Scores Killed in Series of Attacks on Myanmar's Rakhine State Police Outposts

Special to BenarNews
170825-BD-rohingya-620.jpg Fires burn in the aftermath of deadly attacks on police outposts in the northern part of western Myanmar’s Rakhine state, Aug. 25, 2017.
Courtesy Myanmar State Counselor's Office

At least 71 people, including 12 Myanmar government troops, were killed when militants claiming to fight for the political rights of the oppressed Rohingya Muslims staged attacks on more than two dozen border posts in northern Rakhine State, triggering a new wave of refugees to Bangladesh, officials said Friday.

It was the deadliest single-day toll since fighting between the rebel group Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) and security forces erupted last October, killing nine policemen and setting off a counter-insurgency campaign by the authorities.

Among the dead were one security staffer, 10 policemen, a deputy township officer and 59 militants, according to a statement issued by the office of Myanmar's de-facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Eleven people were injured in the attacks, three of them seriously, and one “terrorist” was arrested, it said. The statement did not mention how many militants were involved in the attack.

On its Facebook page, Aung San Suu Kyi's office said the deadly attacks were intended to coincide with Thursday's release of a report by the Rakhine Advisory Commission led by former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, which recommended that the government act quickly to improve economic development and social justice in Rakhine state to end the violence between ethnic Buddhists and the Mulsim Rohingyas.

"The military and police personnel are fighting back against extremist Bengali terrorists," military chief Min Aung Hlaing said on Facebook, using a term used by the government to describe the stateless Rohingyas, because it maintains they are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

“It is clear that today’s attacks are a calculated attempt to undermine the efforts of those seeking to build peace and harmony in Rakhine state,” Aung San Suu Kyi said. “We must not allow our work to be derailed by the violent actions of extremists.”

ARSA took responsibility for the attacks on 30 border posts, saying they were launched in defense of Rohingya communities that had been allegedly brutalized by government forces.

"Burma has been ramping up military in Arakan state since last few weeks in order to derail the 'Kofi Annan Commission Report and Recommendations' by triggering an unrest in the state," ARSA said on its Twitter page. "Therefore, we have tried our best to avoid any potential conflict meanwhile."

It accused the military and security forces deployed in two areas of molesting Rohingya women while carrying out raids, killings and lootings in many Rohingya villages across the townships.

ARSA chief Ata Ullah said in a 19-minute video uploaded to YouTube earlier this month that the group's "primary objective" is to "liberate our people from dehumanized oppression perpetrated by all successive Burmese regimes.”

The violence and security crackdown has prompted a new exodus of Rohingya refugees to neighboring Bangladesh, where more than 75,000 Rohingya from northern Rakhine fled during a military crackdown following last October’s attacks.

"The new influx of Rohingya people will generate more problems. We request the Myanmar authority to be cautious in handling the issue. They should solve the problem politically, not militarily," Iqbal Sobhan Choudhury, information adviser to the prime minister, told BenarNews in Dhaka.

"Already Bangladesh is bearing the brunt of their conflict. Now Rohingyas will try to enter into Bangladesh. Those who are already staying in Bangladesh are causing big socio-economic problem."

More than 80,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh since last October's clashes, the Associated Press said, quoting a U.N. report.

Bangladesh Foreign Secretary Mohamndd Shahidul Haq told BenarNews on Friday that the government has issued a note of protest to Myanmar, citing that it is not possible to allow new Rohingyas anymore, though the country has allowed thousands of Rohingyas for humanitarian reasons for decades.

“We don’t think we will allow anymore new Rohingya now,” he said. “It can’t happen again and again. We have issued a strong note of protest to Myanmar.”

Sariful Islam Jomaddar, deputy commander (Teknaf 2) Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB), said a wave of Rohingya arrivals early Friday led to the detention of 146 people who tried to cross the border from different points of Naf River.

"And later on, we have sent them back with some humanitarian aid," he said.

More than 1,000 Rohingya women, along with children and cattle, had gathered near the land border between Myanmar and Bangladesh since early Friday, Agence France-Presse news service reported, quoting a border guard commander.

Mohammad Jubair, a Rohingya man, who entered into Bangladesh on Friday morning with 25 others, told BenarNews that they fled after coming under attack. He said he waited for more than three hours floating on the river.

"Suddenly since Thursday, military and Rakhine people started attacking on Rohingyas again. They are burning houses,” he said. “But Rohingyas did not fight back. I don’t know who carried out the attack on them [the military].”

BenarNews sources in Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh said ARSA militants had been crossing into Bangladesh.

“There are more than 150 members of Myanmar’s separatist Rohingya groups in Ukhiya-Teknaf areas, who go back and forth across the borders,” said a high-ranking source at a refugee camp who requested anonymity.

More than one million Rohingya Muslims live in northwestern Rakhine, where they are despised by the Buddhist majority, according to U.N. officials. Human rights activists said the Rohingya – who have been dubbed as “the most oppressed people in the world" – are denied citizenship, freedom of movement and access to basic services and healthcare.

Asked about presence of ARSA in Bangladesh, Iqbal Sobhan said, “Anybody can make irresponsible claim. But that is not true."

"Our Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has announced zero tolerance to militancy or insurgency,” he said. “Our government does not allow any insurgence group to use our land against the neighboring county like India and Myanmar. But if they have any authentic information about insurgent group, they can inform our security agency.”

Jesmin Papri and Pulack Ghatack in Dhaka and Abdur Rahman in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh contributed to this report.


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