Tens of thousands of refugees are trapped on the border into Bangladesh without basic food and medicine amid operations by the Myanmar military, which have already killed hundreds.
Satellite photos released Saturday by Human Rights Watch showed what they are desperate to escape – entire villages torched to the ground in clashes between Myanmar’s armed forces and local militants.
More than 73,000 Rohingyas have now fled across the border since August 25, the United Nations said Sunday.
But, in northern Rakhine State, there are reports of at least another 30,000 Rohingyas trapped in hilly terrain without basic supplies of food, water or medicine, according to activists.
The Rohingya, a Muslim minority in predominantly Buddhist Myanmar, are considered some of the most persecuted people in the world. Myanmar, also known as Burma, considers them Bangladeshi, and Bangladesh says they’re Burmese.
It is the second time in less than a year a military crackdown has led to a mass exodus.
Unable to cross the Naf river into Bangladesh and fearful to return to what’s left of their homes, Rohingya activists said the refugees are stranded between Maungdaw and Rathedaung townships.
Videos provided to CNN by activists show dozens of men, women and children stranded on a mountain, surrounded by dense jungle, living in makeshift shelters made of sticks and sheets.
“The human lives that are most vulnerable must be rescued immediately without delay,” said executive director of Burma Human Rights Network Kyaw Win in a statement.
The trapped refugees are just some of at least 100,000 Rohingyas who have been forced to flee their homes since August 25, after armed forces began “clearance operations” across Rakhine State.
The government blames “terrorists” for starting the violence. Rohingya militants killed 12 security officers in border post attacks two weeks ago, according to state media, intensifying the latest crackdown.
A top military official said the government was “taking great care in solving the (Rakhine State) problem.”
Due to Myanmar’s policy of shutting off all access to Rakhine state for the media, CNN is not able to verify any figures independently or any stories told by refugees.
Village burnt down
Human Rights Watch renewed its calls for the Myanmar government to allow independent observers into Rakhine State, after releasing troubling satellite photos from inside the region.
“This new satellite imagery shows the total destruction of a Muslim village and prompts serious concerns that the level of destruction in northern Rakhine state may be far worse than originally thought,” said Human Rights Watch deputy Asia director Phil Robertson in a statement.
The images were taken on August 31 of Chein Khar Li village in northern Rakhine State. According to Human Rights Watch, they show about 700 buildings have been burned down, making up about 99 percent of the village.
“This is only one of 17 sites that we’ve located where burnings have taken place,” Robertson said.
Reports of villages being burnt down, allegedly by Myanmar’s military, previously emerged in a United Nations report investigating the 2016 crackdown on Rohingyas.
Myanmar’s government has blamed the most recent violence and property destruction on Rohingya extremists.
“Hacking our people to death”
The Rohingya have long been persecuted by the Myanmar government. Despite living in the country for generations, they’ve been denied citizenship and are regularly harassed.
A separate outbreak of violence in 2016 saw 85,000 Rohingya fleeing across the border, bringing with them horrifying stories of rape, torture and murder inside Rakhine State.
Some refugees who poured across the border into Bangladesh told CNN what they had witnessed since the latest crackdown began two weeks ago.
“They are beating us, shooting at us and hacking our people to death,” Hamida Begum, a refugee who has left everything behind, told CNN. “Many people were killed. Many women were raped and killed. We are very poor.”
Top general: Military “solving the problem”
On Saturday, a top Myanmar general issued an defiant statement on the violence in Rakhine State.
Posted to his Facebook page, Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing said the only action been taken against “Bengalis” was “to ensure everything is within the framework of the law.”
“The Bengali problem was a long-standing one which has become an unfinished job despite the efforts of the previous governments to solve it,” he said. “The government in office is taking great care in solving the problem.”
In his post, Hlaing didn’t address protests made by Bangladesh alleging Myanmar’s military had violated their airspace on multiple occasions in the past week.
In a note sent on Friday to Myanmar’s embassy in Dhaka, Bangladesh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs “strongly protested” the incursions and warned it could lead “to an unwarranted situation.”
“Bangladesh demanded Myanmar take immediate measures to prevent recurrence of such incursion in the future,” said a statement posted to the Bangladesh Foreign Ministry’s website.
International condemnation grows
On Sunday night, Indonesia’s minister for Foreign Affairs Retno Marsudi flew to Myanmar to request the government cease all violence against the Muslim Rohingya minority.
Indonesian president Joko Widodo announced the move in a statement, condemning the attacks and demanding real action to help the Rohingyas. Indonesia is the largest Muslim majority country in the world.
Nobel laureate Malala has called out Myanmar’s state councilor and defacto leader Aung San Suu Kyi over the violence, saying in a statement she was still waiting for her fellow Nobel Winner to join her in condemning the treatment of Rohingyas.
“Every time I see the news, my heart breaks at the suffering of the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar,” she wrote.
Qatar foreign minister Al Thani said his country “strongly condemn(ed) attacks on Rohingya Muslims during Eid,” calling on the country to follow international laws.