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9423News from Burma/Myanmar: Rohingya and Buddhists remain divided

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  • Zafar Khan
    Oct 16, 2012
      Rohingya and Buddhists remain divided
      Mutual distrust lingers between two communities months after violence in western Myanmar.
      Last Modified: 13 Sep 2012 12:33


      About 60,000 Muslim Rohingya communities are still staying in relief camps after they fled their homes due to violence in June.

      The government was forced to declare a state of emergency after fighting between Buddhists and Muslims in Rakhine state left at least 80 people dead.

      Even as the two parties seek reconciliation, mutual distrust lingers, thus making the Rohingya's efforts to return to their homes unlikely.

      Al Jazeera’s Wayne Hay reports from Sittwe in western Myanmar.

      Monks stage anti-Rohingya march in Myanmar
      Hundreds take to the streets in solidarity with President Thein Sein's plan to send the Rohingya to another country.
      Last Modified: 02 Sep 2012 19:16


      Hundreds of Buddhist monks in Myanmar have staged a rally in support of President Thein Sein's proposal to send the members of the Rohingya minority group to another country.

      Sunday's rally in Mandalay, the country's second largest city, is the latest indication of deep-seated sentiment against the Rohingya after violence with ethnic Rakhine Buddhists in June left at least 83 people dead and tens of thousands displaced.

      The monks held a banner saying, "Save your motherland Myanmar by supporting the president", while others criticised United Nations human rights envoy Tomas Ojea Quintana, who has faced accusations that he is biased in favour of the Rohingya.

      The leader of the march, a monk named Wirathu, told the AFP news agency that the protest was to "let the world know that Rohingya are not among Myanmar's ethnic groups at all".

      Wirathu was jailed in 2003 for distributing anti-Muslim literature. He was given a 25-year sentence but released in January this year under an amnesty.

      The monks say they will demonstrate and march for the next three days and expect many more people to join them.

      Persecuted minority

      The United Nations has referred to the Rohingya, widely reviled by the Buddhist majority in Myanmar, as among the most persecuted people on Earth.

      The Rohingya have been denied citizenship even though many of their families have lived in Myanmar for generations.

      Myanmar has denied a crackdown on Muslims and launched an inquiry into the violence, while Thein Sein has accused Buddhist monks, politicians and other ethnic Rakhine figures of kindling hatred towards the Rohingya in a report sent to parliament last month.

      However, in comments to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres, published on his official website in July, he suggested it was "impossible to accept the illegally entered Rohingya, who are not our ethnicity" and mooted sending the group to a third country or UN administered camps.

      The proposal was quickly opposed by the UN refugee agency.

      Rights groups claim the government did little to stop the violence initially and then turned its security forces on the Rohingya with targeted killings, rapes, mass arrests and torture.

      Myanmar considers the Rohingya to be illegal migrants from Bangladesh but Bangladesh also rejects them, rendering them stateless.

      The UN estimates that 800,000 Rohingya live in Myanmar and the country's president has said the trouble in Rakhine state is an internal affair of the country and should not be internationalised.

      Myanmar scraps Islamic group's office plan
      OIC refused permission to set up liaison office to aid displaced Rohingya Muslims after protests by Buddhist monks.
      Last Modified: 15 Oct 2012 15:47


      Myanmar's government says it will not allow the Organisation of Islamic Co-operation (OIC) group to open a liaison office after thousands of Buddhist monks and laymen marched in protest against the plan.

      Myanmar and the OIC agreed last month to open an office to provide aid for Muslims displaced by the fighting.

      The information ministry said on its website pn Monday that the opening of the office would not be allowed because it was not wanted by Myanmar's people.

      "We cannot accept any OIC office here," Oattamathara, a monk leading the protests in Mandalay, Myanmar's economic and cultural hub, told the AFP news agency.

      A statement posted on the presidential website reflected this: "The government will not allow the opening of an OIC office as it is not in accordance with the desire of people."

      Religious tensions are running high following Buddhist-Rohingya clashes in June in western Rakhine which left dozens of people dead and forced tens of thousands to seek refuge in temporary shelters.

      Monks were at the vanguard of a 2007 pro-democracy uprising that was brutally crushed by the former junta.

      They have been involved in a series of protests against the OIC and Myanmar's 800,000 stateless Rohingya, who are described by the UN as one of the world's most persecuted minorities.

