About 200 villagers fled their homes in Myanmar’s restive northern Rakhine state after “extremist terrorists” exploded improvised bombs, set fire to villages, and launched additional attacks on police outposts in Maungdaw township on Sunday, locals said.
The residents of Myawaddy village north of Maungdaw township are hiding in nearby mountains after Muslim extremists torched neighboring Nga-khu-daing village, a Myawaddy villager said.
“They set fire to 38 houses in Nga-khu-daing village,” he told RFA’s Myanmar Service. “We don’t need food; we need security to protect [our] lives.”
Hundreds of Muslim militants also approached Thayet-oat village, home to 40 ethnic Rakhine people about 10 miles from Maungdaw, where they clashed with border guard force officers, a resident said.
“It all began just before noon,” said Myint Hlaing from Thayet-oat village. “They retreated at about 1 p.m. The navy intervened when we called for help, and that’s why they retreated. Reinforcements cannot come because the land contains mines, and the area is accessible only by water.”
Upper Pyuma village in northern Maungdaw was also set ablaze by Muslim militants, forcing residents to run to nearby Ngakhuya village, which the insurgents tried to attack but were met with a counteroffensive by the Myanmar military.
About 100 “extremist terrorists” attacked Ngayantchaung police outpost with handmade bombs, and another 500 who staged a second attack on the station were fought off by officers, the office of State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi said in a statement issued Sunday.
There was one report of a civilian injury but no casualties.
Insurgents surrounded Minkhamoung police outpost in Maungdaw’s Region 2 where security personnel fought back, while others set fire Yeaung Chaungwa police outpost in the township’s Region 3 before heading to Thayargon village, the statement said.
Security forces opened fire to disperse about 500 “extremist terrorists” surrounding Thayargon village, and instead the group destroyed Nantthataung village and a monastery, it said.
Security personnel were ambushed by about 200 extremists brandishing weapons near Taungpyo-Letwe village while they made their way to Nantthataung village, and they exchanged fire with attackers in Nwayontaung village in Region 6 which the latter torched, the statement said.
The extremists exploded two improvised explosive devices in Kyaukhlaygar village, destroyed Pyathat village, and attacked Chopyin outpost in Region 11 with homemade bombs, though no casualties were reported, it said.
About 200 extremists attacked Kyaungtaung police outpost in Maungdaw’s Region 10, burned down three houses belonging to Hindis in Ywathitkay ward, and set fire to about 100 homes in Bengali ward, the statement said.
The increased violence has prompted the foreign staff of United Nations agencies and other international nongovernmental organizations working in Maungdaw to evacuate to Rakhine’s capital Sittwe.
The torching of the villages and other violence follows attacks on 30 police outposts by what the Myanmar government calls Muslim “extremist terrorists” on Aug. 25-26 in northern Rakhine state that left more than 100 people dead.
The Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, which claims it exists legitimately under international law to “defend, salvage, and protect” the Rohngya community in Rakhine, claimed responsibility for attacks in the latest violence to grip the religiously and ethnically divided state.
But the group blamed the village burnings and other crimes on Myanmar army soldiers that have been deployed to northern Rakhine’s Maungdaw, Buthidaung, and Rathedaung townships
“While raiding Rohingya villages, the Burmese brutal military soldiers bring along with them groups of Rakhine [Buddhist] extremists to attack Rohingya villagers, loot Rohingyas’ properties and later burn down Rohingya houses in the village in order to make sure Rohingya suffer [the] maximum degree of terror and destruction,” the group said on its Twitter account.
Muslim leaders condemn actions
The latest developments prompted local Muslim leaders to condemn the actions and say that the killing of innocent people on either side is unacceptable.
“What is happening now [in northern Rakhine state] is not new, but a smoldering that has just erupted,” said Aye Lwin, a member of the government-appointed Advisory Commission on Rakhine State and a prominent Islamic leader, referring to long-standing tension and a history of violence between Muslim and Buddhist communities in Rakhine state.
The nine-member advisory commission submitted its final report to the Myanmar government on Aug. 24 calling for a review of the country’s Citizenship Law, which prevents Rohingya from becoming citizens, and for an end to restrictions on the minority to prevent further violence in the beleaguered region.
“Killing innocent people who are not involved in the conflict is entirely a terrorist attack.” He said. “I strongly condemn all terrorist acts. I think it is time for [the authorities] to urgently implement [the commission's] recommendations to resolve [Rakhine’s] problems.”
He called on authorities to implement security provisions and protect people according to law, and to take action against perpetrators of crimes and protect the innocent.
“Both Muslims and all Myanmar ethnicities in the nation should protect the innocent and condemn the culprits,” he said.
Other leaders emphasized the need for security in the area to prevent further violence.
“Now that we have reached a stage involving armed attacks, we first need stability, so the military and police should right now deal with these so-called Bengali extremists and attain stability,” said Maung Maung Ohn, former chief minister of Rakhine state, using the derogatory word “Bengali” to refer to Rohingya Muslims who are viewed as illegal imigrants from Bangladesh.
“Governments should handle the situation in time,” he said. “If these groups had been declared terrorists earlier and preventive measures could have been taken, things wouldn’t be this bad.”
The Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army also claimed responsibility for attacks on three border guard stations in northern Rakhine in October 2016 that left nine officers dead and sparked a crackdown on Rohingya communities. An estimated 1,000 people died during the so-called “security operation,” and about 90,000 Rohingya fled the area, with most going to neighboring Bangladesh.
Some Rohingya accused security forces of committing atrocities against them, but the Myanmar government has denied most of the allegations.
Ko Ko Gyi, a leader of Myanmar’s 88 Generation Student democracy movement and a member of the investigation commission on communal strife in Rakhine state formed in August 2012 after violence between Muslims and Buddhists rocked the region, said the issue is very sensitive and must be handled with extreme care.
“These sort of mob attacks didn’t happen during the rule of previous governments,” he said. “Now, we hear about mob attacks on police posts, brutal killings of innocent villagers, et cetera.”
“Though we need to consider human rights abuses, we also need to effectively curb terrorism and establish the rule of law,” he said. “On the other hand, people in both communities should also be educated to control their emotions and not to support these extremists.”
Reported by Thin Thiri and Min Thein Aung for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.