KUTUPALONG CAMP, Bangladesh — When the Myanmar military closed in on the village of Pwint Phyu Chaung, everyone had a few seconds to make a choice.
Noor Ankis, 25, chose to remain in her house, where she was told to kneel to be beaten, she said, until soldiers led her to the place where women were raped. Rashida Begum, 22, chose to plunge with her three children into a deep, swift-running creek, only to watch as her baby daughter slipped from her grasp
Sufayat Ullah, 20, also chose the creek. He stayed in the water for two days and finally emerged to find that soldiers had set his family home on fire, leaving his mother, father and two brothers to asphyxiate inside.
These accounts and others, given over the last few days by refugees who fled Myanmar and are now living in Bangladesh, shed light on the violence that has unfolded in Myanmar in recent months as security forces there carry out a brutal counterinsurgency campaign.
Their stories, though impossible to confirm independently, generally align with reports by human rights organizations that the military entered villages in northern Rakhine State shooting at random, set houses on fire with rocket launchers, and systematically raped girls and women. At least 1,500 homes were razed, according to an analysis of satellite images by Human Rights Watch.
The campaign, which has moved south in recent weeks, seems likely to continue until Myanmar’s government is satisfied that it has fully disarmed the militancy that has arisen among the Rohingya, a Muslim ethnic group that has been persecuted for decades in majority-Buddhist Myanmar.
“There is a risk that we haven’t seen the worst of this yet,” said Matthew Smith of Fortify Rights, a nongovernmental organization focusing on human rights in Southeast Asia. “We’re not sure what the state security forces will do next, but we do know attacks on civilians are continuing.”
A commission appointed by Myanmar’s government last week denied allegations that its military was committing genocide in the villages, which have been closed to Western journalists and human rights investigators. Officials have said Rohingya forces are setting fire to their own houses and have denied most charges of human rights abuses, with the exception of a beating that was captured on video. Myanmar’s leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the recipient of a Nobel Peace Prize, has been criticized for failing to respond more forcefully to the violence.