      Members of the 57-member OIC toured Rakhine last month after accusations from rights groups that security forces opened fire on Rohingya during the unrest, prompting concern across the Islamic world.

      Myanmar's Rohingya, who speak a dialect similar to neighbouring Bangladesh's Bengali language, are seen by the government and many Burmese as illegal immigrants.

      The tensions in Rakhine have spread to Bangladesh, where police said recently they had arrested nearly 300 people in connection with a wave of violence targeting Buddhist homes and temples.

      Burma's Rohingya Muslims: Aung San Suu Kyi's blind spot
      They suffer appalling violence and discrimination, but so far Aung San Suu Kyi has been notably silent on their plight


      Aung San Suu Kyi's continued silence on the plight of Burma's Rohingya Muslims is sparking concern that the Nobel Peace Prize winner is failing to live up to her stature as one of the world's most celebrated pro-democracy campaigners.

      Scores of people have been killed and tens of thousands have been made homeless during three months of inter-communal rioting between Buddhist and Muslim gangs in western Burma. Although there have been deaths on all sides, the Rohingya Muslims have been hit disproportionately hard in a state where they are already routinely discriminated against.

      Throughout her two decades in jail and under house arrest, Ms Suu Kyi earned herself worldwide adoration for her refusal to bend to Burma's military junta and her steadfast criticism of all human rights abuses inside her country.

      But "The Lady" has remained uncharacteristically silent on the persecution of Burma's Rohingya, knowing that speaking out would risk alienating many of her political allies who are vehemently opposed to them.

      Diplomats and human rights groups have grown increasingly dismayed by her silence. One senior British minister told The Independent: "Frankly, I would expect her to provide moral leadership on this subject but she hasn't really spoken about it at all. She has great moral authority in Burma and while it might be politically difficult for her to take a supportive stance towards the Rohingya, it is the right thing to do."

      During her visit to Britain in June, the Foreign Secretary, William Hague, privately urged Ms Suu Kyi to take a more proactive role in seeking reconciliation. The Independent understands that the matter was raised again by officials in Rangoon after Ms Suu Kyi was appointed chair of a committee dealing with the rule of law, peace and security. But so far their pleadings have fallen on deaf ears.

      The Rohingya are a deeply unpopular cause inside Burma, where much of the country's majority Buddhist population view them as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. The UN tells a different story and describes them as among the world's most persecuted people. Despite having lived in Burma for generations they are denied citizenship, need permission to marry or have more than two children and must notify the authorities if they wish to travel outside their villages.

      Such policies were enforced by Burma's military but there is also little support for the Rohingya among Burma's pro-democracy opposition groups, with some of the so-called Generation 88 leaders among the most outspoken Rohingya critics.

      Western Burma has long simmered with inter-ethnic tensions between the region's 800,000 Rohingya and their Arakanese Buddhist neighbours, but things came to a head in early June following a spate of tit-for-tat killings. The violence was initially sparked by allegations that a gang of Rohingya men had raped an Arakanese woman. Ten Muslims were lynched in response, sparking days of rioting. There have been strong suggestions that Burma's security forces actively encouraged – or at least turned a blind eye – as Rohingya were burned out of their homes. Journalists who have recently travelled there say the Rohingya have suffered the worst of the violence, with scores killed and an estimated 68,000 living in appalling conditions after they were forced out of their homes.

      Whether Ms Suu Kyi will heed calls to use her influence in stemming the violence is difficult to predict.

      "Politically, Aung San Suu Kyi has absolutely nothing to gain from opening her mouth on this," Maung Zarni, a Burma expert and visiting fellow at the London School of Economics, told the Associated Press. "She is no longer a political dissident trying to stick to her principles. She's a politician and her eyes are fixed on the prize, which is the 2015 majority Buddhist vote."

      Anna Roberts, the executive director of Burma Campaign UK, said: "This is an incredibly serious situation and it continues to deteriorate at a very fast rate.

      "There has not been anything like the international response that would be expected for a crisis on this scale."

      Rohingya: The persecuted

      For more than 30 years the Burmese government has denied citizenship to the 800,000 Rohingya people living within its borders, leaving them without a country of their own and leading the UN to describe them as one of the world's most persecuted minorities.

      Legend holds that they are the descendants of Arab traders shipwrecked on the coast of Burma in the 8th century, and their dispersal across southeast Asia points to some kind of seafaring heritage in centuries past. Now, thanks to their language—a Bengali dialect similar to one spoken in southeast Bangladesh—the Rohingya are seen as illegal immigrants by Rangoon and many ordinary Burmese, prompting many to attempt to flee to third countries in rickety boats.

