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As concerns grow over the fate of Rohingya Muslims living under lockdown by Burmese security forces in northern Arakan State, local Buddhists are returning to their homes in the region despite their fears of further violence.
Thousands of Buddhists who fled their villages in the predominantly Muslim townships of Maungdaw and Buthidaung in the wake of attacks on border police on 9 October have already left “rescue camps” in the state, according to camp administrators.
“Currently there are about 30 people from nine households still living in our camp. More than 1,300 arrived on the day of the violence, but they started going back on 23 October,” said Zaw Win, who helps run a camp in Buthidaung.
“They went home even though it is still not completely safe. There are some security threats. They live [in their villages] on their own. We are arranging for food and shelter as much as we can,” he told DVB on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, international aid organisations continue to call for access to vulnerable populations in the region that depend on outside assistance to meet basic needs.
Nearly two weeks after the World Food Programme (WFP) told DVB that it hoped to resume aid within days, a government-sponsored delegation of aid agencies and foreign diplomats that was expected to visit the region on Monday still has not appeared, according to local officials cited in an Associated Press report.
Persistent reports of serious human rights abuses against Rohingya Muslims, including rape and indiscriminate killings, have also raised fears that ethnic cleansing of the region is taking place under cover of a security operation.
But even as Burma’s military continues to treat the threat of terrorism as a clear and present danger, many Arakanese villagers appear to believe that the situation is safe enough to warrant returning to life as normal.
“We went home on our own, even though it still isn’t secure, because this is the harvest time. If we don’t go back now, we will lose everything,” said Thar Zan Aung, a resident of the village of Ngakhura, where state media reported a “suspicious fire” on Sunday.
He added, however, that he didn’t want the army to leave any time soon.
“We would like to ask the army to protect us, the minority here. We are afraid that the Bengalis will harm us,” he said, referring to the Rohingya.