Earlier this week, alarming reports began to trickle out of Du Chee Yar Tan village in western Myanmar: A large number of Rohingya Muslims had been killed in a brutal attack by a Buddhist mob, which had been aided by government security forces. The village is in Maungdaw district along the border with Bangladesh, where there is a high concentration of Rohingya. But due to restrictions imposed by the government in Myanmar, it’s extremely hard to get information out of Maungdaw. And even now, no one can say for sure what exactly happened.
The Myanmar government denies any Rohingya were killed. But rights groups have reported that there may be up to 60 dead, with witnesses saying that a number of women and children were hacked to death with knives. The United States and United Kingdom released a joint statement condemning the attacks, focusing on the reports that security forces condoned or participated in the violence against civilians.
The Arakan Rohingya Union, an umbrella group of human rights organizations focused on Rohingya issues, released a statement saying that tensions began when policemen and villagers went house to house late on January 13 searching for a missing policeman. Nay San Lwin, a Rohingya activist based in Germany, told VICE News that the killings began the following day, when eight Rohingya workers who had just arrived in Maungdaw were arrested. According to Lwin, the men were bound and then hacked to death.
He said Rohingya villagers found the bodies, then gathered evidence. But security forces later raided their homes, shooting several people and triggering a violent response. “The villagers could not tolerate anymore,” San Lwin said. “Now in the whole area, surrounding villages, it’s very tense.”
Nay San Lwin said he believes at least 42 people have died.
The Rohingya, a Muslim minority concentrated in the southwest of Myanmar, have long been discriminated against in the nearly 90 percent Buddhist country. The United Nations has called them one of the most persecuted groups in the world. Since 2012, sectarian violence has killed more than 200 people and left hundreds of thousands displaced in Myanmar, the overwhelming majority of them Muslim.
Chris Lewa, head of Arakan Project, which documents abuses against the Rohingya, also pointed out that the 969 movement, a grassroots anti-Muslim coalition led by extremist Buddhist monk Ashin Wirathu, toured the region a month ago. He said tensions between local Buddhists and Rohingya had increased since then.
The statement released by the US and UK embassies also called for authorities in the government to “take urgent, concrete steps to address security, rule of law, justice, humanitarian access, and reconciliation in Rakhine State to stem the sources of ongoing tension,” a common refrain that has been repeatedly ignored since mass violence against Rohingya began in 2012.