      Tens of thousands have sought refuge in makeshift camps along the border with Bangladesh following clashes with Buddhist locals, sparked by reports that an Arakan Buddhist woman had been raped by three Rohingya men.

      Julius Cavendish

      Myanmar to examine Muslim-Buddhist violence
      Government forms 27-member commission to find causes of June clashes and suggest ways for for "peaceful coexistence".
      Last Modified: 18 Aug 2012 09:20


      Myanmar's government has formed a commission to investigate the causes of recent sectarian violence between Muslim Rohingya and ethnic Rakhine Buddhists, in which at least 78 people were killed.

      President Thein Sein's website announced the commission on Friday, more than two months after the June clashes that also displaced tens of thousands of people.

      The nation's authorities have faced heavy criticism from rights groups after the deadly unrest in western Rakhine state raised international concerns about the Rohingya's fate inside Myanmar

      The 27-member commission, which includes religious leaders, artists and former dissidents, will "expose the real cause of the incident" and suggest ways ahead, state mouthpiece New Light of Myanmar said.

      The newspaper said the commission will aim to establish the causes of the June violence, the number of casualties on both sides and recommend measures to ease tensions and find "ways for peaceful coexistence".

      The commission is expected to call witnesses and be granted access to the areas rocked by the violence, which saw villages razed and has left an estimated 70,000 people - from both communities - in government-run camps and shelters.

      'Sensitive issue'

      Sein, who has introduced political reforms to Myanmar since taking over as president last year following decades of repressive military rule, has rejected calls from the United Nations and human rights groups for independent investigators, saying the unrest is an internal affair.

      "As an independent commission was formed inside the country... it is a right decision which showed that we can create our own fate of the country," Aye Maung, the chairman of Rakhine Nationalities Development Party, told the AFP news agency.

      The commission will be headed by a retired Religious Affairs Ministry official and include former student activists, a former UN officer and representatives from political parties and Islamic and other religious organisations.

      They include several government critics who served jail time as political prisoners, including the widely respected activist and comedian Zarganar, and Ko Ko Gyi, who helped lead a failed student uprising against the former junta in 1988.

      "The president wants to show the international community that he is trying his best to deal with this extraordinarily sensitive issue," said Hkun Htun Oo, who also was appointed to the body.

      Hkun Htun Oo chairs an ethnic minority political party, the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy, and was released from prison in January after a seven-year term.

      In June, the government established a committee to investigate the sectarian strife. But its findings, originally expected by the end of that month, were never released by President Sein.

      'Underlying causes'

      The new commission is tasked with proposing solutions to the longstanding hatred between the two communities and is to submit its findings by September 17.

      UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon welcomed the establishment of the commission, which "could make important contributions to restoring peace and harmony in the state and in creating a conducive environment for a more inclusive way forward to tackle the underlying causes of the violence, including the condition of the Muslim communities in Rakhine," UN deputy spokesman Eduardo del Buey said late on Friday.

      Decades of discrimination have left the Rohingya stateless, and they are viewed by the United Nations as one of the world's most persecuted minorities.

      A statement issued on behalf of foreign ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which Myanmar will chair in 2014, pledged regional support to "humanitarian assistance in Rakhine State".

      Welcoming moves by Myanmar to address the situation, the statement said "harmony" among the nation's different communities should be an "integral part of Myanmar's ongoing democratisation and reform process".

      In Burma, violence against Muslim minority stumbles into the spotlight
      A fake photo that went viral online has drawn attention to the genuine plight of the Rohingya Muslims refugees in Burma
      Azad Essa
      guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 14 August 2012 09.00 BST


      A few weeks ago, a picture showing hundreds of dark-skinned men splayed across a beach was passed around on Facebook. The men appeared to be either asleep, or more likely, dead. They lay against each other, their faces averted from the camera, while men in fatigues holding semi-automatic weapons towered over them. The caption read: "Continuity of massacre of Muslims of Burma by Buddhists. More than 1,000 killed yesterday. Please share."

      After some probing, the photograph turned out to be a fake. But all fabrications aside, there actually is a bona fide crisis unfolding along the Burma and Bangladesh border – despite the poppycock on social media, the sham did raise questions that traditional media have largely ignored.

