As Myanmar fighting swells, a desperate flight to the border

Members of Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) stops Rohingya people who are trying to enter Bangladesh in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, Aug 27, 2017. (Reuters photo)

Intensifying clashes between security forces and insurgents in western Myanmar forced terrified civilians to scramble toward the Bangladesh border Sunday in a desperate search for refuge.

The civilians are Rohingya, a predominantly Muslim minority group that faces repression in Myanmar. About 1 million Rohingya live in western Myanmar’s Rakhine state, and conflicts between insurgents and security forces there have become increasingly deadly.

On Sunday, a statement from the country’s de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, said the death toll from violence that began Thursday night had reached 96, The Associated Press reported. The dead included both Rohingya insurgents and government forces.

But civilians may be at the greatest risk. A U.N. report in February said the military crackdown on the Rohingya had led to gang rape, the killing of hundreds of civilians and the forced displacement of as many as 90,000 people.

On Sunday, some managed to make it into Bangladesh.

But the journey was arduous — and many Rohingya did not make it, turned back at the border by Bangladeshi soldiers.

Witnesses and refugees on the Bangladesh border quoted by the AP described a tense situation. Thousands of Rohingya had sought unsuccessfully to flee from the Myanmar side. Witnesses reported the sound of gunshots, and Bangladeshi villagers said they could see military helicopters hovering in the Myanmar sky.

An estimated 2,000 Rohingya were believed to have made it across the border overnight.

Several hundred others, however, were stuck in a “no man’s land” at one part of the border. They could do little but await an opportunity to move forward — or for things back home to calm down enough for them to return.

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