawaddy.
The hot-button issue has become a crucial test for Burma’s nascent reform process, prompting fears that it could unravel the progress made. Last week democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi admitted that she does “not know” whether the Rohingya qualify for Burmese citizenship as international pressure continues to grow for her to speak out on their behalf.
“We urge the British government to put effective pressure on the Burmese regime to stop the killings and violence against the Muslim Rohingyas in Arakan and to restore peace and security in the region,” said Tun Khin.
“We urge the Burmese government to restore our citizenship and ethnic rights, to stop anti-Muslim activities and racism inBurma. There should be laws on racism if the regime wants to see durable peace inBurma.”