Clashes between Rohingya rebels and Myanmar army escalate
Pre-dawn attacks staged by Rohingya militants on border and police outposts led to 71 deaths.
Yangon, Myanmar—Ethnic Rohingya militants in western Myanmar launched overnight attacks on more than two dozen police and border outposts, leaving 71 people dead, the government said Friday, in a significant escalation of their armed struggle.
The office of the country’s leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, said military and border police responded to the Thursday night attacks by launching “clearance operations.”
A witness in Maungdaw township, contacted by phone, said soldiers entered her village at about 10 a.m. on Friday, burned homes and property, and shot dead at least 10 people.
The witness, who asked to be identified by her nickname, Emmar, because of fear of retribution, said villagers fled in many directions but mostly to a nearby mountain range. She said gunshots and explosions could be heard and smoke could still be seen Friday evening.
A militant group, the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, or ARSA, took responsibility for the overnight attacks on more than 25 locations, saying they were in defense of Muslim Rohingya communities that had been abused by government forces. It issued its statement on Twitter on an account deemed legitimate by advocates of Rohingya rights.
The army’s abuses in turn fueled further resentment toward the government among the Rohingya, most of whom are considered illegal immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh without any of the civil rights of citizens. ARSA took advantage of the resentment by stepping up recruitment of members.
The new attacks seem likely to set off a new cycle of repression and resistance.
The Rohingya have long faced severe discrimination in Buddhist-majority Myanmar and were the targets of inter-communal violence in 2012 that killed hundreds and drove about 140,000 people – predominantly Rohingya– from their homes to camps for the internally displaced, where most remain.
Thursday night’s attacks began a few hours after a Rakhine Advisory Commission led by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan submitted its final report and recommended that the government act quickly to improve economic development and social justice in Rakhine state to resolve violence between Buddhists and the Rohingya Muslim minority.
Suu Kyi’s office said on its Facebook page that the attacks were intended to coincide with the release of Mr. Annan’s report.
The announcement from Suu Kyi’s office said 30 police outposts had been attacked. It said in addition to the 12 dead, 11 people on the government side had been injured, three seriously. It said the attackers, some of whom were armed with machetes, had seized six guns.
The statement also said the attackers destroyed refugee camps and burned down homes.
The Rakhine Advisory Commission, established in August 2016 at Suu Kyi’s behest, said the situation in Rakhine state is becoming more precarious and requires a sustained and coordinated effort by civilian and military authorities. The commission has six members from Myanmar and three foreigners, including Annan.
This story was reported by The Associated Press.
The article appeared in the Christian Science Monitor on 25/08/2017