It's a horror story that has ramifications for Phuket. All along the Andaman coast, the military and volunteers are preparing for large numbers of Rohingya boatpeople, expected to flee persecution in coming weeks.
Here's the beginning of the revealing HRW report:
In June 2012, deadly sectarian violence erupted in western Burma's Arakan State between ethnic Arakan Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims (as well as non-Rohingya Muslims). The violence broke out after reports circulated that on May 28 an Arakan woman was raped and killed in the town of Ramri allegedly by three Muslim men. Details of the crime were circulated locally in an incendiary pamphlet, and on June 3, a large group of Arakan villagers in Toungop stopped a bus and brutally killed 10 Muslims on board. Human Rights Watch confirmed that local police and soldiers stood by and watched the killings without intervening.
On June 8, thousands of Rohingya rioted in Maungdaw town after Friday prayers, destroying Arakan property and killing an unknown number of Arakan residents. Sectarian violence then quickly swept through the Arakan State capital, Sittwe, and surrounding areas.
Mobs from both communities soon stormed unsuspecting villages and neighborhoods, killing residents and destroying homes, shops, and houses of worship. With little to no government security present to stop the violence, people armed themselves with swords, spears, sticks, iron rods, knives, and other basic weapons, taking the law into their own hands. Vast stretches of property from both communities were razed. The government claimed that 78 people were killed - an undoubtedly conservative figure - while more than 100,000 people were displaced from their homes. The hostilities were fanned by inflammatory anti-Muslim media accounts and local propaganda.
During the period after the rape and killing was reported and before the violence broke out, tensions had risen dramatically in Arakan State. However, local residents from each community told Human Rights Watch that the Burmese authorities provided no protection and did not appear to have taken any special measures to preempt the violence.
On June 10, fearing the unrest would spread beyond the borders of Arakan State, Burmese President Thein Sein announced a state of emergency, transferring civilian power to the Burmese army in affected areas of the state. At this point, a wave of concerted violence by various state security forces against Rohingya communities began. For example, Rohingya in Narzi quarter - the largest Muslim area in Sittwe, home to 10,000 Muslims - described how Arakan mobs burned down their homes on June 12 while the police and paramilitary Lon Thein forces opened fire on them with live ammunition. In northern Arakan State, the Nasaka border guard force, the army, police, and Lon Thein committed killings, mass arrests, and looting against Rohingya.
In the aftermath, local Arakan leaders and members of the Arakan community in Sittwe have called for the forced displacement of the Muslim community from the city, while local Buddhist monks have initiated a campaign of exclusion, calling on the local Buddhist population to neither befriend nor do business with Muslims.
DRAWING ON 57 interviews conducted in Burma and Bangladesh with Arakan, Rohingya, and others, this report describes the initial events, the acts of violence that followed by both Arakan and Rohingya, and the role of state security forces in both failing to intervene to stop sectarian violence and directly participating in abuses. It examines the discriminatory forced relocations of Rohingya by the Burmese government from an Arakan population that feels long ignored.
Witness after witness described to Human Rights Watch how the Burmese authorities failed to provide protection to either side in the early days of the violence and that Arakan and local security forces colluded in acts of arson and violence against Rohingya in Sittwe and in the predominantly Muslim townships of northern Arakan State.
A 31-year-old Arakan mother of five told Human Rights Watch how a large group of Rohingya entered her village outside Sittwe around June 12 and killed her husband. She said the government had provided no security. ''They killed him right there in the village,'' she said. ''His arm was cut off and his head was nearly cut off. He was 35 years old.'' A 40-year-old Arakan man in Sittwe said, ''The government didn't help us. We had no food, no shelter, and no security [when we fled], but we protected ourselves using sticks and knives.''
A Rohingya man, 36, in Sittwe, described how the security forces took part in the violence: ''[An Arakan mob] started torching the houses. When the people tried to put out the fires, the paramilitary shot at us. And the group beat people with big sticks.'' A Rohingya man from Narzi said, ''I was just a few feet away. I was on the road. I saw them [the police] shoot at least six people - one woman, two children, and three men. The police took their bodies away.''
