MAUNGDAW (Myanmar): At least 89 people, including a dozen security personnel, were killed as Rohingya militants allegedly besieged border posts in northern Rakhine State, triggering a fresh exodus of refugees towards Bangladesh.
The state is bisected by religious hatred focused on the stateless Rohingya Muslim minority, who are reviled and perceived as illegal immigrants in Buddhist-majority Myanmar.
The office of de-facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi claimed that 12 security officials had been killed alongside 77 militants — the highest declared single day toll since fighting broke out last year.
Friday’s fighting exploded around Rathedaung township which has seen a heavy build-up of Myanmar troops in recent weeks, with reports filtering out of killings by shadowy groups, army-blockaded villages and abuses.
Some 20 police posts came under attack in the early hours of Friday by an estimated 150 militants, some carrying guns and using homemade explosives, Myanmar’s military claimed.
“The military and police members are fighting back together against extremist Bengali terrorists,” Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing said in a statement on Facebook, using the state’s description for Rohingya militants.
One resident in Maungdaw, the main town in northern Rakhine, said gunfire could be heard throughout the night. “We are still hearing gunshots now, we dare not to go out from our house,” the resident said by phone, asking not to be named.
Footage obtained by AFP showed smoke rising from Zedipyin village in Rathedaung township where fighting was ongoing on Friday.
Despite years of persecution, the Rohingya largely eschewed violence. But a previously unknown militant group emerged as a force last October under the banner of the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), which claims to be leading an insurgency based in the remote May Yu mountain range bordering Bangladesh.
A Twitter account (@ARSA_Official) which purports to represent the group confirmed its fighters were engaging Myanmar’s military in the area and accused the soldiers of carrying out atrocities in recent weeks.
Myanmar claims the group is headed by Rohingya militants who were trained abroad but it is unclear how large the network is.
Published in Dawn, August 26th, 2017