YANGON — Muslim leaders in Myanmar have condemned the violence in northwestern Rakhine that erupted on Friday, urging the government to support all victims in the conflict area.
Al Haj U Aye Lwin, chief convener for the Islamic Center of Myanmar, said the government must find those behind attacks in Maungdaw Township and “take serious action against them.”
“Killing civilians is terrorism,” Al Haj U Aye Lwin, who is also a member of the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State, told The Irrawaddy on Monday. “There are innocent people on both sides who need help urgently.”
The help, he added, must include protection and basic needs.
The Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) claimed Friday’s attacks on the 30 police posts and an army base in Maungdaw, Buthidaung and Rathedaung townships.
The government reported at least 104 deaths, the vast majority militants, plus 12 members of security forces and several civilians.
The State Counselor’s Office labeled ARSA a terrorist organization and accused them of targeting civilians, including six members of a Hindu family—three of them were children—who were shot dead in northern Maungdaw on Saturday.
Thousands of Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists are fleeing the area and Reuters reported that the UN and other aid groups were moving staff out of the area on Sunday.
Lawyer and human rights defender U Robert San Aung told The Irrawaddy on Monday: “There are two sides—terrorists and victims. This is not a racial or religious issue, all the people should cooperate with each other for the enforcement of law.”
“The government’s operation should set a good example of how to handle problems—showing the will to separate terrorists and innocent people,” he said.
Ko Aung Ko Ko, director of Myanmar Islam youth group MOSAIC Myanmar, denounced the violence and warned that groups could exploit the conflict. “Both communities have been affected by the terrorists’ violence.”
He stressed that the government, civil society groups, and the media had a responsibility to protect people from misinformation.
Former UN secretary-general and chair of the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State Kofi Annan denounced the attacks in a statement released on Friday and urged the security forces to exercise restraint.
“As Chair of the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State I am gravely concerned by, and strongly condemn, the recent attacks in Rakhine State. I am saddened to hear of the loss of life of members of the security forces.”
“No cause can justify such brutality and senseless killing,” the statement said, adding that the perpetrators must be held to account.
The attacks occurred just one day after the advisory commission finished its year-long mandate to advise the Myanmar 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 and encouraged all communities to reject violence.
Al Haj U Aye Lwin urged the government to implement the commission’s recommendations, saying it could help “build peace and harmony in Rakhine State.”