Weekend Clashes in Northern Arakan State Leave at Least 27 Dead

By The Irrawaddy 14 November 2016

The government reported on Monday that at least 27 people died in weekend clashes between the security forces and militants in northern Arakan State, in the latest escalation of a month-long conflict in the area.

On Saturday, security forces were ambushed by about 60 attackers holding guns, knives and spears in a village in Maungdaw Township, the government said in a statement. One soldier and six attackers were killed.

An officer died following a later confrontation with around 500 armed men in which the army called in air force helicopters.

During a clearance operation at Dargyizartaung village in the same township on Sunday, around 20 men armed with machetes and wooden clubs were fired on by security forces, killing 19, state media said.

A number of members of the advisory commission on Arakan State led by former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan were due to make a two-day visit to the restive region starting on November 15, but the visit’s timing was being reconsidered in the wake of the weekend violence, commission member Alhaj U Aye Lwin told The Irrawaddy on Monday.

The members intended to meet with leaders from all communities as well as religious heads in the area, Alhaj U Aye Lwin said, following instructions from Kofi Annan to listen and learn from different voices in the troubled region.

‘‘We want to observe the situation on the ground as eyewitnesses,’’ he added.

Meanwhile Human Rights Watch released satellite images on Saturday that appear to show 430 burnt buildings in three Muslim Rohingya villages in northern Maungdaw Township. The images were taken between 22 October and 10 November.

Human Rights Watchcalled for unfettered access to the area that has been under military lockdown since October 9 for the UN, media and human rights monitors. Allegations of serious human rights abuses against the local population, including the rape of women and the burning of homes have been widely reported since the security operation began.

“New satellite images not only confirm the widespread destruction of Rohingya villages but show that it was even greater than we first thought,” said Brad Adams, director at Human Rights Watch.

Army-run media on Monday claimed that militants were deliberately burning buildings.

Burma is obligated under international law to conduct thorough, prompt, and impartial investigations of alleged human rights violations, prosecute those responsible, and provide adequate redress for victims of violations, Human Rights Watch said.

On Friday the UN’s special representative on sexual violence in conflict called on Burma to investigate allegations of sexual assault by security forces.

Zainab Hawa Bangura added that it was essential for the government to allow humanitarian access to the area.

The UN’s children’s organization said last week that the conflict was taking a ‘‘terrible toll’’ on children already suffering high levels of deprivation and malnutrition. It called for a full resumption of services in northern ArakanState as well as the lifting of restrictions on access for health and other professionals.