Rakhine clashes

Rakhine clashes

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A fresh outbreak of violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine state has caused tens of thousands of Rohingya civilians to flee towards Bangladesh.

The exodus began on Friday after Rohingya militants attacked police posts, killing 12 members of the security forces. Dozens of militants are reported to have been killed in both those and subsequent clashes.

When similar attacks on police posts took place last year, Myanmar’s military launched a crackdown on the Rohingya that led to claims of severe human rights abuses.

As people surge towards the border, the UN has urged Myanmar’s authorities to protect all civilians “without discrimination”.

The Muslim Rohingya have faced years of persecution in Myanmar. Deep-seated tensions between them and the majority Buddhist population in Rakhine have led to deadly communal violence in the past.

When did the latest violence start?

On Friday Rohingya insurgents armed with knives and home-made bombs attacked more than 30 police posts in northern Rakhine, the government said.

Clashes are reported to have continued ever since, displacing civilians from both communities. There are also reports of civilian deaths.

Human Rights Watch says satellite data shows widespread fires in at least 10 areas, and journalists have reported seeing blazes across the Bangladesh border.

The government says militants started the fires, while fleeing Rohingya say they were started by troops and Buddhist mobs carrying out raids in the wake of the militant attacks.

Journalists’ access to Rakhine state is severely restricted, making it hard to confirm details on the ground.

What is the situation at the border?

The numbers of Rohingya seeking safety in Bangladesh have been steadily rising since the 25 August attacks.

The UN in Bangladesh says that more than 27,000 people have crossed the border so far. Most of those appear to be women and children, and injured people are reported to be among them.

More are said to be stranded in an unoccupied zone between Myanmar and Bangladesh.

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There are also many reports of people being prevented from crossing the border, despite UN pleas for Bangladesh to let people in.

Several people are reported to have died trying to cross the Naf River (which marks the border), including a group of 20 who drowned when their boat capsized.

Bangladesh is already home to hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees who have fled previous outbreaks of violence in Myanmar.

Inside Myanmar, there are also reports of Rakhine Buddhists moving south to escape the violence.

Who are the militants?

A group called the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (Arsa) says it carried out Friday’s attacks. The group first emerged in October 2016, when it carried out similar assaults on police posts, killing nine police officers.

It says its main aim is to protect the Rohingya Muslim minority from state repression in Myanmar.

The government says Arsa is a terrorist group whose leaders have been trained abroad. Its leader is Ata Ullah, a Rohingya born in Pakistan who was raised in Saudi Arabia, according to the International Crisis Group.

But a spokesman for the group told Asia Times that it had no links to jihadi groups and that its members were young Rohingya men angered by events since communal violence in 2012.

What are the Rohingyas’ grievances?

Myanmar’s government claims the Rohingya are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and denies them citizenship, even though many say they have been there for generations.

Many are living in temporary camps after being forced from their villages by the wave of communal violence that swept Rakhine in 2012. They live in one of Myanmar’s poorest states, and their movements and access to employment are severely restricted.

In the wake of the militant attacks of October 2016, many Rohingya accused the security forces of rape, killings, burning villages and torture during the military crackdown that followed. More than 100,000 have now fled into Bangladesh, according to figures from the UN and IOM.

The UN human rights body, in a report, said “devastating cruelty” had taken place. The UN is now carrying out a formal investigation, although the military denies wrongdoing.

On Tuesday UN human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein called the latest violence deplorable but said it could have been predicted and prevented.

“Decades of persistent and systematic human rights violations, including the very violent security responses to the attacks since October 2016, have almost certainly contributed to the nurturing of violent extremism, with everyone ultimately losing,” he said.

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