By Kyaw Ye Lynn
Myanmar’s military has been accused of laying mines in western Rakhine state, an international human rights group said on Saturday, as some 420,000 Rohingya Muslim civilians have fled the violence in the country since late August.
Citing evidence such as eyewitness accounts, independent reporting, and photo and video recordings, New York-based Human Rights Watch said on Saturday that the military had laid anti-personnel landmines at key crossing points on Myanmar’s western border with neighboring Bangladesh.
HRW said the landmines laid by soldiers along the border pose a grave risk to Rohingya villagers fleeing the ongoing atrocities.
“The dangers faced by thousands of Rohingya fleeing atrocities in Burma are deadly enough without adding landmines to the mix,” said HRW’s South Asia Director Meenakshi Ganguly, using Myanmar's former name.
“The Burmese military needs to stop using these banned weapons, which kill and maim without distinction,” she said in a statement.
Witnesses told the group that Myanmar military personnel also planted mines on roads inside Rakhine prior to their attacks on predominantly Rohingya villages.
The group interviewed refugees who witnessed soldiers laying antipersonnel mines on roads during an attack on Rohingya villagers.
Mohammad, 39, said he saw a neighbor’s son step on one of the mines laid by the military. “The mine blew his right leg off,” said the statement.
Blast at religious school
Separately, according to media reports, a blast on Friday partially damaged a Muslim religious school in a Rohingya village in Buthidaung Township that had remained largely peaceful amid the recent violence. Myanmar’s government blamed the explosion on militants, but failed to provide any evidence.
Bangladesh’s government recently protested the use of landmines by Myanmar security forces on the border area after a mine blast killed three Rohingya villagers fleeing violence in the Maungdaw area.
Since Aug. 25, more than 421,000 Rohingya have crossed from Myanmar's western state of Rakhine into Bangladesh, according to the UN.
In total, more than 700,000 Rohingya refugees are now believed to be in Bangladesh, including the arrivals since Aug. 25, according to the UN.
The refugees are fleeing a fresh security operation in which security forces and Buddhist mobs have killed men, women and children, looted homes and torched Rohingya villages. According to Bangladeshi Foreign Minister Abul Hasan Mahmood Ali, around 3,000 Rohingya have been killed in the crackdown.
Turkey has been at the forefront of providing aid to Rohingya refugees and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan raised the issue with the UN.
The Rohingya, described by the UN as the world's most persecuted people, have faced heightened fears of attack since dozens were killed in communal violence in 2012.