In this Oct. 8, 2017, photo a Hindu family, forced to flee their Rakhine village after masked gunmen attacked their homes, stand in prayer near the shore of the Andaman Sea in Sittwe, Rakhine's capital. Earlier they spread the ashes of relatives found dead in mass graves near their village. (Photo AFP)
More than 500 Hindus who fled to Sittwe – the capital of Myanmar's conflict-torn Rakhine State – have returned to their homes in Maungdaw, 90 kilometers northwest.
Another 80 people from 21 households remain at the Hindu temple in Sittwe as they appear not to want to go back to Maungdaw, according to Ni Maw, Hindu community leader from Maungdaw. The others returned home at the request of the Rakhine government.
Ni Maw said that the returnees were sheltered temporarily in a building near the Maungdaw district administration office and the government had so far provided rice, oil, noodles and salt.
"People don't want to go back to their original homes as they fear they may be attacked again by Rohingya militants so they requested the government provide security and arrange a place near other ethnic groups," Ni Maw told ucanews.com.
Mg Hla, a Hindu resident from Sittwe, who helped manage the internally displaced Hindu people, said the Rakhine government had urged all Hindus to return to Maungdaw, as the situation was now calm.
He added that he supported the government's plan of sending all Hindu back to Maungdaw, as the local government had given assurances of providing food, shelter and security.
"But it is impossible to go back to their original homes as they fear that they may be attacked again and some Hindus households are among the Muslim neighborhoods. Their main concern is security and safety,” Mg Hla said.
At least 3,000 of an estimated 8,000 Hindus living in Maungdaw, Buthidaung and Sittwe fled during the exodus of Muslim Rohingya during the "clearance" operations of the Myanmar military. Some were internally displaced, while others crossed over to neighboring Bangladesh.
More than 620,000 Rohingya traveled to Bangladesh to escape the brutal military crackdown in Rakhine in response to Muslim militant attacks on security posts on Aug. 25.
The violence affected thousands of Rohingya Hindus. Myanmar military reportedly found two mass graves with 45 bodies of Hindus in Rakhine and blamed the killings on militants from Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army.
Hindus make up only 0.5 percent of the population in Myanmar while 89 percent are Buddhists and 4.3 percent are Muslims, according to the 2014 census.
Myanmar and Bangladesh have signed a bilateral agreement for the voluntary repatriation of nearly 700,000 Rohingya Muslims who have fled to Bangladesh from Rakhine state since October, 2016 due to violence and military operations.
Myanmar recently came under renewed pressure from the United Nations as the top U.N. human rights official said Dec. 5 that Myanmar's security forces may be guilty of genocide against the Rohingya.
Zeid Ra'ad Al-Hussein, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, told a special session of the Human Rights Council that Myanmar's security forces deliberately and massively targeted civilians in operations.
"Can anyone, can anyone, rule out that elements of genocide may be present?” Al-Hussein said.
The Aung San Suu Kyi-led government has been facing intense pressure from the international community over the ill treatment of the minority Rohingya, but the majority Buddhist population has broadly supported the government and has little sympathy for Rohingya's plight.
On a recent visit to Myanmar, Pope Francis did not use the word Rohingya as Church leaders told him not to do so as it could spark a backlash from nationalist groups.