BANGKOK — Advocates for Myanmar’s Muslim ethnic Rohingya community said Wednesday that more than 100 members of the minority group have been killed in recent government counterinsurgency sweeps in the western state of Rakhine.
Ko Ko Linn of the Arakan Rohingya National Organization said that according to villagers, at least 150 people had been killed in Maungdaw district by security forces since Saturday. Independent verification of both army and activists’ claims is difficult because the government has restricted access to the area.
“The reason why the international news agencies and aid groups are not allowed to go there is because the military is trying to cover up what they are doing there, the killings and other things,” Ko Ko Linn said by phone. “They are lying.”
Nay San Lwin, a blogger based in Europe who has closely monitored Rohingya developments since 2012, said reports from a network of activists in Rakhine said that more than 100 bodies had been discovered by villagers, some covered by hay or burned.
The government on Tuesday acknowledged the deaths of 69 “violent attackers” and 17 members of the security forces. The attackers weren’t specifically identified, but the army has aligned with Rakhine Buddhists against the Rohingya.
The government says the attackers burned down hundreds of homes, but rights groups blame the army for such actions and other abuses of Rohingya civilians.
The two parties are also engaged in a propaganda battle. The government has said the international media are reporting “fabrications” about the situation, while Rohingya activists allege the army has taken pictures of captured Rohingya, including children, posed with various weapons such as spears and clubs.
The government held a news conference late Wednesday in the capital, Naypyitaw, seeking to rebut critical news reports. President’s office spokesman Zaw Htay accused the U.S.-based group Human Rights Watch of exaggeration in reporting Saturday that satellite imagery showed a total of 430 destroyed buildings in three villages, and said international media had misreported the situation.
He said journalists were not yet allowed to go to Maungdaw for security reasons, and that the affiliations of the “attackers” were unknown.
Tensions have been high in Rakhine since fighting in 2012 between Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims. More than 100,000 Rohingya are still in squalid camps for the internally displaced after being driven from their homes at that time. Although many have lived in Myanmar for generations, they are widely regarded as having illegally migrated from Bangladesh, and the government denies citizenship to most.
Government military operations intensified last month after nine police officers were killed in attacks on posts along the border with Bangladesh.
International concern has been building since then.
On Tuesday, the United States called for Myanmar to do more to stem the violence. State Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau said a U.S. delegation holding previously scheduled talks in Myanmar urged the government to “improve transparency.”
The U.S. also repeated its call for an independent investigation and humanitarian access.
Concern was also expressed by former U.N. chief Kofi Annan, who heads a commission appointed by Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi to investigate the cause of tensions in Rakhine.
“As chair of the Rakhine Advisory Commission, I wish to express my deep concern over the recent violence in northern Rakhine state, which is plunging the state into renewed instability and creating new displacement,” Annan said in a statement Tuesday. “All communities must renounce violence and I urge the security services to act in full compliance with the rule of law.”
Nearly 70 “violent attackers” have been killed by Myanmar’s security forces in northern Rakhine state over the past week, the army said, claiming the dead were members of an armed Rohingya group.
Ten policemen and seven soldiers were also killed in clashes, the military added.
The announcement takes to 102 the tally of deaths of suspected Rohingya Muslim attackers since October 9, while the security forces’ toll stands at 32, based on reports in state-owned media.
A series of skirmishes and attacks over the past week led “to the death of 69 violent attackers and the arrest of 234”, the military’s True News Information Team said late on Monday.
The bloodshed is the most serious since hundreds were killed in communal clashes in Rakhine in 2012.
Myanmar’s 1.1 million Rohingya are denied citizenship with many of the country’s majority Buddhists regarding them as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
The death toll update came as former United Nations chief Kofi Annan, who chairs a commission on resolving Rakhine’s problems, voiced concern at the upsurge in violence.
“I wish to express my deep concern over the recent violence in northern Rakhine state, which is plunging the state into renewed instability and creating new displacement,” said Annan in a statement.
“All communities must renounce violence, and I urge the security services to act in full compliance with the rule of law,” he said.
|Rohingya face severe restrictions on travel and access to healthcare [Soe Zeya Tun/Reuters]|
US State Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau said on Tuesday a US delegation holding previously scheduled talks in Myanmar urged the government to “improve transparency”.
The US also repeated its call for an independent investigation and humanitarian access.
The violence has exposed tensions between Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi’s seven-month-old civilian administration and the army, which ruled for decades and retains key powers, including control of ministries responsible for security.
Members of an investigative commission, set up by Suu Kyi in August, are in Rakhine for consultations with community members this week.
Soldiers have poured into the area along Myanmar’s frontier with Bangladesh, responding to coordinated attacks on three border posts on October 9 that killed nine police officers.
They have locked down the district, where the vast majority of residents are Rohingya Muslims, shutting out aid workers and independent observers, and conducting sweeps of villages.
The Rohingya face severe restrictions on travel and access to healthcare. Many were dependent on regular nutritional and medical aid long before the outbreak of fighting in October.
Tags: abuses of Rohingya civilians, Aung San Suu Kyi, Bangladesh, Buddhists, burned down hundreds of homes, former U.N. chief Kofi Annan, human rights, Human Rights Watch, immigrants, migrants, Myanmar, Myanmar Is Killing Muslim Ethnic Rohingya, Myanmar's Muslim ethnic Rohingya, Rakhine, Rakhine Advisory Commission, refugees, transparency, U. S., U.S. State Department