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The Killing Fields of Alethankyaw

 Category: Reports  Publisher: Kaladan Press Network  Published: 1 November 2018  Tags: AlethankyawMaungdawMyanmar GenocideRakhineRohingya |  Download


The centuries-old fishing community of Alethankyaw in
southern Maungdaw is one of hundreds of Rohingya villages
attacked and razed by Burmese government security forces
during their brutal “clearance operations” that began in
August 2017 and which drove over 720,000 refugees into

The government maintains that the operations were in
response to coordinated “terrorist” attacks on August 25
on thirty police posts, including in Alethankyaw, and that
villagers burned their own houses and fled. But this report,
based on in-depth interviews with thirty refugees from
Alethankyaw, including fishermen, farmers, shopkeepers,
housewives and teachers, tells a very different story: the
nine-day assault by the Burma Army on their village was
carefully pre-planned and implemented, and the 1,000-strong
“terrorist” attack on Alethankyaw as described by the
government did not and could not have happened.

Security infrastructure for the August 2017 operations was
set in place well in advance. After the state-incited communal
violence of 2012, the Burma Army had significantly
expanded into southern Maungdaw to fortify the Naf estuary
frontier—the so-called “western gateway” for extremist
attacks. New military bases were built along the foot of the
Mayu mountains. These were linked by a new restricted road
to existing Border Guard Police (BGP) camps and Buddhist
resettlement villages, which together strategically cordoned
off the coastal plain from the mountainous hinterland.

A new military camp was also built on the beach next to

The security net tightened further after the initial clearance
operations of October 2016, with military and police forces
ramping up raids on Rohingya villages, and enforcing new
restrictions, including grounding all Rohingya fishing boats,
which paralyzed the fishing trade and cut off the main income
source for the community.

By early August, there was thus a large locally based military
force already in place to launch the 2017 clearance operations
together with the combat divisions flown in from central
Burma that month.

Villagers in Alethankyaw saw clear warning signs of the
impending assault. Hundreds of troops were deployed into the
village days beforehand, reinforcing the regional BGP camp in
the centre of the village, as well as the two BGP outposts and
army camp close to the beach. Two navy ships were moored
off the shore. The army evacuated Rakhine inhabitants of the
village by truck during the evening of August 24. Late that
night, the Rakhine village administration officer phoned to
Rohingya section leaders telling them that the army was going
to shoot, and they should be ready to run.

Despite the overwhelming presence of security personnel,
who were on heightened alert, the government claims that
early on August 25, a thousand “extremist terrorists” swarmed
up from the wide, flat beach and attacked an Alethankyaw
police post. No interviewees saw any evidence of this large-scale insurrection. They say it was logistically impossible for
Rohingya to have organized such an attack, and it was the
security forces who opened fire on the village without any
external provocation.

At least fifty men, women and children were killed early that
morning, mainly in the central sections of the village. At
dawn, terrified villagers began evacuating en masse towards
the Naf River to cross over to Bangladesh.

Over the next nine days, hundreds more troops were trucked
in from the Kanhpu army base nearby. They patrolled
around the central sections of the village, looting the market,
seizing women, and shooting at civilians. Burma Army
snipers positioned on the tops of the MPT and Telenor
telecommunication towers were able to target a wide range
around the village. Well over a hundred villagers were killed
as they fled or tried to hide near their homes. Scores of bodies
were dragged by troops and thrown into wells, as well as
dumped under the Telenor tower, and into a pond near the

By August 29, the centre of the village had been emptied,
and the army began targeting the outer village areas. Troops
marched on the Byuhakon section along the beach, where they
tortured, killed and raped civilians, causing the remaining
inhabitants to flee. That day, they began torching houses, and
by early September, most of the village was in ashes, deserted
by its over 11,000 Rohingya inhabitants.

The army’s methodical clearance of Alethankyaw’s entire population, first from the central sections of the village, and
then from outlying sections, until all Rohingya inhabitants
were either dead or had fled in terror, demonstrate that this
was precisely the goal of the operation: to terrorise and expel
the Rohingya, making sure they did not dare return.

It is evident that the “clearance operations” in Alethankyaw
were carefully pre-planned and executed, and that they
were not triggered by a “terrorist” attack. This raises serious
questions about the rest of the 30 coordinated “terrorist”
attacks which the government claims happened on August
25 (questions already raised in our earlier report Pre-planned

It is high time that these alleged “terrorist” attacks were held
under closer scrutiny, especially with the government and
military continuing to use the “terrorist threat” to stoke racism
and fear, garnering support for the ongoing genocide against
the Rohingya.

It is also hoped that uncovering of the Burma Army’s use
of the Telenor premises as a vantage point to kill fleeing
Rohingya men, women and children, and a disposal site
for murdered villagers, will force Norway and other foreign
investors to consider the reputational risks of building
infrastructure in Burma which may be abetting genocide.