      Violence between Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims in Burma's Rakhine region erupted in June after the alleged rape and murder of a Buddhist girl by Muslim men. The scale of violence has led to scores of deaths and the mass displacement of tens of thousands of people. After a state of emergency was declared in the province, the entry of Burma's security forces lent another dimension to this conflict. Amnesty International said in early August that Rakhine Buddhists, together with security forces, purposefully meted out devastating violence against the Muslim minority.

      This violence is only the latest chapter in a long history of state-sponsored repression against the Rohingya. It began when Burma began its project of "Burmanisation" in the 1950s, with its lofty aims for racial purity and the nationalisation of resources following the end of British rule. The minority was targeted in pogroms in 1978, stripped of their citizenship in 1982 and became the perfect foil for rampant human rights abuse, including slave labour and torture, that led to a second exodus into Bangladesh in 1991-1992.

      But not only are the Rohingya a disenfranchised people, they are dark-skinned Muslims with little relevance, representation and significance to anyone. Unable to deal with a matter the much-vaunted Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi has not endorsed, the western world has tiptoed around the issue. Aung San Suu Kyi's silence is evidently an attempt to placate her constituency ahead of general elections in 2015, and to criticise her now would be like admonishing Nelson Mandela in the run-up to the 1994 election in South Africa. But unlike South Africa in the 1990s, Burma is not on the verge of some tremendous political shakeup; while the Rohingya are being sacrificed as collateral damage in the greater project of the democratisation of Burma, Aung San Suu Kyi is missing an extraordinary opportunity to live up to her reputation.

      Meanwhile, in that parallel universe known as the "Muslim world", the Rohingyas have joined Palestine, Kashmir, Iraq and Afghanistan on the list of flagship Muslim causes. In a region that is home to the world's greatest concentration of Muslims, the delayed reaction of neighbouring Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei is startling. Last week, Bangladesh, another Muslim country, ordered three NGOs to stop providing food and other humanitarian assistance to Rohingyas in the border area, claiming it did not want to encourage more asylum seekers to its shores. Already 40,000 unregistered Rohingyas live in makeshift camps in Bangladesh, and according to the UN Refugee Agency, the latest violence will result in a greater influx of people – whether Bangladesh likes it or not.

      While Burma's Muslim neighbours struggle to respond, Saudi Arabia has thrown money at the problem. It has fallen to Turkey to act decisively by further extending its newly found benevolence to the Islamic world. As images of the Turkish prime minister's wife sobbing as she witnessed the effects of the violence herself begin to be passed around online – further cementing the Rohingya cause to the long list of Muslims' suffering – Muslim prayers have bemoaned the global silence as proof of the grand conspiracy against Islam. And yet little is being done by Muslims to actually reverse the treatment of their purported brethren themselves.

      It all makes for a rather disempowering picture, but it doesn't have to. Given how fast a fake picture can spread its way across the world, imagine what we could do with a little engagement.

      Myanmar's Rohingya languish in refugee camps
      Exclusive report from Rakhine state where thousands have been displaced by ethno-sectarian violence.
      Last Modified: 14 Aug 2012 17:17


      Tens of thousands of displaced people continue to live in refugee camps in Myanmar's Rakhine state after clashes between Rohingya Muslims and Rakhine Buddhists killed dozens of combatants in June.

      Both sides accuse the other group of having committed atrocities during the conflict.

      Al Jazeera has gained exclusive access to camps around Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine state, where the United Nations estimates that 70,000 people have been left homeless.

      Al Jazeera's Florence Looi reports from Sittwe.

      UAE to help Rohingya Muslims
      Monday, August 13, 2012
      From Print Edition


      DUBAI: The persecution of the Rohingya Muslim minority in Myanmar remains a tragic situation not only for the ethnic groups involved in the fighting but also for the thousands of people who have been killed, injured or displaced. The UAE has responded to the call for help and will send immediate aid to Myanmar.

      President His Highness Shaikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan on Sunday ordered the Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan Humanitarian Foundation to urgently send relief aid to Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, following the bloody encounters between Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims.

      The order came after Foreign Minister Shaikh Abdullah Bin Zayed Al Nahyan on Friday sent a letter to the international community, seeking support to end the plight of the Muslim minority in the country.

      Shaikh Abdullah appealed to the international community to put pressure on the Myanmarese government to stop the sectarian strife that has wreaked havoc in the western part of the country.

