‘The entire town is burning.’ Fires rage as Rohingya caught up on the front lines of Myanmar’s civil war

By Helen Regan and Avery Schmitz, CNN

CNN  —  Families of Rohingya people trapped in Myanmar’s west are desperately trying to contact loved ones after a weekend of widespread arson attacks displaced up to 200,000 people and caused extensive destruction of homes.

The country’s Rohingya have long suffered mass atrocities and forced displacement that many – including UN experts – consider to be genocide, perpetrated by the country’s military. Now, they are caught between warring forces in a deepening conflict that has unleashed more violence against the Muslim-majority community.

Since seizing power in a coup in February 2021, the military has been fighting a widening civil war against ethnic armed groups and people’s resistance forces across Myanmar.

In the western state of Rakhine, the Arakan Army, a powerful ethnic-minority armed group battling Myanmar’s military junta, said it seized a predominantly Rohingya town close to the Bangladesh border.

Reports from activists and relatives of residents have emerged of AA soldiers torching and looting Rohingya houses in the town of Buthidaung, preventing people from returning home, confiscating phones and threatening to kill those who try to contact family abroad.

A junta-imposed internet and telecoms blackout in the state is making it almost impossible for relatives to speak with family members there and for journalists, activists and international monitoring groups to verify exactly what is unfolding.

Farooq, a Rohingya poet living as a refugee in neighboring Bangladesh, told CNN that most of his family were still in Buthidaung but he has not been able to reach them since Saturday.

“Then, my brother-in-law told me that my family were displaced, and my home was burned down by the Arakan Army,” he said.

Rohingya rights activists and former officials said about 200,000 people had been forced to flee their homes to escape the fires and that many people, including women and children, had spent multiple nights hiding out in open paddy fields with no food, medicine, or belongings. There are also reports of an unconfirmed number of casualties.

CNN cannot independently verify these reports. But satellite imagery showed huge fires engulfed downtown Buthidaung on Saturday morning and continued to burn over the weekend.

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