Myanmar border police prepare flag-draped coffins containing nine bodies of border guards killed in raids during a funeral ceremony at a cemetery in Maungdaw in Rakhine State on October 11, 2016. © AFP / by Hla-Hla Htay
SITTWE, Myanmar – Myanmar police will begin arming and training non-Muslim residents in the troubled north of Rakhine State, where officials say militants from the Rohingya Muslim group pose a growing security threat, police and civilian officials said.
Human rights monitors and a leader of the mostly stateless Rohingya told Reuters the move risked sharpening intercommunal tensions in a region that has just seen its bloodiest month since 2012, when hundreds of people were killed in clashes between Muslims and ethnic Rakhine Buddhists.
Buddhist monks participate in an anti-Muslim demonstration in Sittwe, Rakhine State, on July 3. Photo by AFP
Soldiers have poured into the Maungdaw area along Myanmar’s frontier with Bangladesh, responding to coordinated attacks on three border posts on Oct. 9 in which nine police officers were killed.
Security forces have locked down the area – shutting out aid workers and independent observers – and conducted sweeps of villages in Maungdaw, where the vast majority are Rohingyas. Official reports say five soldiers and 33 alleged insurgents have been killed.
Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi has urged security forces to exercise restraint and act lawfully, but residents say civilians have been killed, raped and arbitrarily detained and houses razed to the ground. The government has denied abuses by troops.
Ethnic Rakhine political leaders have urged the government to arm local Buddhists against what they say is rising militancy among the Rohingya.
Rakhine State police chief Colonel Sein Lwin told Reuters his force had started recruiting new “regional police” from among the ethnic Rakhine and other non-Muslim ethnic minorities living in Maungdaw.
Candidates who did not meet the educational attainment standards, or criteria such as minimum height, required for recruitment by the regular police would be accepted for the scheme, he said.
“But they have to be the residents,” said Sein Lwin. “They will have to serve at their own places.”