      Myanmarese expatriates in the UAE have expressed their concern about the rising tension back home especially during the month of Ramadan.

      Noor Mohammad Tandamiya told reporters that his family had decided to leave their home in the Mongdu district and go to the city for refuge.

      “The Buddhist extremists would not allow us to go to work, nor to the mosque to pray. They would kill our families if they insist on going to the mosque and the government is not doing anything about it,” Tandamiya said.

      “We are having difficulty even just to break our fast. There’s no food, no water. Even if we have money, we cannot buy anything,” he added.

      Meanwhile, the United Nations (UN) on Friday issued an appeal for $32.5 million (Dh119 million) in humanitarian aid for people displaced due to the clashes.

      Around 60,000 people have been forced to flee their homes in the Kachin State when fighting erupted over a year ago between government troops and the Kachin Independence Organisation.

      Over the western region at Rakhine State, at least 77 people have died and 64,000 people were displaced when clashes between Buddhist and Muslim community broke out in June.

      Saudi Arabia on Sunday promised to send $50 million in aid for the Muslim minority, the Saudi state news agency reported.

      The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has asked the Myanmar government to allow aid agencies better access to the conflict areas. Local media reports have highlighted the lack of medical supplies in government camps where an estimated 40,000 injured Muslims are being taken care of. Food, reports said, was just enough to ‘survive.’

      Saudi king sends £32m to embattled Burma Muslims
      MONDAY 13 AUGUST 2012


      King Abdullah has ordered $50m (£32m) in aid be sent to a Muslim minority in Burma, which a human rights group said had been targeted by the authorities since sectarian riots in June.

      A report on the Saudi state news agency said the Rohingya community had been "exposed to many violations of human rights including ethnic cleansing, murder, rape and forced displacement".

      Human Rights Watch said the Rohingya people had suffered mass arrests, killings and rapes at the hands of the Burmese security forces. There are at least 800,000 Rohingya in Burma, but they are not recognised as one of the country's many ethnic and religious groups.

      Burma has said it exercised "maximum restraint" in quelling riots in June. Saudi Arabia sees itself as a guardian of global Muslim interests.

      'Mass graves' for Myanmar's Rohingya
      Exclusive report from Rakhine state exposes an entire region divided by religious and racial discrimination.
      Last Modified: 09 Aug 2012 05:33


      A recent journey to western Myanmar has revealed a provincial capital divided by hatred and thousands of its Muslim residents terrorised by what they say is a state-sponsored campaign to segregate the population along ethno-sectarian lines.

      Decades-old tension between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims in coastal Rakhine state exploded with new ferocity in June, leaving at least 78 people dead and tens of thousands homeless.

      Exclusive reporting conducted last week in the highly restricted region suggests that the long-term fallout from recent violence could be even more damaging than the bloodshed.

      The United Nations has estimated that 80,000 people are still displaced around the cities of Sittwe and Maungdaw, and international rights groups continue to denounce Myanmar for its role in the conflict.

      As it stands, any thought of reconciliation between local Buddhists and Muslims appears a distant dream.

      Many Rohingya have fled the polarised region, fearing revenge attacks and increasing discrimination. Their status has sparked international concern and disagreement.

      Rights groups have condemned the violence. The Myanmar government has denied any wrongdoing, while neighbouring Bangladesh has rejected an influx of refugees and slashed access to aid.

      For those Rohingya caught up in the dispute, the day-to-day situation is rapidly slipping from desperate to dire.

      Social 'non-engagement'

      In Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine state, the scars of recent conflict were everywhere.

      Burned homes, shops and entire markets dot the Buddhist-majority city of nearly 200,000 people. Traditionally Muslim neighbourhoods, such as Shwe Pyar, Nazi Konetan and Mawlike, were deserted, locked up, or living in deep secrecy.

      Prominent mosques and buildings, many of which were burned in arson attacks during the violence, now bear signs from the municipality reading, "No one is allowed to enter". Locals told Al Jazeera the properties have been taken over by the state. In some areas of Sittwe, the devastation from the violence that peaked in June is comparable to Cyclone Nargis, which struck Myanmar in 2008.

      Most striking was the almost completely absence of the Rohingya population that once made up nearly one-third of the city's residents, and the largest portion of its working class.

