Last week, dozens of Rohingya people drowned while crossing the Naf River that separates the two countries, with bodies of mostly women and children washing up on the Bangladeshi shoreline.

"It's clear that the violence [in Myanmar] is very serious," said Anagha Neelakantan from International Crisis Group (ICG). She joins other international rights groups in urging the Myanmar government to allow humanitarian and media access in Rakhine, the country's poorest state.

"The government will and should be judged based on its actions in the coming weeks," Neelakantan added.

The response of Myanmar's security forces to last year's attack by insurgents is still being investigated. Blomqvist said, "The abuses we documented then killings, torture, rape, burning of homes may have amounted to crimes against humanity. This must not happen again."

A stateless people

The 1.1 million Rohingya are a Muslim minority not recognised by the Buddhist-majority Myanmar. Considered to be illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, the Rohingya are denied citizenship and rights in Myanmar, despite them claiming centuries-old roots in Rakhine.

Bangladesh, however, equally has a long history of rejecting the Rohingya.

"Bangladesh has refused to register newly arrived Rohingya as refugees for decades," Blomqvist explains, "a policy that is keeping tens of thousands of people in Bangladesh in a state of limbo."

Without legal rights, he says, the Rohingya struggle to find employment and are vulnerable to abuse by criminal gangs.

Mobilising insurgents

Formed last year by young Rohingya exiles in Saudi Arabia, the small insurgent group now calling itself the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) is the cause of the recent bout of conflict in western Myanmar.

Analysts blame Myanmar's government for the conditions that led to the group's creation. But despite militant training from Pakistan and possibly Afghanistan and funding from the diaspora and donors in Saudi Arabia, ICG's Neelakantan believes, "there is no evidence so far that the militant group supports a transnational jihadist agenda."

Posting statements on Twitter, ARSA has described itself as "the guardians and protectors of the oppressed Rohingya," claiming they were waging "a defensive war with the brutal Burmese military regime."

With recent reports of some Rohingya men in Bangladesh sneaking across the border to join the insurgents fighting in Rakhine, Neelakantan warns, "The [Myanmar] military and government should be careful not to assume all Rohingya are sympathisers or supporters [of jihadists]." She adds, "The attacks and violence make it clear that the group's actions are harming, not helping the Rohingya communities."

Soraya Auer

© Deutsche Welle 2017

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