Bangladesh. Cox's Bazar district, 2017. 

Makeshift extension to Kutupalong camp in Ukhiya, Cox's Bazar district, south eastern Bangladesh on 9 April, 2017.

Since October 2016, almost 75,000 people have fled violence in the northern area of Rakhine State in neighbouring Myanmar and arrived in Bangladesh. Many are living in unplanned and overcrowded settlements in the district of Cox's Bazar where living conditions are extremely poor. On 20 March 2016, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) launched a 3.2 million Swiss Francs emergency appeal in support of the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society's efforts to address the most urgent humanitarian needs of the newly arrived migrants in Cox's Bazar. The appeal seeks to ensure that 25,000 of the new arrivals will receive food aid and other emergency relief items, including shelter materials, together with clean water, sanitation, psychosocial support and health care over a nine month period. Photo: Mirva Helenius / IFRC
VR film takes you inside a Rohingya camp
03:06 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

Rakhine State is home to the ethnic Rohingya minority

"Tensions remain high and they risk becoming worse," said former United Nations secretary-general Kofi Annan

CNN  — 

Eight police officers and an immigration officer were killed during a series of coordinated attacks against police in Myanmar’s western Rakhine State, authorities said Friday.

At least 20 police outposts and an army base were targeted, the committee said. Authorities alleged that an estimated 150 insurgents attempted to storm the base but “soldiers fought back.”

The bodies of 16 insurgents have been recovered, the State Counselor Office’s Information Committee said on Facebook.

“Fighting remains in some locations and a combined forces of the Tatmadaw (Myanmar armed forces) and police forces are still waging an attack against the extremist terrorists,” the committee said.

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.”

The attack was significantly bigger than one in October 2016, which sparked the latest round of unrest in Rakhine State, according to Human Rights Watch Deputy Asia Director Phil Robertson.

“This was a significant attack,” Robertson told CNN. “Clearly, it doesn’t help to have the security issue come right up front again so soon after the launch of the report.”

Claim of responsibility

An insurgent group known as the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, formerly known as Harakat al-Yaqeen – or “Faith Movement” – claimed responsibility for the attack on Twitter.

“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.

Rakhine State is home to Myanmar’s Rohingya community, ethnic Muslims who have long faced persecution in the Buddhist-majority country, especially from the country’s Buddhist extremists.

radical buddhist monks target myanmar muslims watson pkg_00014311.jpg
Radical Buddhist monks target Muslims in Myanmar
03:20 - Source: CNN

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 one million people
  • Myanmar does not recognize them as citizens or one of the 135 recognized ethnic groups living in the country
  • Much of this is 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 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.

    Yanghee Lee, a UN special rapporteur told CNN in March that crimes against humanity may have been committed.

    “When there’s 77,000 people running away from their home towns, leaving everything … the international community should really step up to the plate,” she told CNN.

    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.

    ‘The Rohingya Alan Kurdi’: Will the world take notice now?

    Satellite images show the destruction in the village of Wa Peik in Myanmar's Maungdaw Township.

    Human Rights Watch

    Satellite images show the destruction in the village of Yae Khat Chaung Gwa Son in Myanmar's Maungdaw Township.

    Human Rights Watch

    Commission findings

    The Rakhine Advisory Commission was set up last year to analyze the situation in Rakhine State and issue recommendations. Its findings were published Thursday.

    “Unless concerted action – led by the government and aided by all sectors of the government and society – is taken soon, we risk the return of another cycle of violence and radicalization, which will further deepen the chronic poverty that afflicts Rakhine State,” Annan said upon announcing the commission’s finding.

    The commission recommended, some of which include:

    1. Ensure full and unimpeded humanitarian access to the region as well as full and regular media access.
    2. Ensure freedom of movement for all people of Rakhine State, regardless of religion, ethnicity and citizenship.
    3. Abolish different types of citizenship and re-examine links between citizenship and ethnicity.
    4. Ensure that all verified citizens of Myanmar enjoy the all the benefits associated with citizenship.
    5. Clarify the status and rights of people living in the country that aren’t citizens, including those who are stateless.
    6. Plan to close internally displaced persons camp and help people return in a voluntary, safe and dignified manner.
    7. Encourage local participation in decision making and state development
    8. Invest in infrastructure

    Human Rights Watch and other humanitarian groups lauded the recommendations.

    “The Commission has developed an impressive set of common-sense, focused recommendations that if fully implemented could bring the sort of progress that has been missing in Rakhine State for decades,” Roberston said.

    But the rise of ARSA, the first Rohingya group to take up arms in decade, has fueled worries that extremists on both sides could further damage the situation – making the report’s implementation all the more urgent said Robertson.

    “We’re going to see these kind of flare-ups and efforts by extremists on all sides to try to derail these recommendations,” he said.

    Suu Kyi’s court

    The commission was formed at the request of Aung San Suu Kyi, the State Counselor of Myanmar and the country’s de facto leader.

    Suu Kyi, who won a Nobel Peace Prize for her nonviolent campaign against the military junta that ruled the country for decades, came to power after her party won a landslide victory in the country’s 2015 elections, though the military still wields a significant amount of power.

    International humanitarian groups have so far expressed disappointment in Suu Kyi’s response to the situation, alleging that she has not done enough to stymie the unrest and protect the Rohingya population.

    Suu Kyi has denied some of the more severe allegations made by rights organizations, including that ethnic cleansing is occurring in the region.

    “Rather than deal with ongoing atrocities, the government tried to hide behind the Advisory Commission,” said Matthew Smith, the CEO of human rights group Fortify Rights. “The Commission responded with concrete recommendations to end violations, and the government should act on them without delay.”

    LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - JUNE 22:  Myanmar pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi speaks during a meeting with members of the Myanmar community at the Royal Festival Hall on June 22, 2012 in central London, England. Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi is on a four-day visit to the UK during her first trip to Europe since 1988.  (Photo by Suzanne Plunkett - WPA Pool/Getty Images)
    Myanmar leader denies ethnic cleansing
    00:49 - Source: CNN

    Outside observers are also concerned that authorities could ignore some of the report’s findings in favor of a similar inquiry by the Myanmar government, which Human Rights Watch called “inept.”

    Robertson says now that the commission’s findings are now public, “the ball is now in Suu Kyi’s court.”

    “We want to see a firm agreement to implement these recommendations, to say very clearly what’s going to be done,” he said. “The statement so far has been, we’ll implement what we can depending on the situation on the ground. You couldn’t get more vague than that.”

    Journalist Jimmy Toe contributed to this report