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At Least 20 Killed in Capsized Boat as Ethnic Violence in Myanmar Gets Worse

Mathias Eick, EU/ECHO, Rakhine State, Myanmar/Burma, September 2013

Violence involving Myanmar’s Muslim minority has reached an all time high, and many who flee die trying.

Guards on the Bangladeshi border have recovered the bodies of 20 Rohingya women and children whose boat capsized as they fled the worst violence the minority has faced in Myanmar in years.

It’s unclear whether anyone is still missing.

Since last Friday, over 27,000 Rohingya Muslims have flooded the borders of Bangladesh from neighboring Myanmar, three UN sources reported. The exodus was brought on by clashes between Rohingya insurgents and police in the northern Rakhine State that have killed at least 117 people.

Read More: Rohingya Muslims Are the Most Persecuted Minority in the World: Who Are They?

Despite having lived in Myanmar for generations, the Rohingya are denied citizenship in Myanmar and are viewed as “Bengali” (or illegal immigrants) with no cultural, religious, or social ties to the country.

Brandishing sticks, knives and crude bombs, the insurgents attacked police posts and an army base, the UN sources said. In response, the Myanmar government has deployed its security forces to carry out clearance operations to defend the country against what they’re calling “extremist terrorists.”

The undertaking looks something like a campaign of arson as villages have turned into nothing more than charred debris and smoke, reported Reuters.

“What we’re hearing is burning, burning, burning,” Chris Lewa of the Rohingya monitoring group the Arakan Project told Reuters. “And it seems to be spreading from south to north.”

One refugee, Mohammed Rashid, told Reuters when he got over the border that he heard news that the houses in his village had been burned down.

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Read More: Rohingya Women Traumatized and Stateless After Mass Sexual Violence

Bangladeshi sentiments towards the persecuted minority have also turned hostile, leaving around 20,000 Rohingya stranded in the land between the two countries, according to the report The UN predicts that figure could jump to 30,000 by late Thursday.

Often called the most persecuted minority in the world, this isn’t the first time the Rohingya have been driven out of the Rakhine State.

Years of discrimination and intolerance led to a violent outbreak in 2012, when 140,000 Rohingyas were forced into refugee camps by extremist and ultra-nationalist Buddhist groups.

Since then, civilians have died by the thousands.

Read More: Malala and Other Nobel Laureates Accuse Myanmar of Ethnic Cleansing in Open Letter

Hampered by a junta-era constitution that reserves key ministerial posts for the army, the country’s leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate has remained quiet, prompting criticism from Western leaders like Human Rights Watch Australia Director Elaine Pearson.

With a quarter of the parliament under military control, the Rohingya are subject to the brutal punishments carried out by the Myanmar Police Force and Tatmadaw and Border Guard Police

“Unfortunately,” Pearson said, “Suu Kyi is following her political, not humanitarian instincts.”