GENEVA – The destruction of homes, livestock, food reserves, crops and even trees in the villages that housed Myanmar Rohingyas shows the intention of making their return impossible, according to a United Nations team that interviewed scores of Rohingya refugees for a report released on Wednesday.
The UN also said there have been indications that antipersonnel landmines have been planted along the border with Bangladesh.
The report said efforts were made to effectively erase signs of memorable landmarks in the geography of the Rohingya memory and landscape in such a way that a return to their lands would yield nothing but a desolate and unrecognizable terrain.
The information gathered underlies allegations that ethnic cleansing has occurred in the northwestern Rakhine state, which houses an estimated 1.2 million people from the Muslim minority Rohingya community.
Since then, 590,000 people have fled to the border town of Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh.
The UN mission not only collected testimonies of atrocities against the Rohingyas in Myanmar, but also credible information on planting anti-personnel landmines along the border likely to prevent the return of refugees, according to Thomas Hunecke, who led the UN team.
The report released Wednesday also belies the official statement by the authorities that stated it was an attack by Rohingya rebels against a police post that unleashed the Myanmar military offensive causing damage to civilians.
The UN team revealed that there are indications that the military campaign against Rohingyas is “well-organized, coordinated and systematic,” and that attacks on police posts by Muslim rebels served only as a pretext.
“Information we have received indicates that days and up to a month before the 25th of August, that the Myanmar security forces imposed further restrictions on access to markets, medical clinics, schools and religious sites,” Karin Friedrich, who was part of the UN mission to Bangladesh, said during a press briefing.
Rohingya men aged 15 to 40 were reportedly arrested by the Myanmar police and detained without any charges, said Friedrich.
Several influential people from the community, including teachers and cultural and religious leaders, were also arrested, she added.
Regarding the possibility of Rohingyas returning to their lands despite the devastation, another member of the mission said that the fear of being trapped in similar camps on the Myanmar side has emerged among the Rohingya community.
“Our ask of (Myanmar’s de facto leader) Aung San Suu Kyi is certainly to immediately stop the violence,” Jyoti Sanghera, head of the Asia and Pacific region of the UN human rights office, said during a press conference, voicing her concern that Rohingya who have fled to Bangladesh might be “incarcerated or detained” on return to Myanmar.
Minimum conditions for their return would include that the Government recognize them as Burmese nationals and creates security zones where their integrity could be guaranteed.
A second UN human rights team is currently at Cox’s Bazar for further inquiries, while the organization is trying to pressure the Myanmar authorities to allow its experts to travel to north of Rakhine.
The Myanmar Government has not responded to the several requests it has received in this regard.