Three Muslim Rohingya women were shot dead by Myanmar's security forces as they resisted government moves to set up temporary shelters in an area where their homes were burned down due to sectarian violence, according to police and reports Wednesday.
At least six others from the minority group were injured in the incident Tuesday in Parein village, Mrauk-U township in western Rakhine state, where about 200 people were killed and 140,000 mostly Rohingyas displaced in two waves of sectarian unrest between Buddhists and Muslims last year.
Police said they opened fire when clashes broke out after the women and other Rohingya villagers sought to stop the unloading of wood and other material brought to build temporary shelters.
"When some workers were unloading those goods at the port, security forces, police and soldiers were on guard there at that time, and about 200 Bengali men and women shouted and approached the boat aggressively," a police officer from the Mrauk-U police station told RFA's Myanmar Service.
"That’s why police and soldiers fired to scatter the mob," the police officer said, adding that he was unable to give the latest casualty figures. The villagers wanted the authorities to build houses for them instead of temporary shelters, he said.
He was referring to the Rohingyas as "Bengalis," echoing a widespread belief among most people in Myanmar that they are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
Fear of losing land
The Associated Press and Agence France-Presse, quoting police, said three women died in the clashes. AP said six others were injured, while AFP cited four.
"They think they will lose their own land if they are moved to the new shelters. So they don't move," local police officer Maung Maung Mya told AFP by telephone.
Rohingya Blogger, a website covering Rohingya news, said four women—one of them a pregnant woman in her 20's—were shot dead on the spot and five other villagers were injured in the clashes triggered after workers from another township came to unload wood to build new dwellings.
It said that when Parein villagers sought to stop the unloading, they began quarreling with police, who opened fire on them.
"The villagers said that they used to live in the houses in the village which were destroyed during the violence and now they could not accept staying in such temporary huts," according to Rohingya Blogger, which listed all the names of those dead and wounded.
Around 800,000 Muslim Rohingyas live in Rakhine state, but most of them, according to rights groups, have been denied citizenship as they are considered illegal immigrants despite having lived in Myanmar for generations.
The U.N. describes these stateless people as one of the world's most persecuted minorities.
A long-awaited official report in April on the violence in Rakhine recommended that security forces be doubled in the area and given better resources, while navy patrols should be bolstered and a maritime police force established to deter immigrants arriving by boat.
The report also recommended that more aid be channeled to help Rohingyas displaced in the clashes and called for a process to examine their citizenship status, though it did not hint at any major reforms that would embrace them as citizens.
The government-appointed commission’s recommendations followed a report from U.S.-based Human Rights Watch accusing security forces of complicity in “ethnic cleansing" against the Rohingyas—a claim the government denies.
Reported by Min Thein Aung for RFA's Myanmar Service.Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.