UPDATED at 9:43 A.M. EST on 2016-10-11
At least four Muslims died on Monday when government army and police forces conducted house-to-house searches for weapons in the township of Maungdaw in western Myanmar’s troubled Rakhine state following a deadly weekend attack on border guards, according to residents.
The clash occurred while police and soldiers were searching a Muslim quarter of the town near the border with Bangladesh following Sunday’s bloody attack that left nine border guards and eight attackers dead, residents told RFA’s Myanmar Service.
The bodies of the four who died on Monday were taken to a hospital in Maungdaw, they said.
RFA could not reach the town’s administrative offices to confirm the deaths.
“We have many soldiers in the town,” said Maung Ohn, a lawmaker in the Rakhine state legislature and a resident of Maungdaw. “The Maungdaw market is closed, and all Muslim shops are closed. There are almost no people on the streets.”
The searches came after attacks by unknown assailants on three border guard posts in Rakhine state’s Maungdaw and Rathedaung townships near the border with Bangladesh on Sunday killed nine guards, wounded five, and left one missing, according to national police chief Zaw Win.
The attackers seized 51 weapons and more than 10,000 rounds of ammunition in the initial attack, he said during a press conference in the capital Naypyidaw on Sunday.
Eight attackers were killed, and two were captured on Sunday, he said.
'On the run'
Tin Maung Swe, secretary of the Rakhine state government, told the online journal The Irrawaddy that the captured pair confessed to planning the attacks for more than three months with the help of local Muslims in Maungdaw, where the majority self-identify as Rohingya.
Another 240 people involved in the attacks remain “on the run,” he said.
Authorities in Maungdaw, Buthidaung, and Rathedaung townships have extended an existing curfew from 11 p.m.-4 a.m. to 7 p.m.-6 a.m. and prohibited groups of more than five people from gathering, The Irrawaddy reported.
All of the roughly 400 government-run schools in Maungdaw district, which comprises Maungdaw and Buthidaung townships, were closed on Monday until further notice, said Aung Kyaw Tun, director of the Education Department in Rakhine state.
“We closed all schools in the townships and sent teachers to safe places,” he said. “These insurgents put landmines in the area, and we will bring the teachers back only after these landmines are cleared.”
Soldiers have been deployed in the area, and some streets have been closed off as both soldiers and police search Muslim villages for the weapons taken during the first border guard post attack, he said.
State government spokesman Min Aung told The Irrawaddy that a police report alleges that local Muslims involved in the attack had links to the Rohingya Solidarity Organization (RSO), a small militant group active in the 1980s and the 1990s until the Myanmar government launched a counteroffensive to expel its insurgents from the border area with Bangladesh.
Since then, the group has been believed to be defunct.
Lt. Col. Abu Jar Al Zahid, commander of the Border Guards Bangladesh (BGB), a paramilitary force under the Ministry of Home Affairs, bordering Teknaf region, said that Myanmar border police informed them on Sunday that “some miscreants” had attacked their outposts in Maungdaw.
“We could hear the sound of firing from Bangladesh territory,” he told RFA’s sister news organization BenarNews. “Before the Myanmar border police informed us, we deployed our troops along the border so that the miscreants could not enter Bangladesh.”
The BGB commander also said his forces had no proof that people from Bangladesh had entered Myanmar to carry out the attack.
But local authorities in Myanmar told BGB officers based in the Bangladeshi city of Chittagong that a terrorist group, including members of the RSO, had killed several border guard police along the frontier, said BGB Director General Maj. Gen. Aziz Ahmed.
He told BenarNews that no members of the RSO or other extremist groups from Myanmar were inside Bangladesh, and that detained extremists had already been handed over to neighboring authorities.
A senior officer in Bangladesh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs who requested anonymity told BenarNews that the ministry was confident that the attack did not involve anyone who had crossed the border into Myanmar.
Religious and ethnic tensions run high in Rakhine where 1.1 million stateless Rohingya suffer persecution because they are considered illegal immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh.
Communal violence with Rakhine Buddhists in 2012 left 200 people dead and forced others into squalid internally displaced persons camps where they are denied basic rights, including that of citizenship.
The deaths of the four Muslims in Maungdaw on Monday come nearly seven weeks after State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s de facto national leader, formed a Rakhine advisory commission led by former United Nations chief Kofi Annan to review conflict resolution between Buddhists and Rohingya, humanitarian assistance, and development issues in the impoverished and divided state.
Rakhine Buddhists and the Arakan National Party (ANP), which represents the interests of the Buddhist-majority Rakhine people, oppose the commission and have called for its disbandment.
Reported by Min Thein Aung for RFA’s Myanmar Service and by Kamran Reza Chowdhury for RFA’s sister news organization BenarNews. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.
Correction: An earlier version of the story incorrectly identified Rakhine state lawmaker Maung Ohn as Maung Maung Ohn, former chief minister of Rakhine state.