Dhaka – The United Nations has said well-organized and coordinated attacks by the Burmese military forced more than half a million Rohingya Muslims to flee to neighbouring Bangladesh for safety.
The “systematic” crackdown was designed to permanently eliminate the minority Muslim community from their homes, UN said on Wednesday after an investigation conducted between September 13 and 24.
“Brutal attacks against Rohingya in northern Rakhine State have been well- organised, coordinated and systematic, with the intent of not only driving the population out of Myanmar but preventing them from returning to their homes,” a UN investigation found.
An estimated 521,000 Rohingya Muslims have crossed into Bangladesh after the Burmese Military launched the crackdown on suspected Muslim insurgents on August 25.
The army claimed they responded to attacks by the militants. But civilians who crossed the border said the army targeted Muslims. The military killed many Muslims and burnt their homes.
The UN interviewed 65 people who fled to Bangladesh, government officials, members of the aid agencies, security officials in Bangladesh. But the panel of investigators could not have access to Rakhine state as the Myanmar government kept the area closed.
The UN probe found that the latest wave of military “clearance operations” began much earlier than that of August 25 as the Myanmar government says it was launched to respond to the militants’ attack.
The investigation said that army-led campaign was aimed at erasing the Rohingya’s connection to their homeland in the majority Buddhist nation, where they have suffered persecution for decades.
“In some cases, before and during the attacks, megaphones were used to announce: ‘You do not belong here – go to Bangladesh. If you do not leave, we will torch your houses and kill you’,” the UN said.
The Myanmar army also planted landmines apparently to prevent the return of those flee their homes, said the UN adding that the teachers as well as cultural, religious and community leaders had also been targeted in the latest crackdown.
It was an “effort to diminish Rohingya history, culture and knowledge”, said the investigation report.
UN human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, has previously described the crackdown as “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”
The investigation team documented consistent accounts of the Myanmar security forces surrounding or entering villages or settlements, sometimes accompanied by Rakhine Buddhist individuals, firing indiscriminately at Rohingya villagers, injuring some and killing other innocent victims.
The set houses on fire, and asked in other villages that the same would befall them if they did not comply with the order to immediately abandon their homes, the report said.
In other instances, information collected indicates that houses were set on fire, after the Rohingya inhabitants fled out of fear, according to the UN report.
The report also documented incidents of gang rape by the army as the Rohingya women were fleeing. In some instances, the incidence of rape happened in front of their relatives.