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(Reuters)

Attacks by Rohingya Muslim insurgents on the Myanmar security forces in Rakhine State triggered a response by the army and Buddhist vigilantes so brutal a senior U.N. official denounced it as a textbook example of ethnic cleansing

Days, weeks and months after the Aug. 25 violence, more than 600,000 Rohingya fled to Muslim Bangladesh, trekking over mountains and through forests and rice fields inundated by monsoon rain.

 

Pictures of the Year: Persecuted Rohingya Muslims flee violence in Myanmar
Rohingya refugees stretch their hands to receive aid distributed by local organisations at Balukhali makeshift refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, September 14, 2017. Reuters photographer Danish Siddiqui: “I was going past one of the refugee camps when I stopped to photograph this aid distribution along a road. As the aid distribution got a bit chaotic, volunteers started throwing water bottles from the truck towards the refugees. I placed myself to get the newly made camp in the background as it showed how newly arrived Rohingyas living in these small makeshift shelters were in desperate need of aid.” REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui

 

Many of the refugees were traumatized, exhausted and hungry, some wounded by bullets, knives or clubs, many with burns. Many women said they had been raped.

 

Pictures of the Year: Persecuted Rohingya Muslims flee violence in Myanmar
Rohingya refugees carry their child as they walk through water after crossing the border by boat through the Naf River in Teknaf, Bangladesh, September 7, 2017. Reuters photographer Mohammad Ponir Hossain: “I walked around for an hour on the muddy and very slippery path to get to the river bank. When I reached it I heard the sound of people who had arrived by boats. Because of the mangroves I couldn’t see them properly. After some time I saw more than hundred people come out of the mangroves and start walking into the water with children, elderly people and their belongings. Due to low tide boats were unable to reach to the dry land. This Rohingya couple with a child had to get off the boat into a mangrove first; then walk through the water to reach dry land.” REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain

 

All of the refugees brought accounts of a campaign of murderous violence and arson by the Myanmar security forces and Buddhist civilians that they believed was aimed at driving them out of the country.

 

Mostly Buddhist Myanmar denies the accusations

Myanmar says the rebels responsible for the Aug. 25 attacks on about 30 security posts and an army camp – the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army – are terrorists and it is they who unleashed most of the violence and arson that reduced hundreds of Rohingya villages nestled in emerald-green rice fields to ash.

 

Pictures of the Year: Persecuted Rohingya Muslims flee violence in Myanmar
Hosne Ara, 4, a Rohingya refugee who fled Myanmar two months ago, listens to children singing at a children’s centre in Kutupalong refugee camp near Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, November 5, 2017. Reuters photographer Hannah McKay: “I was in a centre for children photographing them singing. I could feel somebody watching me and when I turned round this little girl with extraordinary eyes was smiling at me. When I lifted my camera to take her picture she stopped smiling, as I lowered it she smiled again. It became a bit of a game and we were giggling with each other.” REUTERS/Hannah McKay

 

The Rohingya have long faced discrimination and repression in Rakhine State where bad blood with ethnic Rakhine Buddhists, stemming from violence by both sides, goes back generations.

 

Pictures of the Year: Persecuted Rohingya Muslims flee violence in Myanmar
Rohingya refugees collapse from exhaustion after they arrive by a small wooden boat from Myanmar to the shore of Shah Porir Dwip, in Teknaf, near Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh, October 1, 2017. Reuters photographer Damir Sagolj: “Unlike those who were crossing the Naf River under the cover of the darkness, this group of Rohingya refugees were landing at the beach of Shah Porir Dwip in the broad daylight. They were totally exhausted – I could only imagine what these people had been through before the rickety vessel brought them to Bangladesh. After landing, many just collapse. But not much later, as if awoken by survival instinct, they got back on their feet, collected children and the few possessions they brought with them, and continued by foot towards the refugee camps, a safe haven for those fleeing danger in Myanmar.” REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

 

Rohingya are not regarded as an indigenous ethnic minority in Myanmar – the government even refuses to recognise the term “Rohingya”, instead labelling them illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. Most have been denied citizenship under a law that links nationality to ethnicity.

 

 

They have long lived under apartheid-like conditions, with little access to even the limited opportunities in education and employment open to their Buddhist neighbours in one of Myanmar’s poorest regions.

 

An exhausted Rohingya refugee woman touches the shore after crossing the Bangladesh-Myanmar border by boat through the Bay of Bengal, in Shah Porir Dwip, Bangladesh September 11, 2017. Reuters photographer Danish Siddiqui: “It was a clear morning and I could see the several clouds of smoke in the background on the Myanmar side. After a few hours waiting on the beach the fishing boats started arriving with Rohingyas. This image was taken just after a family member of the Rohingya woman carried her from the boat. The exhausted Rohingya woman sat on the beach and put her hand to feel the shore after the long and dangerous journey from Myanmar.” REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui

 

About one million Rohingya were believed to have been living in Rakhine State before the latest violence. Bangladesh was already home to 400,000 of them who had fled earlier repression.

 

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