Myanmar budgets for fence to keep Rohingya out

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Myanmar has trumpeted a government effort to rebuild violence-gutted Rakhine and welcome back refugees under a repatriation agreement with Dhaka that was supposed to commence in January. The operation has also horrified the Rohingya, who believe the government is intentionally eviscerating the dwindling remnants of their culture to make it almost impossible for them to return. A group named Human Rights Watch has said that the villages "should be treated as crime scenes" and preserved.

The human rights group said in its annual report covering 159 countries that "hate-filled rhetoric" by leaders was normalising discrimination against minorities.

Almost 690,000 Rohingya have fled Rakhine and taken refuge in neighbouring Bangladesh since the Myanmar military launched a crackdown on insurgents at the end of August, according to the UN.

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The HRW report comes as Myanmar and Bangladesh are preparing to begin repatriating Rohingya refugees to northern Rakhine, where the government has said it has built houses in more than 20 villages to accommodate the returnees.

The two had been working on a Reuters investigation into the killing of 10 Rohingya Muslim men who were buried in a mass grave in Rakhine State after being hacked to death or shot by ethnic Rakhine Buddhist neighbours and soldiers.

Myanmar's parliament has also approved a Dollars 15m budget to build a fence and related projects along the Bangladesh border in Rakhine state, from which about 700,000 Rohingya have fled since August. "Instead, leaders such as (Egyptian president) al-Sisi, (Philippines president) Duterte, (Venezuelan president) Maduro, Putin, Trump, and (Chinese president) Xi are callously undermining the rights of millions", Amnesty International's secretary-general Salil Shetty said. Those unable or unwilling to return to their homes have the right to choose compensation from the government for their loss of homes and property. However, human rights advocates say that is conducting the operation in a bid to destroy the crime scenes.

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"Bulldozing these areas threatens to erase both the memory and the legal claims of the Rohingya who lived there", he said. But that does not appear to be the case so far, and many Rohingya fear authorities are seizing land they've lived on for generations. Doctors Without Borders estimates that at least 6,700 Rohingya were killed, including 730 children, in the first month of Myanmar forces' crackdown after August 25 a year ago.

The HRW yesterday said the Myanmar government earlier failed to credibly investigate serious alleged abuses committed by security forces since August 25.

The call came after Myanmar authorities on Thursday released activist Khaing Myo Htun after he served 18 months in prison for alleging that the Myanmar Army used forced labour and tortured civilians.

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Knut Ostby, the interim United Nations coordinator for Myanmar, said in a release the immediate concern was to provide humanitarian aid to people in need, "irrespective of their religion, ethnicity, gender or citizenship status".

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