Death Toll Rises in Rakhine

By Moe Myint 25 August 2017

YANGON —Muslim militant attacks on 31 police and military targets in Maungdaw, Buthidaung, and Rathedaung townships in northern Rakhine on Thursday night and Friday left at least 71 dead, including 10 policemen, one soldier, and one immigration officer as well as 59 suspected militants, according to a State Counselor’s Office statement released Friday afternoon.

An earlier statement on the official Facebook page of the State Counselor’s Office Information Committee said, “The extremist Bengali insurgents attacked a police station in Maungdaw region in northern Rakhine state with a handmade bomb explosive and held coordinated attacks on several police posts at 1 a.m.”

The Rohingya Muslim community in Rakhine is referred to by many, including the government, as “Bengali” to suggest they are interlopers from Bangladesh.

Some 150 men allegedly attacked Infantry Base 552 and an explosive device was used in an attack in Maungdaw, according to the State Counselor’s Office.

Another 150 men allegedly attacked a police station at Taung Bazaar at 3 a.m. and the bodies of six suspected attackers were found, according to a statement on the Facebook page of the Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing.

A number of ethnic Rakhine Buddhists fled their villages in Taung Bazaar and were taking refuge in a monastery, according to a local journalist.

Residents fled fires in Chein Khar Li and Zay Di Pyin villages in Rathedaung Township on Friday, according to the statement released by the Commander-in-Chief’s Office.

The attacks took place one day after an advisory commission led by the former UN chief Kofi Annan finished its year-long mandate to advise State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s government on long-term solutions for the ethnically and religiously divided Rakhine State.

In its final report, the commission recommended holding the Myanmar Army to account on accusations of human rights abuses, as well accelerating citizenship programs.

Kofi Annan denounced the attacks in a statement released on Friday, calling them a “worrying escalation of violence,” and urged security forces to exercise restraint in dealing with the situation.

The Resident Coordinator of the United Nations in Myanmar Renata Lok-Dessallien also released a statement on Friday condemning the attacks and called on all parties to refrain from violence and resolve issues through dialogue.

Both the British and the US embassies also released statements denouncing the attacks, with the US Embassy adding: “We also urge all communities to ensure their rhetoric and their actions contribute to restoration of peace and stability.”

A government statement listed the 31 locations that had come under attack—including Koe Tan Kauk in Rathedaung, which was also attacked by militants in October 2016.

Maungdaw regional lawmaker from the Arakan National Party (ANP) U Maung Ohn said, “I have no words to express how I feel about this incident,” but added that he had heard that at least 10 had been killed.

He condemned the Lower House for voting down an ANP proposal to intensify administrative and security measures in northern Rakhine State on Thursday.

“This is issue is not just of concern to Rakhine: every member of Parliament should consider the case as a national affair,” U Maung Ohn told The Irrawaddy, noting that many lawmakers from the ruling National League for Democracy party have never visited the conflict-torn region.

A Twitter account claimed by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), a group that says it is fighting against Rohingya persecution, posted a statement on Friday morning saying that they had undertaken “defensive actions” against security forces in more than 25 locations, but did not provide details on any confrontations.

The move, ARSA said, followed a two-week blockade by the authorities on food for Muslims in Rathedaung Township, and increased violence by the military in Rathedaung and Maungdaw against Rohingya communities.

In Friday’s statement, the group vowed that they would “continue [their] struggle.” In previous statements dating back to May, statements from the ARSA Twitter account maintain that the group was committed to avoiding civilian targets.

In October 2016, Harakah al-Yaqin—meaning “Faith Movement,” and the name by which the ARSA was formerly known—claimed responsibility for attacks on three border police outposts, killing nine policemen.

In response to the attacks, the police and military initiated clearance operations in northern Rakhine State, displacing more than 70,000 Rohingya to Bangladesh, and facing allegations by international rights groups of atrocities including extrajudicial killings, torture and rape.