Rohingya fleeing Myanmar violence stranded on Bangladesh border, say officials

The Myanmar army operation last year was heavily criticised amid reports of civilian killings, rape and arson, sparking allegations by the United Nations of crimes against humanity. (Source: Reuters) Top News

About 1,000 Rohingya Muslims fleeing escalating violence in Myanmar’s northwestern Rakhine state had been halted at the Naf river on the border with Bangladesh, Bangladeshi security officials said on Saturday. The death toll from attacks staged by Rohingya insurgents on Friday has climbed to 89, including 77 insurgents and 12 members of the security forces, Myanmar army said. The attacks marked a dramatic escalation of a conflict that has simmered since a similar offensive in October that prompted a big military sweep beset by allegations of serious human rights abuses. At least one fresh attack had taken place on Saturday, according to a Myanmar security source.

National leader condemned the early morning raids – in which Rohingya insurgents wielding guns, sticks and home-made bombs assaulted 30 police stations and an army base – while the government evacuated staff and villagers to safety.

The treatment of approximately 1.1 million Muslim Rohingya has emerged as the biggest challenge for the Nobel Peace Prize laureate’s 16-month old administration. Suu Kyi has been accused of not speaking out for the persecuted minority and of defending the army’s brutal counter-offensive after the October attacks.

In a sign that both sides were bracing for more violence, about 1,000 Rohingya arrived at the Naf river separating Myanmar and Bangladesh and got stranded there, a Bangladeshi border guard and Mohammad Ali Hossain, deputy commissioner of Cox’s Bazar district near the Myanmar border, told Reuters. “Many Rohingya people are trying to enter the country, but we have a zero tolerance policy – no one will be allowed,” said Hossain.

Bangladeshi officials regularly advocate a hardline approach to refugees in official interviews, but typically end up letting the refugees through. There are hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh and 87,000 have arrived since October.

The Myanmar army operation last year was heavily criticised amid reports of civilian killings, rape and arson, sparking allegations by the United Nations of crimes against humanity. Suu Kyi is blocking UN-mandated probe into the allegations.

BEGGING FOR RESTRAINT

Observers worry that the attacks will spark an even more aggressive army response than last year and trigger communal clashes between Muslims and Buddhist ethnic Rakhines. “25 Aug attack in N Rakine utmost concern! Violence must stop in Rakhine. Heartfelt sorrow 4 deaths. Beg all sides 2 take restraint! Everyone!” said Yanghee Lee, the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar on Twitter.

In a statement late on Friday, Suu Kyi “strongly condemned” “brutal attacks by terrorists on security forces in Rakhine State.”

“I would like to commend the members of the police and security forces who have acted with great courage in the face of many challenges,” she added. The government evacuated officials from the home ministry, teachers as well as hundreds of non-Rohingya villagers to army bases and main police stations, the government said.

“The government made six evacuation checkpoints. Some will be evacuated by helicopters and some will be taken out by the security forces,” a military source based in Rakhine told Reuters.

The source said the army and police were battling the militants, who staged at least one fresh attack on security forces and destroyed a bridge on Saturday morning. “They are fighting now, the situation will be tense again today, although there was no fighting at night,” said the source.

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