About 400 people have died in violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine state over the past week, military officials say, almost all of them Muslim insurgents.
A military Facebook page reported the numbers, saying 370 were insurgents, and 29 killed were either police or civilians.
Members of the minority Rohingya Muslim community, however, have reported attacks on their villages that left scores dead and forced thousands to flee.
Human Rights Watch said Saturday that satellite imagery recorded Thursday in the Rohingya Muslim village of Chein Khar Li in Rathedaung township shows the destruction of 700 buildings. The rights group says 99 percent of the village was destroyed and the damage signatures are consistent with fire, including the presence of large burn scars and destroyed tree cover.
“Yet this is only one of 17 sites that we’ve located where burnings have taken place,” said Phil Robertson, HRW’s deputy Asia director.
The United Nations says at least 38,000 people have fled from Myanmar into Bangladesh, most of them Rohingya. Community leaders in Bangladesh have told VOA that some Hindus, also a minority in Myanmar, have crossed the border.
Robertson said the U.N.’s Fact Finding Mission should get the “full cooperation” of Myanmar’s government “to fulfill their mandate to assess human rights abuses in Rakhine State and explore ways to end attacks and ensure accountability.”
HRW said Rohingya refugees who have recently fled from Myanmar into Bangladesh told the agency that Myanmar soldiers and police had burned down their homes and carried out armed attacks on villagers. The agency said many of the Rohingya refugees had “recent bullet and shrapnel wounds.”
Sources in Bangladesh have told VOA’s Bangla service that as many as 60,000 have crossed the border in recent days.
Struggling to feed displaced
In addition, thousands of people have fled their villages and sought shelter in temples, schools and mosques in other Rakhine towns.
The deputy chairman of the Emergency Relief Committee, Khin Win, told VOA’s Burmese service by phone that 800 people are sheltering at two Buddhist monasteries in the town of Maungdaw.
“Security in Maungdaw is not even safe and some fled to Min Byar, Sittwe and Yathetaung. No one can guarantee for their safety. People fleeing homes increasing and there are a few left in villages. There is only one police outpost in a village and police do not have capability to protect villagers,” he said.
Volunteers were struggling to find food for the displaced, he said.
“We need drinking water, meat, fish and medicines,” he said. The group has gotten rice and donations from other communities but little from the government.
“Government aid agency provided a few bags of beans and instant noodles. Three boxes of instant noodles for 500 people is not effective. Just a superficial help,” he said.
Hiding in forest
Hla Tun, a Rohingya from the village of Alae-Than-Kyaw, told the Burmese service that Muslims cannot rely on security forces for protection or help.
“Our villages are located near rugged coastal area from south of Maungdaw to Alae-Than-Kyaw village. Almost every village has been burned down and people have nowhere to stay. People are hiding in the forest. In order to avoid authorities they can move only during night time to flee to Bangladesh,” Hla Tun said.
The violence began a week ago, when a group called the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army launched a series of attacks on police posts in Rakhine, which is home to most of the Rohingya minority group. The police responded with attacks on villages, to hunt down the insurgents.
Myanmar considers the Rohingya to be migrants from Bangladesh, and not one of the country’s many ethnic minority groups. Rohingya are denied citizenship, even if they can show their families have been in the country for generations.
Sectarian violence between Buddhists and Muslims has flared periodically for more than a decade. Until last month’s attacks, the worst violence was last October, when insurgents attacked several police posts, sparking a military crackdown that sent thousands fleeing to Bangladesh.
The Myanmar government has denied allegations of abuse against the Rohingya and has limited access to Rakhine to journalists and other outsiders; but, the country’s ambassador to the United Nations says the government plans to implement the recommendations from a U.N. commission to improve conditions and end the violence.
Amir Khasru in Bangladesh, VOA's Bangla service and VOA's Burmese service contributed to this report.