New Myanmar unrest panics Rohingya in border limbo

Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims have fled Myanmar since a military crackdown started in 2017. (File/AFP)
Updated 09 January 2019
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New Myanmar unrest panics Rohingya in border limbo

  • "Heavy fighting is going on between the government troops and Arakan Army inside Myanmar," Rohingya leader Dil Mohammad said
  • Refugee community leader Nur Alam said gunfire could frequently be heard after dark on the other side of the border

BANDARBAN, Bangladesh: Panic is gripping thousands of Rohingya Muslim refugees living in no-man's land on the Myanmar-Bangladesh border, with daily clashes between Myanmar security forces and ethnic Rakhine insurgents.
Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims have fled Myanmar since a military crackdown started in 2017 -- most to sprawling refugee camps in Bangladesh -- but many have been living in limbo on the border, unwilling to enter the camps or return home.
They are now caught on the sidelines of fighting between Myanmar troops and the Arakan Army, a militant group seeking more autonomy for western Rakhine state's Buddhist-majority population.
"Heavy fighting is going on between the government troops and Arakan Army inside Myanmar," Rohingya leader Dil Mohammad told AFP.
"The situation is very tense," he said, adding the security build-up and daily gunfire had created "panic".
Myanmar troops last week set up security camps and bunkers along the border after fighting saw 13 police killed.
Some of the fortifications are directly adjacent to a border fence running alongside a stream, and overlook shacks erected by an estimated 4,500 displaced Muslims living in the narrow strip of land.
Refugee community leader Nur Alam said gunfire could frequently be heard after dark on the other side of the border.
"Every night it is close by. The Myanmar border guard have set up 10 new posts near our camp. It's very intimidating," he told AFP.
In a statement issued Wednesday, the United Nations said it was "deeply concerned" about the situation in the area.
A Bangladesh official said they were aware of the border tensions.
"We will talk to the relevant authorities to discuss what to do," local administrator Kamal Hossain said.
Rohingya in Buddhist-majority Myanmar have suffered decades of persecution. Impoverished western Rakhine state in particular is scarred by deep ethnic and religious hatred.
Refugees pouring into Bangladesh have detailed mass killings, arson and rape at the hands of Myanmar troops and Buddhist mobs.
Myanmar has denied any wrongdoing, saying it was defending itself against Rohingya militants who attacked police posts.
The United Nations has called for a genocide investigation into the crackdown.


Myanmar army ‘kills 13’ in counterattacks on Rakhine rebels

Updated 3 min 6 sec ago
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Myanmar army ‘kills 13’ in counterattacks on Rakhine rebels

  • Rakhine has seen new levels of violence in recent weeks between the Arakan insurgents fighting for greater autonomy for ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and security forces
  • ‘We got 13 dead bodies of enemies and seized three weapons’

NAYPYIDAW, Myanmar: Myanmar’s army said Friday it killed 13 ethnic Rakhine fighters in counterstrikes after the well-armed group carried out deadly attacks on police posts earlier this month.
Rakhine state has seen new levels of violence in recent weeks between the Arakan Army (AA) — insurgents fighting for greater autonomy for ethnic Rakhine Buddhists — and security forces.
Many of the battles are taking place in the same region from which more than 720,000 Rohingya Muslims fled to Bangladesh after August 2017 when the army launched a crackdown the UN deemed ethnic cleansing.
The AA are a more formidable force than the fighters claiming to represent the Rohingya and have inflicted historically higher death tolls on the military.
On January 4, also Myanmar’s independence day, the AA launched pre-dawn raids that killed 13 police officers and wounded nine before the army stepped in, setting off violence that has displaced thousands.
But the army hit back, killing the same number of AA rebels in total in operations from January 5-16.
“We got 13 dead bodies of enemies and seized three weapons,” Major General Tun Tun Nyi said in a rare press conference in the capital Naypyidaw.
“Some officers and soldiers from our side were killed,” he added, without releasing the figures.
Myanmar’s military almost never provides statistics on casualties suffered in fighting against the country’s myriad ethnic armed groups.
The army called a temporary cease-fire against different insurgents in northern Myanmar last month but Rakhine state was excluded from the move because of the AA and the Rohingya militant group, which is called the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA).
The troubled state is a complex patchwork of Rakhine, Rohingya, and other ethnic minorities that intercommunal violence has largely driven apart.
Most of the Rohingya in the northern part of the state have been pushed into Bangladesh, where they refuse to return to Myanmar without guarantees of safety and citizenship.
The United Nations has called for Myanmar’s top generals to be investigated for genocide as a result of the operations but they reject the accusation.
The fighting with AA rebels complicates an already fraught repatriation process for the Rohingya.
Brig. Gen. Zaw Min Tun blamed the AA insurgents for the police post attacks earlier this month and accused them of “stabbing from the back.”