MAUNGDAW, Myanmar: “We want to live peacefully like other communities in Myanmar. We don’t need to be discriminated (against)," 51-year-old Dil Mohammed shouted from across barbed wire fencing in the "no man’s land" area between Myanmar and Bangladesh.
However this is no simple task, especially in violence-stricken Maungdaw in Myanmar's nothern Rakhine state.
More than half a year after militant attacks in Rakhine state led to a government crackdown which saw more than 700,000 Rohingya Muslims fleeing to neighbouring Bangladesh, northern Rakhine remains under tight security, with only authorised personnel allowed to travel there.
The United Nations (UN) on Friday (Mar 16) launched an appeal for nearly US$1 billion to care for Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, while also emphasising that efforts should continue to secure their safe return to Myanmar.
However during a media trip to the area, Maungdaw district deputy commissioner Ye Htut refuted UN accusations that the government had carried out "ethnic cleansing" in the region.
"We have no intention of hiding anything, and that’s why we invited the media into the area," he said.
The media trip came days after Amnesty International said that Myanmar was building security structures on top of razed Rohingya villages, casting doubt on the country's plans to repatriate refugees.
When Channel NewsAsia visited the area, various parts of Maungdaw were turned into massive construction sites scattered with heavy machinery.
Bulldozers and excavators could be seen levelling the ground, while workers were seen paving newly constructed roads and erecting new structures.
One Rohingya who had not fled Maungdaw told Channel NewsAsia he suspected officials were covering up evidence of deaths.
He did not know the "intention of clearing out some villages", but said there were "no old structures left".
"It’s just plain land now as they bulldozed the area. I think they are possibly clearing some of the (evidence of) deaths.”
The remnants of razed villages with charred ground, burnt household belongings and blackened bamboo door frames could be seen in the area.
However others welcomed the construction.
Ethnic Rakhine farmer Thway Hlaing, 25, told Channel NewsAsia that militants had destroyed his house seven months ago, but that he would soon move into a brand new house made of aluminium, steel and wood built by the government.
The father of three said he had never lived in such a house before, and said he liked the look of the new homes.
However he added he did not want to live with the Rohingya again.
"I'm scared. I think such attacks will happen again but I don't want to see such incidents anymore," he said.
Ye Htut said there was no longer any trust between the different sides.
"Back then, there were Rohingyas working in the Rakhine people’s farms but now there is no more trust between them," he said. "The Rakhine people do not hire them anymore and the Rohingya become unemployed.”
Another Rakhine local, Khin Maung Kying, told Channel NewsAsia that previous attacks were "frightening".
"It is important to not repeat such attacks when the Muslims return because the previous incident was very frightening. I don’t want to experience it anymore. I welcome them if the Muslims want to live with us peacefully.”
"WE ARE NOT BENGALIS"
Dil Mohammad, a Rohingya who fled Myanmar and who now lives in a makeshift tent in no man's land between Myanmar and Bangladesh, said that the Rohingya had "no intention to enter Bangladesh."
"We are not Bengalis."
Myanmar does not recognise the Rohingya as citizens, calling them illegal Bengali immigrants. So far, it has approved the return of 374 individuals to Myanmar, constructing reception centres and transit camps to accommodate them.
However no refugee has taken up the offer to return.
Ye Htut blamed the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army or ARSA militants for thwarting the process.
"Both Bengalis (Rohingya) and Hindus have concerns about the repatriation process," he said. "ARSA is interfering (with) the process. They are threatening to kill the returnees.”
However Dil Mohammad said that in order for the Rohingya to return, Myanmar had to recognise them as "ethnic Rohingya Muslims".
"We are citizens. Citizens of Myanmar," he said.
"IT'S TOO LATE," SAY PEOPLE IN RAKHINE
In the village of Inn Din, south of Maungdaw, some locals said it was "too late" to live together with the Rohingya.
Tun Win, 29, told Channel NewsAsia that militants had killed his father last August.
"In my heart, I don’t have an idea how to live together with the Muslim people because it’s too late," he said. "It hurts me to think what happened to my father."
The village of Inn Din was where a mass grave of Rohingya victims was found. Authorities had confirmed the discovery in January, and said that those found guilty would be prosecuted.