Fresh violence kills 32 in Myanmar's Rakhine State
At least 32 people including 11 security forces were killed as Rohingya militants besieged border posts in northern Rakhine State, Myanmar's army chief said on Friday, in the worst violence in months in the febrile zone.
The state is bisected by religious hatred focused on the stateless Rohingya Muslim minority, who are reviled by many Buddhists and perceived as illegal immigrants.
Recent weeks have seen tensions surge with near daily killings by shadowy groups operating in remote villages, while Myanmar's army has poured more troops into the area.
In the early hours of Friday more than 20 police posts came under attack by an estimated 150 insurgents, some carrying guns and using homemade explosives.
"One soldier and 10 police sacrificed their lives for the country," Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing said in a statement circulated on Facebook, adding 21 militants also died although others made away with guns.
"Fighting is ongoing at police posts in Kyar Gaung Taung and Nat Chaung villages. The military and police members are fighting back together against extremist Bengali terrorists."
"Bengali terrorists" is the state's description of the Rohingya militants.
The Rohingya refugee crisis
Boats carrying more than 1,600 Rohingya and Bangladeshi migrants arrived off the coasts of Indonesia and Malaysia last week after human traffickers reportedly dumped the boats in shallow waters. Others have entered Thailand's territorial waters. Some refugees were able to land; others have been towed back out to sea in their boats. All three countries have stated that they view the refugees as illegal migrants and have said they would provide food and water for them but not safe harbour. In this photo gallery, we take a look at the refugees' ordeal.
Rohingya migrants on a boat off the southern Thai island of Koh Lipe in the Andaman Sea. The boat, which was crammed with scores of Rohingya migrants, including many young children, was found drifting in Thai waters on 14 May. Passengers said several people had died in the previous days. Dozens of visibly weak people were on the deck of the stricken vessel, which was found apparently adrift several kilometres off Koh Lipe.
On Sunday, 10 May, a group of about 600 people arrived in the Indonesian province of Aceh on four boats. At about the same time, more than 1,000 others landed in three boats on the northern Malaysian resort island of Langkawi. At least two of these overcrowded boats were towed to shore by local fishermen. Those rescued were rounded up by the police. Pictured here: migrants believed to be Rohingya rest inside a shelter, Lhoksukon, Indonesia, 11 May 2015.
Human traffickers apparently abandoned the ships and left the hungry migrants to fend for themselves. Indonesian authorities and aid agencies believe the rescued group had been at sea for about a week. Many were in need of medical care. The authorities warn more desperate migrants could still be in peril at sea. Pictured here: Indonesian Rescue Team members distribute food to migrants in a shelter in Lhoksukon, Indonesia, 11 May 2015.
Every year, thousands of impoverished Bangladeshis and Muslim Rohingya from Buddhist-majority Myanmar brave perilous sea routes in rickety traffickers' boats similar to this one in a desperate attempt to reach Malaysia and Indonesia. The UNHCR estimates that some 25,000 Rohingya Muslims and Bangladeshis boarded people smugglers' boats in the first three months of this year.
Myanmar views its population of roughly 800,000 Rohingya as illegal Bangladeshi immigrants. Most of them are not recognised as citizens of the country, and outbreaks of sectarian violence have prompted many to flee. "An entire population feels their only option is to seek asylum by sea," says Matthew Smith of Fortify Rights. The figure of Rohingya trafficked in Thailand since 2012 could be as high as a quarter million.
Fleeing discrimination, many Rohingya contact a broker who tells them they will be taken directly to Malaysia for the equivalent of up to $200, says Smith. Throughout the journey they are denied adequate food and water and subjected to beatings. Some are even killed. The boats travel to Thai waters where they are transported to makeshift jungle camps onshore. Pictured here: Rohingya women and children on a military truck to be taken to a temporary shelter in Seunuddon, Indonesia, 10 May 2015.
Many Rohingya are forced to cross Thailand using vehicles run by smugglers, who hold them in captivity in squalid jungle camps until a ransom is paid by their family back home. However, following the Thai government's recent crackdown on human trafficking after the discovery of several mass graves (seen here), many smugglers are taking new measures, putting the migrants' lives at greater risk.
As a result of the crackdown by Thai authorities, Rohingya and Bangladeshi refugees were found wandering around southern Thailand near suspected jungle camps, apparently after they were abandoned by the smugglers who fled. Pictured here: rescue workers and forensic officials inspect the site of a mass grave near the Thai–Malaysian border. Authorities in Thailand uncovered the mass grave on 1 May 2015. It is believed to contain the remains of migrants from Myanmar and Bangladesh.
South-East Asia is being hit by a wave of migrants, partly driven by conflict, persecution and poverty. The Asia-Pacific region recently recorded an estimated 11.7 million trafficked people, the highest figure of any region. The Greater-Mekong Sub-region encompassing Cambodia, China, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam features some of the most extensive flows of migration and human trafficking.
Rohingya migrants swim to collect food supplies dropped by a Thai army helicopter. Thailand, which is often a transit point for the migrants, has asked for high-level meetings between the regional players, a request that has been rejected by Myanmar, where many of the refugees originate.
A Rohingya migrant, who arrived in Indonesia by boat, cries while speaking to a relative in Malaysia on a mobile phone at a temporary shelter in Kuala Langsa in Indonesia's Aceh Province, 16 May 2015. Many vessels crammed with refugees were sent back to sea despite a United Nations call to rescue thousands adrift in South-East Asian waters with dwindling food and water.
They 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.
Confirming the unrest an unnamed police officer in Buthidaung town, close to the worst violence, said border posts remained surrounded by militants as day broke in a fluid, dangerous and "complicated situation".
The flare up follows a milestone report on the conditions inside Rakhine by a commission led by former UN chief Kofi Annan.
It urged immediate action to heal the divide including scrapping the restrictions of movement and citizenship imposed on the roughly one million-strong Rohingya community in Rakhine.
The wedge of Rakhine closest to Bangladesh has been in lockdown since October 2016.
Deadly attacks by the militants on border police sparked a military response that left scores dead and forced tens of thousands to flee to Bangladesh.
The UN believes those security 'clearances' may have amounted to ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya, a mainly Muslim minority living in Buddhist Myanmar.
The army and Aung San Suu Kyi's civilian government vehemently deny allegations of widespread abuses including rapes and murders.
Myanmar security forces have conducted sporadic operations to flush out suspected militants throughout this year, often resulting in casualties among Rohingya villagers.
They have spoken of their fear at being trapped in between security forces and the militants, who are accused of conducting a shadowy assassination campaign against perceived collaborators with the state. (AFP)
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