YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — For generations, Rohingya Muslims have called Myanmar home. Now, in what appears to be a systematic purge, the minority ethnic group is being wiped off the map.
After a series of attacks by Muslim militants last month, security forces and allied mobs retaliated by burning down thousands of Rohingya homes in the predominantly Buddhist nation.
More than 500,000 people — roughly half their population — have fled to neighboring Bangladesh in the past year, most of them in the last three weeks.
And they are still leaving, piling into wooden boats that take them to sprawling, monsoon-drenched refugee camps in Bangladesh.
In a speech Tuesday, Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi did not address a U.N. statement that the army has engaged in a “textbook case” of ethnic cleansing. Instead, she told concerned diplomats that while many villages were destroyed, more than half were still intact.
U.N. General-Secretary Antonio Guterres told the General Assembly on Tuesday that “I take note” of Suu Kyi’s speech.
“This is the worst crisis in Rohingya history,” said Chris Lewa, founder of the Arakan Project, which works to improve conditions for the ethnic minority, citing the monumental size and speed of the exodus. “Security forces have been burning villages one by one, in a very systematic way. And it’s still ongoing.”
Using a network of monitors, Lewa and her agency are meticulously documenting tracts of villages that have been partially or completely burned down in three townships in northern Rakhine state, where the vast majority of Myanmar’s 1.1 million Rohingya once lived. It’s a painstaking task because there are hundreds of them, and information is almost impossible to verify because the army has blocked access to the area. Satellite imagery released by Human Rights Watch on Tuesday shows massive swaths of scorched landscape and the near total destruction of 214 villages.
The Arakan Project said Tuesday that almost every tract of villages in Maungdaw township suffered some burning, and that almost all Rohingya had abandoned the area.
Sixteen of the 21 Rohingya villages in the northern part of Rathedaung township — in eight village tracts — were targeted. Three camps for Rohingya who were displaced in communal riots five years ago also were torched.
Buthidaung, to the east, so far has been largely spared. It is the only township where security operations appear limited to areas where the attacks by Rohingya militants, which triggered the…