      The impact of that loss was obvious. The Rohingya who worked as the city's ever-present rickshaw drivers and porters at the jetty and markets are now gone. There are no signs of Muslims at the airport, the boat that shuttles ferry passengers to outlying islands, or even the local busses that run from Buthidaung to Maungdaw, two Rohingya-majority states.

      Local Hindus, and residents who appear to be of Indian descent, have taken to applying bindis on their foreheads to avoid being mistaken for Rohingya.

      A range of interviews found that Buddhist Rakhines had collectively decided to practice a policy of "non-engagement" with the Rohingya. In practical terms, this meant a ban on businesses, as well as controlling access to food, medicine, travel and communication.

      According to local sources, Rohingya are no longer allowed to enter the city's largest market or to travel from town to town.

      'Facing starvation'

      Outside Sittwe, where the fleeing Rohingya had gathered, the situation was worse. The village of Bhumei, a few kilometres to the west, was overrun by thousands of refugees who said they were forced from the city, first by mobs, then by security troops.

      By local accounts, this camp is the biggest of the camps that have sprung up to shelter the displaced city dwellers.

      The refugees endured the current monsoon rains in mud-floored tents, living mostly on bags of rice provided by the UN's World Food Programme. There is no clinic, proper bathroom or clean water, as witnessed by Al Jazeera.

      The camp is surrounded by all hours by security troops. Many wonder if the soldiers are there to protect them from attacks from the Rakhine, or keep them under guard.

      "Many of the refugees who fled from inside the city are manual labourers and daily wagers. We are having great difficulties just surviving each day. We fear what will happen to us if we go back to the town. We can't go there yet. Those who risked going back to their homes and shops were prevented by authorities on security grounds," said U Shwe Maung, a Rohingya refugee in Bhumei.

      "We are sharing food with each other. We are now facing starvation. Even though we are provided food by the WFP, that is not enough for such a huge number of people like this," he added.

      The Rohingya now forced to live in the Bhumei camp appeared desperate. One woman was crying in the street with her rain-soaked children on her lap. She said they were sick and there was no clinic to look after them or food to eat.

      "We want to go back to our homes if the officials provide security for us," said Mahmud Shiko, a Rohingya in Bhumei.

      "The police told me I'd find nothing back there if I return, but I still want to go back."

      Military accused

      The wave of violence in June was sparked by the alleged rape and murder of a Buddhist woman by three Muslim men in a Rakhine village.

      Both ethnic communities attacked rival villages and neighbourhoods in the days that followed, destroying and torching homes, businesses and holy sites, according to a Human Rights Watch (HRW) report released last week.

      The HRW report denounced both sides for the cycle of reprisal attacks, estimating that the death toll was far higher than the Myanmar government total of 78.

      HRW also blasted Myanmar's security forces, sent in by the government, for standing down while the Rakhine and Rohingya groups battled each other. As the attacks escalated and thousands of Rohingya rioted, the report said that police and paramilitary troops fired on Rohingya protesters.

      In an outlying area, according to the report, soldiers shot at Rohingya villagers as they tried to escape and looted food and valuables from their emptied homes.

      Benjamin Zawacki, a Bangkok-based researcher for Amnesty International, described the violence as "primarily one-sided, with Muslims generally and Rohingya specifically the targets and victims".

      HRW says hundreds of men and boys were rounded up in mass arrests, their whereabouts still unknown. Informal Rohingya estimates put the number of missing and arrested in the thousands.

      On the hushed streets of Sittwe and in the tent city outside Bhumei, Rohinyga speak of the brutality of the Rakhine and the Myanmar forces, and of the many loved ones still missing from the conflict.

      Animosity abounds

      The alleged victims are not the only combatants talking about the violence.

      In a series of interviews with off-duty security officers at bars and restaurants in Sittwe, a picture emerged of what some Myanmar military and police think about the Rohingya.

      An ethnic Rakhine soldier from the 352 Light Infantry Battalion claimed he and his comrades killed "300 Rohingya" from Myothugyi village near the area of Three Mile between Buthidaung and Maundaw townships on the night of June 8.

      The soldier, whose name has been withheld, explained that the killings took place when hundreds of Muslims blocked and tried to overwhelm the truck carrying his unit. The victims were unaware the truck, a civilian vehicle used for road construction, was carrying soldiers.

      "I put the butt of my gun here at [the right side of] my waist and shot down many Muslims while keeping my left hand on magazines so that I could quickly fill up my bullets," said the soldier, now stationed at a village outside Maungdaw.

