COX’S BAZAR: Myanmar security forces intensified operations against Rohingya insurgents on Monday, police and other sources said, following three days of clashes with militants in the worst violence involving Myanmar’s Muslim minority in five years.
The fighting — triggered by coordinated attacks on Friday by insurgents wielding sticks, knives and crude bombs on 30 police posts and an army base — has killed 104 people and led to the flight of large numbers of Muslim Rohingya and Buddhist civilians from the northern part of Rakhine state.
The violence marks a dramatic escalation of a conflict that has simmered since October, when a similar but much smaller series of Rohingya attacks on security posts prompted a brutal military response dogged by allegations of rights abuses.
The treatment of about 1.1 million Muslim Rohingya in mainly Buddhist Myanmar has emerged as the biggest challenge for national leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who has condemned the attacks and commended the security forces.
The Rohingya are denied citizenship in Myanmar and classified as illegal immigrants, despite claiming roots there that go back centuries, with communities marginalized and occasionally subjected to communal violence.
A Buthidaung-based reporter, citing police sources directly involved in events, said three police posts in northern Buthidaung had been surrounded by Rohingya insurgents. Many houses had been burning since Sunday in parts of neighbouring Maungdaw town, another journalist and a military source in Maungdaw told Reuters.
A Rohingya villager in the area said the army attacked three hamlets in the Kyee Kan Pyin village group with shotguns and other weapons, before torching houses. “Everything is on fire,” he said by phone. “Now I’m in the fields with the people, we’re running away.” A military source in Rakhine state confirmed that houses were burned in the area but blamed the insurgents, who he said opened fire when soldiers came to find them and clear landmines. The insurgents fled, he said, adding there were no casualties.
In Bangladesh on Monday, border guards tried to push back refugees stranded in no man’s land near the village of Gumdhum. Reuters reporters have heard gun fire from the Myanmar side in the last three days.
A Bangladesh foreign ministry official told reporters Bangladesh was willing to work with Myanmar to crack down on the insurgents. “The main purpose is to ensure Myanmar can’t accuse us of harbouring them to use against them,” said the official, who was not authorised to speak publicly to media.
Bangladeshi police threatened refugees already in the country with arrest if they help new arrivals, refugee sources said. “How can we go back there? Just to get killed?” asked Mujibur Rahman, standing on the border.
Nevertheless, an estimated 5,000 people have crossed into Bangladesh in the past few days, with more than 1,000 coming early on Monday, according to Rohingya refugees in camps in the border district of Cox’s Bazar.
The government has evacuated thousands of non-Muslim villagers from the north of Rakhine state to towns, monasteries and police stations. About 500 people arrived in the state capital, Sittwe, on Monday, the government said.
Published in Dawn, August 29th, 2017