Local residents said that soon after the sectarian violence began, state security forces conducted systematic and abusive sweeps in the predominantly Muslim townships of northern Arakan State, claiming to be looking for suspected Rohingya rioters. Between June 12-24, these forces entered villages around Maungdaw Township, opened fire on Rohingya, looted properties, and rounded up men and boys, taking them to unknown locations where most have since been held incommunicado. Family members of those arrested told Human Rights Watch that they had not heard from their relatives since the security forces boarded them onto trucks and took them away.
A 22-year-old Rohingya man who fled from security forces that entered his village of Kampu on June 26 told Human Rights Watch: ''We were running out of the village and wading through the water on the street [from monsoon rains] and they shot at us in the street. I saw 17 people shot and 9 of them were boys and young men. Police from Maungdaw, Lon Thein, and Nasaka were all involved in the sweep.... The bodies were lying on the street, I don't know what happened to them because I ran away to avoid arrest. The sound of bullet fire was continuous.''
The sectarian violence and abuses that have followed have created urgent humanitarian needs for both Arakan and Rohingya communities. The humanitarian response to the crisis has been severely hampered by restricted access to the affected areas, particularly to northern Arakan State. UN and independent humanitarian agencies and their local staff have been subjected to arrests, threats, and intimidation. At the time of greatest need, their work has been brought almost to a standstill.
Local organisations have provided food, clothing, medicine, and shelter to displaced Arakan populations, largely supported by domestic contributions, but Rohingya populations have been less fortunate. Human Rights Watch spoke to Rohingya in Sittwe who had been living in hiding for several weeks, fearing they would face imminent attack from local Arakan if they ventured out in public. Their access to markets, food, and work remain limited because of the dangers of venturing into public spaces.
Other Rohingya have been living in makeshift camps overseen by the army, in the jungle, or surviving in home-stay situations, seeking shelter in some of the last standing Muslim neighborhoods in Sittwe. Their local movements are restricted by the Burmese army, ostensibly for their own protection, but many still lack adequate aid and the physical conditions of the internally displaced person (IDP) settlements are degenerating under the strain of overcrowding and monsoon rains.
Some Rohingya in displacement camps told Human Rights Watch that some Burmese soldiers had shown great compassion and gone to the market on their behalf to purchase rice and other necessities, but that their willingness to do so has since stopped. The soldiers' refusal to informally help Rohingya buy food correlates with a local campaign by Arakan Buddhist monks - the most revered members of local Arakan society - who have distributed pamphlets advocating for separation of the communities and imploring the Arakan people to exclude Muslims in every way. ''They are eating our rice and staying near our houses,'' the author of one pamphlet told Human Rights Watch.''So we will separate. We need to protect the Arakan people.... We don't want any connection to the Muslim people at all.''
In late June, the national government authorized an inter-agency emergency rapid assessment by the UN and international relief agencies, which enabled the agencies to understand the scope of the immediate needs. However, the agencies have been unable to assess the situation in some parts of northern Arakan State. Humanitarian access has been limited by both the Burmese government and resentful local Arakan populations who claim the agencies have focused primarily on Rohingya populations over the years while neglecting the plight of the Arakan.
While all security forces operating in Arakan State have been implicated in serious human rights violations, the army at times has taken positive action. In the early days of the violence, the army's presence in Sittwe had a calming effect and was welcomed by both communities. Human Rights Watch observed Burmese army units in Sittwe playing a constructive role in stemming violence in late June by guarding groups of displaced Rohingya and making public calls for residents to disarm. Human Rights Watch also witnessed the army escorting Rohingya through the state capital in late June to collect personal belongings from their homes and market stalls in the city before returning to displaced person sites, though we were unable to determine whether this was done as part of normal duties or for payment.
At the same time, the army has collaborated with other elements of the security forces in abusive sweeps across northern Arakan State. According to a 27-year-old Rohingya man who fled Maungdaw township, ''The military came and spoke to the chairman of the village and told him to give them the names of the people who took part in the violence. They went house-to-house, door-to-door, taking people. Those on the list - no one knows where they are, and those not on the lists can be set free if they pay money.''
Read the full report at: