Tambru, an area in Rakhine state bordering Bangladesh, once bustling with life, now lies empty. Rohingya people have been driven out of the area by Myanmar army and Rakhine Buddhists. Bangla Tribune's Amanur Rahman Roney visited Tambru on Thursday to see the devastation for himself.
Rohingya refugees have set up makeshift camps in no man’s land, on the other side of the Naf River. Two Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) members asked me not to go any further. We were suddenly interrupted by rain around 2:30pm. The BGB men went away seeking shelter from the rain.
I took advantage of the situation and went near a bamboo grove with my companion Biplob, a photojournalist who understands the Rohingya tongue. There, we gestured at a Rohingya girl, aged about 10, to get us an umbrella. The girl, who said her name was Rebeca, swam across the shallow river to get to us.
It stopped raining about half an hour later. I was worried whether the BGB troopers were keeping an eye on us but fortunately they were not. We turned to the Rohingya and inquired, using sign language, about the shallow part of the river.
A Rohingya man sent his eight-year-old son to fetch us. We quickly followed him into the Rohingya camp. There, we spoke with the men. Some of the old men forbade us to venture into Myanmar. However, several young boys said they could take us inside Rakhine but advised us to strictly avoid Mogh (local Buddhist) settlements.
The reporter snuck into Tambru, in Rakhine state, on Thursday to see the situation for himself | Amanur Rahman Roney/Bangla Tribune
Several youths came forward to assist us. I sent two of them – Hamjal and Khalek – to go ahead and see if it was safe to go there now. They went near a Mogh settlement about a kilometre inside the border and told us that it was okay.
I was confused at that point about what I should do. I wondered what would happen if we came across the Myanmar army or the Moghs. But I finally decided to go to see for myself why hundreds of thousands of innocent Rohingya were fleeing into Bangladesh leaving behind their homeland and everything.
At the border, the barbed wire posed the first challenge. It was impossible to get across quickly. The fleeing Rohingya cut the barbed wire at two points at Tambru border on August 26 but it was still dangerous. Hamjal and Khalek were calling us, eager to show us how their houses had been destroyed.
We took two other Rohingya men – Nurul Amin, 48, and Nur Alam, 35 – with us. Amin, the more courageous of the two, assured us that it was safe. Finally, we were standing on Myanmar soil.
The reporter peeks into an abandoned Rohingya house | Amanur Rahman Roney/Bangla Tribune
Near the road used by Myanmar border patrols, Amin showed us a spot where the army had planted four landmines. From there, we walked for about 20 minutes and crossed two hills. We gazed at the cultivated land lying below. My companion Biplob was busy taking photos.
After a while, we finally arrived at an abandoned tiny Rohingya settlement. There were about 50 small houses that have been burned by the Myanmar army and local mob.
I asked my Rohingya companions to wait outside and entered one of the mud houses. The roof had been destroyed by fire. Dresses of children, utensils and rice baskets were scattered all over. The small houses sat close to each other on the hilltop. Everything was in ruins.
The five of us were two kilometres inside Myanmar territory. We were whispering, fearing the Moghs would find us. Our next stop was near a Mogh village. We saw the Moghs working in the fields and children playing near a tin-roof school. Next to the place was a burned down, empty Rohingya village.
Residents of this house in Tambru have fled to Bangladesh | Amanur Rahman Roney/Bangla Tribune
My Rohingya companions Amin and Khalek were describing the atrocities committed by the military and Moghs. They told me not to go any further or the Moghs would recognise us. So, we walked towards the north where we saw empty Rohingya houses, looted by the Moghs.
Khalek called us from behind and said the place was not safe as the Moghs patrol the area. He said he did not want to put our lives in danger. Around 4:30pm, we meet two Rohingya men in the village. They were secretly visiting their houses they had been forced to leave behind.
From a hilltop, they showed us the big but sparsely populated Tambru area. The villages were spaced out. There was a road along the border. They said they used the road to travel to Maungdaw and Tambru town.
Hossain, one of the Rohingya we met in the village, lived in East Tambru. He showed us his house. “The Moghs looted everything. They came with the army and opened fire. The Moghs destroyed our houses and set them afire,” the man said.
He said he had been staying in no man’s land with seven members of his family for the last 26 days. “I came to see my house. It won’t be possible to live here because of the Moghs. So, I left with my family,” he added.
The house was looted and burned by the Myanmar army and Rakhine Buddhists | Amanur Rahman Roney/Bangla Tribune
In north Tambru, we met another Rohingya, Nur Islam. He, too, had come to see his home. There was nothing there. Everything was in ruins.
We moved out quickly. The Myanmar army had set fire to another village in the north. Around 4:45pm, we headed back to the no man’s land leaving behind the empty Rohingya villages.
We were looking back frequently to see if we were being followed. I finally heaved a sigh of relief after crossing the barbed wire fence.
I headed to the north along the border. After a 20-minute ride on a three-wheeler, I saw a house on fire just on the other side of the fence. As I rushed towards the border, the Myanmar border guards called me out.
I walked into a bush and stood near the fence. There I saw the house owner Nasima Khatun wailing. She was shocked and fainting from time to time. I told her children to pour water on her head.
I recorded the burning house on my mobile phone before getting back. Nasima was still unconscious.
A screenshot taken from a video posted by Bangla Tribune shows the burning of a village in Tambru, in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, on Thursday.
This article was first published on Bangla Tribune