Two Muslims were killed and six injured in fresh violence in western Myanmar’s restive Rakhine state after security forces opened fire following a dispute at a displaced persons’ camp, local officials and the U.N. refugee agency said Friday.
Rakhine state spokesperson Myo Thant said the violence broke out while workers were building new shelters at the Kyeinnipyin camp in Pauktaw township housing some 4,000 Muslims—mostly ethnic minority Rohingyas—displaced by Buddhist-Muslim violence that rocked the region last year.
UNHCR said in a report Friday that the violence had been triggered amid rumors that displaced persons would not be allowed to return to their homes after the new shelters were built.
"Gunfire was used by the authorities to disperse the crowd, resulting in the fatalities and wounding," it said, adding that two of the wounded were minors.
Myo Thant confirmed two were killed in the violence, saying security forces had opened fire on Muslims from the camp who had “attacked” camp administrators.
“Soldiers fired at the refugees because those 300 refugees tried to attack the administrator of Pauktaw Township, other officials, and security forces,” he said, adding that 300 camp residents had “rioted” against 35 workers.
One died in the shooting on Thursday, while the other man died on Friday, he said.
“The body of the second man was found when the administrative officials and security forces went and searched the village,” he said.
The six injured are receiving treatment from aid workers and work on building the new shelters has been halted, Myo Thant said, adding that a fight had broken out while the workers were building them.
“The head of the workers, [identified only as] Kalu, and a Muslim got into an argument.”
“Then, more refugees came and the crowd became bigger. So, soldiers fired on the crowd to scatter and one died because of this,” he said.
Call for investigation
UNHCR has called for an investigation into the incident, saying stronger measures were needed to dispel rumors that spread among Rohingyas living in the camps.
"Joint efforts by the government, community leaders and humanitarian actors are also needed to dispel rumors about the rights of displaced people to return to their places of origin in Kyeinnipyin and other villages where these sentiments have been emerging,” UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards said.
It was unclear whether the men killed were Rohingya as the Kyeinnipyin camp is home to both Rohingyas and Kaman Muslims, a UNHCR spokesperson told Agence France-Presse.
Some 140,000 Muslims were displaced by violence in two bouts of violence in Rakhine state in June and October last year that saw entire villages burned.
Stateless Rohingyas, considered in Myanmar to be outsiders from Bangladesh, bore the brunt of the violence and many have fled by boat to neighboring countries in Southeast Asia, where they are also held in refugee camps.
Thai policeman charged with Rohingya trafficking
On Thursday, Mynanmar’s neighboring Thailand charged a police officer with human trafficking of a Rohingya woman who had fled from Myanmar, according to reports.
The case is believed to be the first time a Thai person has faced charges of trafficking members of the stateless Muslim minority despite previous probes.
The 25-year-old woman was allegedly lured from a shelter in southern Thailand and subsequently raped by a Rohingya man, who has been charged for the assault, Agence France-Presse reported.
The officer is accused of driving her and her daughters, aged 12 and nine, and two other women, from the shelter in Phang Nga in late May, telling the woman she would be taken to be reunited with her husband in Malaysia.
In January, Thai authorities opened an investigation into allegations that army officials were involved in trafficking Rohingyas.
Around 2,000 Rohingya refugees remain in detention in Thailand while authorities wait for a third country to offer to accept them.
More than 20,000 Rohingyas are estimated to have fled Myanmar, where they are denied many citizenship rights, by boat since last year’s violence to neighboring countries in Southeast Asia, according to the U.S. State Department’s annual report on human trafficking.
Reported by Min Thein Aung for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.