The government's purpose in bringing us was to balance the overwhelmingly negative narrative coming from the Rohingya refugees arriving in Bangladesh, who have almost all spoken of a deliberate campaign of destruction by the Myanmar military and Rakhine mobs, and appalling human rights abuses.
But right away these efforts faltered.
We were first taken to a small school in Maungdaw, now crowded with displaced Hindu families. They all had the same story to tell of Muslims attacking, of fleeing in fear. Oddly, Hindus who have fled to Bangladesh all say they were attacked by local Rakhine Buddhists, because they resemble Rohingyas.
In the school we were accompanied by armed police and officials. Could they speak freely? One man started to tell me how soldiers had been firing at his village, and he was quickly corrected by a neighbour.
A woman in an orange, lacy blouse and distinctive grey and mauve longyi was especially animated about the abuses by Muslims.
We were then taken to a Buddhist temple, where a monk described Muslims burning down their own homes, nearby. We were given photographs catching them in the act. They looked strange.
Men in white haji caps posed as they set light to the palm-thatch roof. Women wearing what appeared to be lacy tablecloths on their heads melodramatically waved swords and machetes. Later I found that one of the women was in fact the animated Hindu woman from the school, and I saw that one of the men had also been present in among the displaced Hindu.
They had faked the photos to make it look as though Muslims were doing the burning.
We spotted black smoke billowing out of some trees, over the rice fields. It was another village going up, right by the road. And the fires had only just started. We all shouted at our police escort to stop the van. When they did, we just ran, leaving our bewildered government minder behind. The police came with us, but then declared it was unsafe to enter the village. So we went ahead of them.
The sound of burning and crackling was everywhere. Women's clothing, clearly Muslim, was strewn on the muddy path. And there were muscular young men, holding swords and machetes, standing on the path, baffled by the sight of 18 sweaty journalists rushing towards them. They tried to avoid being filmed, and two of them dashed further into the village, bringing out the last of their group and making a hasty exit.
They said they were Rakhine Buddhists. One of my colleagues managed a quick conversation with one of them, who admitted they had set the houses on fire, with the help of the police.
As we walked in, we could see the roof of the madrassa has just been set alight. School texts with Arabic script had been thrown outside. An empty plastic jug, reeking of petrol, had been left on the path.
The village was called Gawdu Thar Ya. It was a Muslim village. There was no sign of the inhabitants. The Rakhine men who had torched the village walked out, past our police escort, some carrying household items they had looted.
The burning took place close to a number of large police barracks. No-one did anything to stop it.
Myanmar government, BBC 3 Comments
[9/12/2017 7:22:12 AM]
Fundie Index: 7
Submitted By: A'isha