Rohingya flee no man's land after Myanmar threat


Hundreds of Rohingya living in no man's land have left their makeshift camp and crossed into Bangladesh after soldiers from Myanmar used loudspeakers to threaten them, community leaders said yesterday.

Around 6,000 Rohingya have been living on a thin stretch of land between the two countries since fleeing Myanmar in the wake of a brutal military crackdown on the Muslim minority in late August. They were among the first to flee Myanmar when the violence erupted last year and set up makeshift shelters in no man's land in the weeks before Bangladesh agreed to let the Rohingya into the country.

In recent weeks, they have come under pressure from soldiers who have stepped up patrols along the barbed wire border fence just yards away from the camp and broadcast messages using loudhailers ordering the Rohingya to leave.

Community leader Dil Mohammad said the messages had spread panic through the camp. "We can't now sleep peacefully. Most of the Rohingya in the camps now want to flee and take shelter in Bangladesh," Mohammad said. "Around 150 families have already left the camp for Bangladesh as they were afraid they might be forcefully sent back to Rakhine," he told AFP, referring to the area of Myanmar where the Rohingya used to live.

One border guard Bangladesh official said the Myanmar soldiers were playing the announcement at least 10 to 15 times a day. In it, they urge the Rohingya to leave, saying the land they are on is under their jurisdiction and threatening them with prosecution if they remain.

While Bangladesh and Myanmar talk of repatriating the refugees, the influx continues. Some days, 200 people cross the border, while on others a few dozen make the perilous journey. So far in February, more than 2,500 have entered the overflowing camps in Bangladesh. But Rohingya leaders bluntly refuse to return. The U.N. says anyone who goes back must be a volunteer, while Myanmar shows no sign of accepting the Rohingya as full citizens.

At least 9,000 Rohingya were killed in Rakhine state from Aug. 25 to Sept. 24, according to Doctors without Borders. In a report last December, the global humanitarian group said the deaths of 71.7 percent or 6,700 Rohingya were caused by violence. They include 730 children below the age of 5. The U.N. has described the systematic violence by Myanmar against Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine state as possible genocide and ethnic cleansing but has stopped short of outright accusing the army of war crimes.

The stateless Rohingya have been the target of communal violence and vicious anti-Muslim sentiment in mainly Buddhist Myanmar for years. Myanmar has denied citizenship to Rohingya since 1982 and excludes them from the 135 ethnic groups it officially recognizes, which effectively renders them stateless. They have long faced discrimination and persecution with many Buddhists in Myanmar calling them "Bengalis" and saying they migrated illegally from Bangladesh, even though they have lived in the country for generations.

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