Rohingya protest on first anniversary of Myanmar’s deadly purge

Thousands of Rohingya Muslim refugees marked the one-year anniversary Saturday of a military crackdown that killed thousands and sent hundreds of thousands more fleeing across the Myanmar-Bangladesh border, as the military allegedly burned down entire villages and committed widespread atrocities.

Demanding justice for their murdered relatives and neighbors, more than 15,000 peaceful demonstrators gathered Saturday morning on a hilltop in the Kutupalong refugee camp, which is part of a web of settlements housing about 900,000 Rohingya, most of whom fled neighboring Myanmar over a four-month period, beginning on August 25 of last year.

One protester carried a banner that read “25th August – Black Day.”

The protesters marched through the muddy camp chanting slogans such as “No more genocide, we want justice.”

They also demanded the international community press Myanmar’s government to put on trial those responsible for murder, rape and arson.

That call was echoed by about 100 demonstrators from a group of NGOs who formed a human chain in front of the national press club in Dhaka, Bangladesh’s capital, according to a report in the local, English-language newspaper Daily Star.

The exact number of people killed is unclear but it is believed that at least 6,700 lost their lives, and potentially tens of thousands more.

Rohingyas’ future uncertain

One of the demonstrators was Rashida Begum, who fled her home in Myanmar’s Rakhine state and sought refuge in the Bangladeshi camp, in the town of Cox’s Bazar.

She gave birth to her son eight months ago, while in the camp.

“I am now anxious what my son’s future will be like,” she said. “We are afraid. There is no education here and no hope of education there also… I don’t see any future here and there is also no future there.”

The United Nations has called Myanmar’s military crackdown “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”

The Muslim Rohingya have long existed on the fringes of Myanmar’s Buddhist society.

Many in Myanmar refer disparagingly to the Rohingya as “Bengalis” even though the Rohingya have lived in Myanmar for centuries.

But many Rohingya now doubt they’ll ever be able to return to their homes, as talks between Myanmar, Bangladesh, the UN and international aid organizations continue.

Myanmar has built a series of camps and insists the Rohingya can return. Many refugees believe it won’t be safe to return until Myanmar’s Buddhists accept them as citizens.

“I am afraid that if we are sent back to Burma, they will kill us,” Begum said, referring to Myanmar by its other name. “We will go there to die. If the (Myanmar) government accepts us as Rohingya citizens then we will go, otherwise we will not.”

In recent decades more than 100,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar during periodic fits of violence. There are now more than 1 million Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh.

bik/ng (AP, Reuters, AFP, dpa)

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