Blood flowed in the streets

Crime News Service, ANNIE GOWEN : The soldiers arrived in the Myanmar village just after 8 a.m., the villagers said, ready to fight a war.

They fired shots in the air, and then, the villagers claim, turned their guns on fleeing residents, who fell dead and wounded in the monsoon-green rice paddies. The military’s retribution for a Rohingya militant attack on police posts earlier that day had begun.

Mohammed Roshid, a rice farmer, heard the gunfire and fled with his wife and children, but his 80-year-old father, who walks with a stick, wasn’t as nimble. Roshid said he saw a soldier grab Yusuf Ali and slit his throat with such ferocity the old man was nearly decapitated.

“I wanted to go back and save him, but some relatives stopped me because there was so many military,” Roshid, 55, said. “It’s the saddest thing in my life that I could not do anything for my father.”

The Myanmar military’s “clearance operation” in the Maung Nu hamlet and dozens of other villages populated by the country’s ethnic Rohingya minority triggered an exodus of an estimated 400,000 refugees into Bangladesh, an episode the United Nations human rights chief has called “ethnic cleansing.” The tide of refugees is expected to grow in the coming days. The newly arrived refugees – dazed, clutching their belongings, some barefoot in ankle-deep mud – have overflowed an existing camp and put up makeshift shelters. Others simply sit on the roadways, fighting crowds as large relief trucks fling down bags of rice or bottles of water.

Rights groups say it will take months or years to fully chronicle the devastation they are leaving behind in the nation also known as Burma. Satellite photos show widespread burning, witnesses recount soldiers killing civilians, and the government itself said 176 Rohingya villages stand empty. No total death toll is yet available because the area remains sealed by the military.

Nearly a dozen villagers from the Maung Nu hamlet who escaped recounted their last hours in their homes and the long journey that followed. They were interviewed for two days in Kutupalong refugee camp near the Bangladesh border, where they arrived last week. Fortify Rights, a Southeast Asia-focused human rights organization, estimates the death toll in Maung Nu and three nearby villages to be 150.

“I can’t count how many,” said Soe Win, a 10th-grade teacher. “We were all watching what the military did. They slaughtered them one by one. And the blood flowed in the streets.”

The latest wave of violence began Aug. 25, when an emerging group of Rohingya militants, the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, attacked 30 police posts and an army base in Rakhine state, killing 12. The subsequent military crackdown has prompted hundreds of thousands of refugees to leave Buddhist-majority Myanmar, until recently ruled by a military junta where Rohingya have long faced denial of citizenship and other rights.

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