Burma: Rohingya children 'beheaded and burned alive' as refugees continue to flood into Bangladesh to escape violence

Boris Johnson calls on Aung San Suu Kyi to help end the violence amid claims of 'genocide' and a 'pogrom'

Will Worley
Sunday 03 September 2017 08:53 BST
Video shows Rohingya flee burning villages in Myanmar

Rohingya children have been beheaded and civilians burned alive, according to witness testimony amid claims that Burma's military and paramilitary forces are committing "genocide" or a "pogrom" against the Muslim minority in the country’s western Rakhine state.

Around 60,000 refugees are believed to have fled over the country’s western border into Bangladesh in a just a week following a clampdown on Rohingya militants.

The British Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, called for the violence to end, saying the treatment of the Rohingya was “besmirching the reputation of Burma”, also known as Myanmar, and appealing to Aung San Suu Kyi to act.

Turkey's President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has gone much further, accusing Burma's forces of genocide and saying those who turned a blind eye to events were complicit.

Observers believe the number of displaced people is likely to increase. The Burmese military said 400 militants had been killed in clashes with their forces.

Pope Francis defends right of Burma's Rohingya Muslims to 'live their faith'

Civilians who escaped gave horrific accounts of violence and destruction by Burmese soldiers and other armed groups.

A man named as Abdul Rahman, 41, said he had survived a five-hour attack on Chut Pyin village.

He told Fortifiy Rights, a charity working in the area, that a group of Rohingya men had been rounded up and detained in a bamboo hut, which was then set on fire.

"My brother was killed, [Burmese soldiers] burned him with the group,” he said.

“We found [my other family members] in the fields. They had marks on their bodies from bullets and some had cuts.

"My two nephews, their heads were off. One was six years old and the other was nine years old. My sister-in-law was shot with a gun.”

Another man from the same village, named as Sultan Ahmed, 27, told the charity: “Some people were beheaded, and many were cut. We were in the house hiding when [armed residents from a neighbouring village] were beheading people.

"When we saw that, we just ran out the back of the house.”

Survivors from other villages in the region also described seeing people being beheaded or having their throats cut.

“We can’t stress enough the urgency of the situation,” said Matthew Smith, head of Fortify Rights.

“The Myanmar authorities are failing to protect civilians and save lives. International pressure is critically needed.”

Satellite imagery released by Human Rights Watch (HRW) showed 700 buildings burned down in another Rohingya village, Chein Khar Li.

“This new satellite imagery shows the total destruction of a Muslim village, and prompts serious concerns that the level of devastation in northern Rakhine State may be far worse than originally thought,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for HRW.

“Yet this is only one of 17 sites that we’ve located where burnings have taken place. Independent monitors are needed on the ground to urgently uncover what’s going on.”

The Burmese government has denied access to the affected areas to journalists and observers.

On Saturday, Mr Johnson, appealed to Aung San Suu Kyi, the former dissident who won the Nobel Peace Prize and is now the country's State Counsellor, to intervene.

“Aung Sang Suu Kyi is rightly regarded as one of the most inspiring figures of our age but the treatment of the Rohingya is alas besmirching the reputation of Burma. She faces huge challenges in modernising her country," he said.

“I hope she can now use all her remarkable qualities to unite her country, to stop the violence and to end the prejudice that afflicts both Muslims and other communities in Rakhine.

“It is vital that she receives the support of the Burmese military, and that her attempts at peacemaking are not frustrated. She and all in Burma will have our full support in this.”

Ms Suu Kyi has been silent on the extreme violence reported within her country and has faced mounting criticism from observers.

The Tatmadaw, Burma's military, and paramilitary groups began the operation when the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (Arsa) attacked security outposts in Rakhine on 25 August.

Arsa claim to fight for Rohingya people but have also been accused of preventing civilians from leaving the conflict zones.

Francis Wade, the author of a book about violence against the Rohingya, said on Twitter: “What's happening in Myanmar can be dressed up as counter-insurgency campaign, but in design and purpose, it's a pogrom and has popular support.”

There are around a million Muslim Rohingya people in Burma but they have faced years of mistreatment at the hands of the government, which does not recognise them at citizens. They also face widespread discrimination from Buddhist majority population and are often referred to as Bengalis, alluding to a common myth that they are illegal immigrants.

Earlier, Mr Erdogan said there was a “genocide” occurring in Rakhine.

"Those who close their eyes to this genocide perpetuated under the cover of democracy are its collaborators," Mr Erdogan said.

Turkey has offered to assist Bangladesh financially if it accommodated more refugees, but the south Asian country, which is already home to 400,000 displaced Rohingya, has been reluctant to allow more in.

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