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Survivors tell of mass killings, beheadings as Myanmar 'cleansing operation' underway

Sydney Morning Herald - September 2, 2017

Lindsay Murdoch, Bangkok Survivors have described mass killings, including beheadings of children, and arson attacks in a dramatic escalation of the Rohingya crisis that the United Nations warns could be a humanitarian catastrophe.

A 41-year-old witness told the rights monitoring group Fortify Rights he found his brother and other family members in a field after attacks by Myanmar security forces on the Rakhine state village of Chut Pyin in Ratheduang township.

"They had marks on their bodies from the bullets and some had cuts," he said. "My two nephews, their heads were cut off. One was six years old and the other was nine years old. My sister-in-law was also shot with a gun."

A27-year-old survivor from the village told Fortify Rights "some people were beheaded and many were cut... when we saw that, we just ran out of the house".

"The situation is dire," said Matthew Smith, Fortify Rights' chief executive officer.

The Myanmar government says almost 400 people have been killed in clashes since Islamic militants from a group called the Arakan Salvation Army attacked 30 police posts on August 25, killing 12 officials. But rights monitors put the death toll in the thousands.

Myanmar security forces responded to the August attacks with a brutal counter-offensive they called "cleansing operations" that forced almost 40,000 Rohingya to flee to the border with Bangladesh in the past week. Thousands more arriving at the border each day.

Human Rights Watch said on Saturday that new satellite imagery shows hundreds of buildings have been destroyed during the past week, including the "total destruction" of villages.

The New York-based group said numerous refugees who have fled villages in Rakhine, home to 1.1 million stateless and long persecuted Rohingya Muslims, have told how Myanmar soldiers and police had burnt down their homes and attacked villagers.

Many of those arriving at the border were suffering bullet and other wounds. Bangladesh has refused to open its border posts, leaving about 20,000 Rohingya stranded.

The crisis has widened to the Rakhine capital, south of the conflict areas, where 120,000 already displaced Rohingya are not receiving food supplies or healthcare. UN and aid groups have suspended operations after the government accused them of supporting insurgents.

The United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has urged restraint and calm in the state, cautioning that the situation may otherwise lead to a humanitarian catastrophe.

Other countries, including Australia, have told Myanmar's government led by Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi to ensure the protection of all its citizens.

Chris Lewa from the Rohingya monitoring group The Arakan Project, says it appears Myanmar security forces are trying to drive out a large proportion of the Rohingya population.

The latest bloodshed comes just days after an international commission led by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan warned of more radicalisation if ethnic tensions in Rakine were not addressed.

Late last year, UN investigators detailed mass rapes, killings, brutal beatings, the torching of homes and forced disappearances by Myanmar security forces. The UN said the "devastating cruelty" could amount to crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing.

Ms Suu Kyi's government has repeatedly denied its security forces have been responsible for any serious rights violations and blocked three UN investigators travelling to the country to further investigate.

Shadow foreign minister Penny Wong on Saturday said Labor is "deeply concerned" at the reports of abuses in Myanmar urged the Turnbull government to continue to speak out on human rights in the country.

-- With agencies

Source: http://www.smh.com.au/world/survivors-tell-of-mass-killings-beheadings-as-myanmar-cleansing-operation-underway-20170902-gy9gd8.html.

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