Myanmar boosts security in Rakhine state as violence continues

A police checkpoint at Yathae Taung township in Rakhine State Saturday.

Story highlights

  • Rohingya insurgents launched a series of attacks against Myanmar security forces Friday
  • Since then, scores of people have been killed and thousands have fled Rakhine state

(CNN)Myanmar has increased security in western Rakhine state after violence erupted over the weekend, leaving nearly 80 insurgents, 12 security officers and six civilians dead, according to state media.

Rohingya insurgents carried out a series of coordinated attacks against police outposts and an army base Friday.
Since then security forces have boosted their operations in the state after "another wave of ambushes by extremist terrorists," the government-owned New Light of Myanmar newspaper reported Sunday, citing the Information Committee of the State Counselor's Office.
    The restive Rakhine state is the home of the Rohingya community, or ethnic Muslims who have long faced persecution in the Buddhist-majority country, especially from the country's Buddhist extremists.
    The insurgents had used firearms and improvised explosive devices in attacks that left at least six civilians dead, the newspaper said, including a child shot in front of a hospital.
    Insurgents destroyed 88 village homes in one attack, while police and residents of another settlement managed to fight off about 500 terrorists, New Light said. One insurgent was killed during an ambush on a police convoy, it said.
    "Extremist terrorists are setting up mines to impede the movement of security forces and are attacking the vehicles of security forces with improvised explosive devices and are also killing village officials they suspect of being government informants," the newspaper said, quoting the State Counselor's Office. "More security forces have been supplied to assist in operations being conducted in the areas where extremist terrorists are known to hide."
    On Saturday it reported that 77 insurgents had been killed in Friday's violence.

    Thousands flee

    Friday, the State Counselor Office's Information Committee said on Facebook that at least 20 outposts and an army base had been targeted. Authorities alleged that an estimated 150 insurgents attempted to storm the base but "soldiers fought back."
    Bangladesh said thousands of Rohingya had fled to its border.
    The unrest has caused thousands of civilians to flee destroyed villages.
    The Foreign Ministry of Bangladesh said Saturday that "thousands of unarmed civilians" from Rakhine state had gathered near its border and were "making attempts to enter Bangladesh."
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    After similar violence broke out in October 2016, approximately 85,000 civilians fled to Bangladesh, the ministry said. Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Mahbub Uz Zaman expressed "serious concern at the possibility of recurrence of such a situation" and urged Myanmar to protect its civilian population, according to a Ministry statement.
    The violence erupted hours after the release a long-awaited report into the treatment of Rohingya by the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State, led by former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
    The report warned unrest in the state could spiral out of control unless concrete action is taken soon. "Tensions remain high and they risk becoming worse," Annan said. "The status quo cannot continue."

    Claim of responsibility

    An insurgent group known as the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, formerly known as Harakat al-Yaqeen -- or "Faith Movement" -- claimed responsibility on Twitter for the attack.
    "This is a legitimate step for us to defend the world's persecuted people and liberate the oppressed people from the hands of the oppressors!" the group said.
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    The Rohingya are not formally recognized as citizens -- the Myanmar government does not even use the term Rohingya, referring to the group as "illegal immigrants" from neighboring Bangladesh, a Muslim-majority country.
    State media has published columns in which Rohingya "terrorists" are referred to as "detestable human fleas." The majority of Rohingya have been in Myanmar for multiple generations.

    Government operations

    Violence in Rakhine state has occurred in fits and starts in recent years, with the latest outbreak beginning in the wake of numerous attacks by militants on several government border posts in October 2016.
    Who are the Rohingya?

    • The Rohingya are a stateless Muslim minority in Myanmar's Rakhine state thought to number about 1 million people.
    • Myanmar does not recognize them as citizens or one of the 135 recognized ethnic groups in the country.
    • Myanmar regards them as illegal immigrants, a view rooted in their heritage in East Bengal, now called Bangladesh.
    • Though many Rohingya have only known life in Myanmar, they are widely viewed as intruders from across the border.
    • According to Human Rights Watch, laws discriminate against the Rohingya, infringing on their freedom of movement, education and employment.
    • They are denied land and property rights and ownership, and the land on which they live can be taken away at any given time.

    The Myanmar military responded with a series of security operations to find what it claimed were terrorists hiding among the Rohingya population.
    Thousands fled across the border to neighboring Bangladesh, where refugees told stories of their villages being burned, mothers and daughters being raped and friends being summarily executed.
    The government has denied many of the allegations leveled against the military -- including those of human rights abuses -- and says it's investigating others. The charges are difficult to corroborate, as most international media and aid organizations have been heavily restricted from traveling to the region.