Exclusive: 'We will kill you all' -
Rohingya villagers in Myanmar beg for safe passage
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[September 18, 2017]
By Wa Lone and Andrew R.C. Marshall
SITTWE, Myanmar (Reuters) - Thousands of
Rohingya Muslims in violence-racked northwest Myanmar are pleading with
authorities for safe passage from two remote villages that are cut off
by hostile Buddhists and running short of food.
"We're terrified," Maung Maung, a Rohingya official at Ah Nauk Pyin
village, told Reuters by telephone. "We'll starve soon and they're
threatening to burn down our houses."
Another Rohingya contacted by Reuters, who asked not to be named, said
ethnic Rakhine Buddhists came to the same village and shouted, "Leave,
or we will kill you all."
Fragile relations between Ah Nauk Pyin and its Rakhine neighbors were
shattered on Aug. 25, when deadly attacks by Rohingya militants in
Rakhine State prompted a ferocious response from Myanmar's security
At least 430,000 Rohingya have since fled into neighboring Bangladesh to
evade what the United Nations has called a "textbook example of ethnic
About a million Rohingya lived in Rakhine State until the recent
violence. Most face draconian travel restrictions and are denied
citizenship in a country where many Buddhists regard them as illegal
immigrants from Bangladesh.
Tin Maung Swe, secretary of the Rakhine State government, told Reuters
he was working closely with the Rathedaung authorities, and had received
no information about the Rohingya villagers' plea for safe passage.
"There is nothing to be concerned about," he said when asked about local
tensions. "Southern Rathedaung is completely safe."
National police spokesman Myo Thu Soe said he also had no information
about the Rohingya villages but that he would look into the matter.
Asked to comment, a spokeswoman for the U.S. State Department's East
Asia Bureau made no reference to the situation in the villages, but said
the United States was calling "urgently" for Myanmar's security forces
"to act in accordance with the rule of law and to stop the violence and
displacement suffered by individuals from all communities."
"Tens of thousands of people reportedly lack adequate food, water, and
shelter in northern Rakhine State," spokeswoman Katina Adams said. "The
government should act immediately to assist them."
Adams said Patrick Murphy, the U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state
for East Asia, would reiterate grave U.S. concern about the situation in
Rakhine when he meets senior officials in Myanmar this week.
Britain is to host a ministerial meeting on Monday on the sidelines of
the annual U.N. General Assembly in New York to discuss the situation in
Ah Nauk Pyin sits on a mangrove-fringed peninsula in Rathedaung, one of
three townships in northern Rakhine State. The villagers say they have
Until three weeks ago, there were 21 Muslim villages in Rathedaung,
along with three camps for Muslims displaced by previous bouts of
religious violence. Sixteen of those villages and all three camps have
since been emptied and in many cases burnt, forcing an estimated 28,000
Rohingya to flee.
Rathedaung's five surviving Rohingya villages and their 8,000 or so
inhabitants are encircled by Rakhine Buddhists and acutely vulnerable,
say human rights monitors.
The situation is particularly dire in Ah Nauk Pyin and nearby Naung Pin
Gyi, where any escape route to Bangladesh is long, arduous, and
sometimes blocked by hostile Rakhine neighbors.
Maung Maung, the Rohingya official, said the villagers were resigned to
leaving but the authorities had not responded to their requests for
security. At night, he said, villagers had heard distant gunfire.
"It's better they go somewhere else," said Thein Aung, a Rathedaung
official, who dismissed Rohingya allegations that Rakhines were
Only two of the Aug. 25 attacks by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army
(ARSA) took place in Rathedaung. But the township was already a
tinderbox of religious tension, with ARSA citing the mistreatment of
Rohingya there as one justification for its offensive.
In late July, Rakhine residents of a large, mixed village in northern
Rathedaung corraled hundreds of Rohingya inside their neighborhood,
blocking access to food and water.
[to top of second column]
A fight breaks out during the distribution of bananas in a Rohingya
refugee camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, September 17, 2017.
A similar pattern is repeating itself in southern Rathedaung, with
local Rakhine citing possible ARSA infiltration as a reason for
ejecting the last remaining Rohingya.
Maung Maung said he had called the police at least 30 times to
report threats against his village.
On Sept. 13, he said, he got a call from a Rakhine villager he knew.
"Leave tomorrow or we'll come and burn down all your houses," said
the man, according to a recording Maung Maung gave to Reuters.
When Maung Maung protested that they had no means to escape, the man
replied: "That's not our problem."
On Aug. 31, the police convened a roadside meeting between two
villages, attended by seven Rohingya from Ah Nauk Pyin and 14
Rakhine officials from the surrounding villages.
Instead of addressing the Rohingya complaints, said Maung Maung and
two other Rohingya who attended the meeting, the Rakhine officials
delivered an ultimatum.
"They said they didn't want any Muslims in the region and we should
leave immediately," said the Rohingya resident of Ah Nauk Pyin who
The Rohingya agreed, said Maung Maung, but only if the authorities
He showed Reuters a letter that the village elders had sent to the
Rathedaung authorities on Sept. 7, asking to be moved to "another
place". They had yet to receive a response, he said.
Relations between the two communities deteriorated in 2012, when
religious unrest in Rakhine State killed nearly 200 people and made
140,000 homeless, most of them Rohingya. Scores of houses in Ah Nauk
Pyin were torched.
Since then, said villagers, Rohingya have been too scared to leave
the village or till their land, surviving mainly on monthly
deliveries from the World Food Programme (WFP). The recent violence
halted those deliveries.
The WFP pulled out most staff and suspended operations in the region
after Aug. 25.
Residents in the area's two Rohingya villages said they could no
longer venture out to fish or buy food from Rakhine traders, and
were running low on food and medicines.
Maung Maung said the local police told the Rohingya to stay in their
villages and not to worry because "nothing would happen," he said.
But the nearest police station had only half a dozen or so officers,
he said, and could not do much if Ah Nauk Pyin was attacked.
A few minutes' walk away, at the Rakhine village of Shwe Long Tin,
residents were also on edge, said its leader, Khin Tun Aye.
They had also heard gunfire at night, he said, and were guarding the
village around the clock with machetes and slingshots in case the
Rohingya attacked with ARSA's help.
"We're also terrified," he said.
He said he told his fellow Rakhine to stay calm, but the situation
remained so tense that he feared for the safety of his Rohingya
"If there is violence, all of them will be killed," he said.
(Reporting by Wa Lone and Andrew R.C. Marshall; Additional reporting
by David Brunnstrom in Washington; Editing by Ian Geoghegan and
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