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Rohingya death toll 'could have climbed past 13,000'

MSF report indicates high rate of killings, but refugees in camps say the figure may exceed 15,000

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Rohingya death toll 'could have climbed past 13,000'

Rohingya migrants wait at a relief centre at the Balukhali refugee camp at Cox's Bazar on Nov. 30, 2017. (Photo by Ed Jones/AFP)

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Rohingya refugees are demanding an international trial of Myanmar military figures, as a new report emerged estimating the death toll during the mass exodus to Bangladesh as high as 13,700.

According to the report from Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) more than 6,700 Rohingyas, including at least 730 children under the age of five, were killed in the first months of a Myanmar military crackdown that started in August in Myanmar’s northern Rakhine State in response to attacks by Muslim militants.

However, MSF said based on samples of mortality rates and suveyed households, the figure could be between 9,400 and 13,700. More than 620,000 Rohingya fled to Bangladesh refugee camps during the recent crackdown.

The figures, released on Dec. 14, are thought to be a conservative estimate, but still much higher than the Myanmar military’s official death toll of about 400.

"We met and spoke with survivors of violence in Myanmar, who are now sheltering in overcrowded and unsanitary camps in Bangladesh," said Doctor Sidney Wong, MSF medical director.

"What we uncovered was staggering, both in terms of the numbers of people who reported a family member died as a result of violence, and the horrific ways in which they said they were killed or severely injured. The peak in deaths coincides with the launch of the latest 'clearance operations' by Myanmar security forces in the last week of August."

Abul Hashem, 48, a Rohingya father of five living in Kutupalong refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar told ucanews.com that it was difficult to say whether the MSF report is an accurate reflection of the killings and atrocities.

"But it is true many Rohingya were victims of massacres and the number should be more than the MSF estimate," said Hashem, who fled his home in the Maungdaw area of Rakhine on Oct. 20.

"While fleeing to Bangladesh, we saw many dead bodies lying beside Rohingya villages, most of them shot dead. Also, we saw many people wounded by bullets who were fleeing towards the  border."

He added that the refugees wanted a proper investigation into the killings by the United Nations. They also wanted trial and punishment of the perpetrators in an international criminal court, he said.

Calls for a hearing in the international court in The Hague are rising on social media, particularly in the West and amongst fellow muslims.

Abdul Kalam, 38, a Rohingya father of two in Balukhali refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, claims the MSF report underestimatesthe the real figures.

"I had 10 brothers and altogether 60 people in our family. The military and Moghs (Rakhine Buddhists) killed five of them with six still missing. I think the figure from the MSF report is underestimated and the real figure should be more than 15,000," Kamal told ucanews.com.

He added that the Rohingya wanted not only justice from the international community, but also the return of the missing if they are still alive.

Dr. Wong admitted that the number of deaths is likely to be underestimated "as we have not surveyed all refugee settlements in Bangladesh and because the surveys don’t account for the families who never made it out of Myanmar".

He added that the group had heard reports of entire families who had perished after they were locked inside their homes, while they were set alight.

Khodeza Begum, 31, came to Bangladesh from Maungdaw in Rakhine on Sept. 3 with her three children. Her husband was shot dead by Myanmar soldiers.

"I have seen with my own eyes how brutally my husband was killed by gunfire along with five to seven Rohingya men. I have lost touch with my brother, who I presume was also killed. I have seen so many dead bodies, and I don’t think the number 6,700 is correct, it should be much higher," Begum told ucanews.com.

Sultan, a Rohingya resident from Maungdaw in the northern part of Rakhine, believes the death toll is at least 10,000.

He said that some Rohingya families are not staying in the camps in Bangladesh and some families that lost all members were not surveyed in the MSF report. He cited an example of a friend’s family where only one man survived after his parents and siblings were killed.

Khin Mg, a Rohingya resident from Buthidaung, said the Rohingya death toll was much higher than the official account of 400.

He said seven relatives were killed in Maung Nu village where some 700 people remained and the other 5,300 fled to Bangladesh. He estimates about 900 deaths in Buthidaung alone.

Khin Mg said violence had stopped in Buthidaung, but the situation had yet to return to normal. The Muslim community members are restricted from movement, work, and they need to bribe police to go from one village to another.

"The Rakhine community can go everywhere and move at night, but the rights remain curbed for the  Muslim community," Khin Mg told ucanews.com.

Around 85 percent of the Rohingya population in Maungdaw, Buthidaung and Rathedaung townships in Myanmar’s northern Rakhine province have fled to Bangladesh over the last twelve months, leaving behind only 100,000-150,000 according to the International Crisis Group’s report of Dec. 7. 

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