More than 70 people were killed on Friday in clashes between militants and security forces in Rakhine State in western Myanmar, which outside observers called a worrying upsurge of violence in the troubled region.
The dead included at least 12 members of the security forces and at least 59 Rohingya insurgents, according to a statement from the office of Myanmar’s de facto leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. Myanmar’s armed forces said the militants used knives, small arms and explosives in coordinated early-morning attacks on several police and military posts around Buthidaung and Maungdaw, near Myanmar’s border with Bangladesh.
Rakhine is home to about one million Rohingya, a predominantly Muslim minority group that faces repression in Myanmar, where they are largely confined to camps and denied full citizenship rights.
Last October, a group of Rohingya militants killed nine police officers, escalating the level of violence in a long-running conflict. Rohingya and international human rights groups say security forces responded to those attacks by locking down the area and carrying out a far-reaching crackdown, killing hundreds of people and forcing tens of thousands to flee.
This week, the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State, which was formed last year by Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, and headed by Kofi Annan, a former secretary general of the United Nations, submitted its final report. It called for urgent action to improve the citizenship status, freedom of movement and human rights of Muslims in Rakhine. Failure to act would risk further “violence and radicalization,” Mr. Annan wrote in an introduction to the report.
On Friday, Mr. Annan issued a statement saying, “I am gravely concerned by, and strongly condemn, the recent attacks in Rakhine State.”
“The alleged scale and gravity of these attacks mark a worrying escalation of violence,” he added. He also called on security forces to ensure that innocent civilians were not harmed.
A militant group called the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army claimed responsibility for the attacks, which it said were in response to recent raids by security forces. The group, formerly known as Harakah al-Yaqin, is believed to have hundreds of fighters and to be led by Rohingya based in Saudi Arabia, according to an International Crisis Group report.
A United Nations report in February said the military crackdown on the Rohingya had led to gang rapes, the killing of hundreds of civilians and the forced displacement of as many as 90,000 people, acts that it said were most likely crimes against humanity.
The military and Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi have generally denied allegations of ethnic cleansing or a campaign of targeted violence against the Rohingya.
(c) 2017 The New York Times