      "There were so many dead bodies that we even had to call in a bulldozer to make a mass grave."

      Another ethnic Rakhine soldier boasted that he and his troops killed uncountable numbers of Rohingya in the village of Nyaung Chaung in the countryside around Maungdaw during the early June crackdown.

      "We have even still kept this from our [commanding] officers," he said.

      It was impossible to verify these claims. Even so, the uncaring nature of the statements shows the animosity that some who wield power have for the Rohingya.
      Such anger is easily apparent on the streets.

      An educated Rakhine woman, visiting Maungdaw from the US where she has lived for 20 years, spoke bitterly when asked if the human rights she enjoys should be granted to Rohingya to ease tension between the communities.

      "Human rights are for human being only. Are Rohingya humans?" she told Al Jazeera.

      "We are the house owners and they are the guests. When the guests attempt to drive out the homeowners, human rights are no longer meant for them."

      Government 'solution'

      The Myanmar government has strongly denied accusations of abuse from rights groups.

      "The government has exercised maximum restraint in order to restore law and order in those particular places," read a statement released on Monday.

      The government also denounced "attempts by some quarters to politicise and internationalise this situation as a religious issue", a sidelong reference to the criticism emerging from Muslim countries, such as Indonesia and Saudi Arabia, over the assaults on Rohingya.

      Then again, the government has, over the years, denied the entire existence of a "Rohingya problem", and even the Rohingya themselves.

      Myanmar's formerly military government and its state-run media have strictly avoided the word "Rohingya", referring to the group instead as "Bengali Muslims", implying that the people are not indigenous and have migrated to Myanmar a fewl decades ago. The Myanmar immigration minister has repeatedly said that there are no Rohingyas in Myanmar.

      Last month, in his meeting with a UN High Commissioner for Refugees delegation, President Thein Sein said refugee camps or deportation was the only answer for nearly the country estimate 800,000 to a million Rohingya Muslims.

      "We will take responsibility for our ethnic people but it is impossible to accept the illegally entered Rohingyas, who are not our ethnicity," he told UNHCR chief Antonio Guterres, according to the president's official website.

      The former general said the "only solution" was to send the Rohingyas to refugee camps run by UNHCR.

      "We will send them away if any third country would accept them. This is what we are thinking is the solution to the issue."

      Uncertain future

      The government, when it does discuss the issue, blames the resentment and fear that the Rakhine have for the Rohingya on a potential population explosion that would see the group seize power.

      Outside its capital city, Rakhine state is nearly two-thirds Rohingya. The adjacent states of Maungdaw and Buthidaung are already majority Rohingya, according to official figures.

      The population fears, possibly stemming from cultural stereotypes, are an issue that 72-year-old Rohingya elder Sayyad Abdullah can appreciate. He has four wives, 28 children and, in his words, "lots" of grandchildren.

      Last week, authorities cited Abdullah's family and quoted him in press briefings about the so-called population explosion. Abdullah rejected any desire for an autonomous state and said he was open to government measure to curb Rohingya families to one wife and two children, but not at the expense of dignity.

      "We just desire equal rights like the Rakhine and the Burmese, and we want nothing more than a normal life," he told Al Jazeera.

      Other Rohingya leaders say the perception of their community is wrong, and racist. The majority are impoverished farmers and labourers, but some Rohingya hold university degrees and own many businesses in Sittwe and Yangon.

      Thein Zaw and Kyaw Hla, who are now overseeing the distribution of food aid at the Bhumei refugee camp, belong to the wealthiest class of Sittwe. They claim their forefathers have lived in Rakhine state for 350 years.

      As it stands, the vast majority of Rohingya are denied Myanmar citizenship, cannot own businesses, marry or relocate. The president's proposal to relegate the Rohingya population to UNHCR-run camps seems unsustainable and humiliating.

      Whether this long-simmering dispute is founded in race, religion or population, matters little to the Rohingya stuck in camps such as Bhumei. Nor to the Rakhine who live in majority Rohingya areas and claim to live in constant fear of attack.

      Some scholars, such as Myanmar expert Bertil Linter, claim the animosity between Rakhine and Rohingya began during the Second World War, when Buddhists backed the Japanese and Muslims the British. Other experts say the rift began centuries before.

      In either case, unless the government or international bodies intervene, the violence and discrimination seem destined to continue.

      A freelance reporter contributed this report to Al Jazeera from Myanmar. He is not being named for his own safety.