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More than 500,000 Rohingya flee from rape, fire and murder in Myanmar

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    During the past six weeks half a million Muslims from Myanmar known as the Rohingya have fled across their countries border into Bangladesh. The exodus comes after witnessing or experiencing horrific atrocities by government soldiers who rampaged in their villages as part of a crackdown on the long-persecuted ethnic minority. New York Times reporter Jeffrey Gettleman has reported vividly on the range of refugees, the widespread burning of homes the systematic raping of women and brutal killings of men and children. Gettleman is a Pulitzer Prize winner and currently the South Asia bureau chief. He joins me now via Skype from Dubai in the United Arab Emirates.

    So first of all, for people who haven’t read your story, you end up helping us personalize this through one particular tale of a woman named Rajuma. Kind of summarize that for us.

  • Jeffrey Gettleman:

    Yeah, this was this was one of the most upsetting stories I’ve ever done and I’ve been covering conflicts for 20 years and I was deeply disturbed and felt really helpless working on this story.

    So I centered a piece on a young woman named Rajuma who had watched her village burn down in front of her eyes, was captured by government soldiers went back along with many other civilians and she told me that the soldiers separated the men from the women, they methodically executed all of the men and then began to rape the young women and Rajuma had a toddler boy in her arms and she said the soldiers ripped the little baby out of her arms, threw him into a fire, and killed him right in front of her and then proceeded to rape Rajuma and then left her in this burning house to die. And it was only a miracle when she woke up smelling smoke, ran out, naked, covered in blood, hid in a field and then kept running for the next three days until she got to the border of Bangladesh.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Well what’s remarkable about your story is, besides the fact that you verified all this from other witnesses and so forth, is that unfortunately her story is not an anomaly. You’re kind of trying to describe something that’s on a scale that we haven’t really heard about.

  • Jeffrey Gettleman:

    Yes. This is just it. I mean I was I was in these camps in Bangladesh where half a million people have arrived nearly overnight fleeing these atrocities in Myanmar. And everywhere you go people have these stories to share, that are so disturbing. And the more you listen, the more you understand that the Rohingya have been demonized and dehumanized for decades. Like many people in Myanmar refer to them as insects or vermin. And then there was this official policy that they weren’t citizens, they didn’t really count. They were the most lowly people in the entire country. So then in August you had this attack by Rohingya militant groups against government positions and this became a long-awaited excuse for the military to just wipe out these people and they went village to village burning entire villages to the ground. More than 250 of them. And then they began to slaughter anybody they could get their hands on.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    You know as these stories get documented as people start keeping track of, whether you want to call it a humanitarian crisis, crimes against humanity, a war crime, etc., what has the government response been?

  • Jeffrey Gettleman:

    The Myanmar government has been denying that anything horrible happened and has called these clearance operations and said that the government troops were just trying to eliminate militants. But a half a million people fled. And they only did that because they felt like they would have been killed, had they stayed. And so many people told me these firsthand accounts, people from different villages, from hundreds of miles apart. And there was a distressing harmony to the accounts. And so you have this huge population that is now trapped in this border area not allowed to leave, not welcome by either side. When in these camps it was just this sea of plastic shelters as far as you could see to the horizon set up in these muddy hillsides, with just tons of people packed together, with very little food or shelter, and they all have been traumatized.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    All right Jeffrey Gettleman from the New York Times thanks so much.

  • Jeffrey Gettleman:

    Thank you.

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