Fatalities reported in Maungdaw manhunt
Several Muslim men were shot dead yesterday in northern Rakhine State in the wake of three lethal attacks on border outposts that prompted a security crackdown.
AN unknown number of Muslim men were shot dead yesterday in northern Rakhine State, where three attacks on police posts along the border with Bangladesh killed at least nine police officers this week and triggered a manhunt for the assailants.
Police Lieutenant Kyaw Aye Hlaing of the Maungdaw township police department told The Myanmar Times that at least two lethal altercations between security personnel and men in Muslim villages took place yesterday.
“I heard about this, that the dead people were Muslim, because all of the fighting happened in Muslim villages. As far as I know, the fighting happened in two places, at Myothugyi and Kyikan Pyin villages, but I was not able to find out details on the number of fatalities,” he said. “However, it is certain they were Muslim people, although who they are has not yet been confirmed.”
A coalition of Rohingya advocacy groups yesterday said 10 members of the persecuted Muslim minority had been killed since the deadly border raids prompted a security crackdown in northern Rakhine State.
Pol Lt Kyaw Aye Hlaing said he could not elaborate on the nature of the heightened security operation under way given the potential ongoing threat posed by the attackers, scores of whom are believed to be at large.
“I heard that some person resisted with a gun from inside a mosque while the Tatmadaw was searching for the attackers and the fighting lasted for a while. However, I don’t know the exact situation,” he said. “The downtown area of [Maungdaw] town is stable now.”
At a press conference in Nay Pyi Taw on October 9, security officials said the attackers – who launched their assault with swords and spears as well as conventional firearms – had made off with more than 10,000 rounds of ammunition and dozens of guns. State media said eight militants were killed in the October 9 raids and two others were captured alive.
Pol Lt Kyaw Aye Hlaing said security forces sweeping rural Muslim villages had encountered some resistance to house checks, and had noted that in several villages it appeared only women and children remained.
“I have no idea why most of the men left from the villages but in the downtown area, Muslim people are living normally,” he told The Myanmar Times.
Most shops in Maungdaw’s downtown area nonetheless remained shuttered yesterday and security personnel are maintaining a heavy presence in the township. According to state media, troops have been deployed to Rakhine by helicopter.
All of Maungdaw and neighbouring Buthidaung townships’ schools were closed yesterday.
Daw Tin Tin Win, a resident of Maungdaw township, confirmed that downtown Maungdaw was stable, with both Buddhists and Muslims on the streets – albeit few in number.
“Except for during curfew time, people are going about as normal. But we have a little bit of worry because the town is like a ghost town,” she said.
Daw Hnin Aye Wai, a resident of Kyane Choung village, about 12 kilometres (7.5 miles) from downtown Maungdaw, said despite feeling relatively secure during the daylight hours, she intended to spend the night at a police station.
“My village is next to a Muslim village and we could not sleep at home during the night because of the need for security. Therefore we will go to the police station at night,” she said.
U Hla Myint, an administrative officer for Maungdaw township, told The Myanmar Times that the state government had delivered no orders other than the extension of a curfew from 7pm to 6am. The previous curfew, which had been in place since violence between Buddhists and Muslims in 2012, was from 11pm to 4am.
“We are tightening security everywhere because of the state of anxiety caused by the seized arms. Finding them is a priority,” he said.
State media provided an account of the attacks yesterday, reporting that the first, on a Kyikan Pyin village guard post, began at about 1am on October 9. A second hit Kotankauk outpost in neighbouring Rathedaung township, and the last assailants withdrew from the Ngakhuya outpost at about 5:45am.
Officials said drug trafficking might be a possible motivation for the assault, noting that authorities seized more than 6 million yaba pills in Maungdaw last month.
Unlike most of Rakhine State, a majority of Maungdaw township’s population are self-identifying Rohingya Muslims. Tensions between that largely stateless community and Rakhine Buddhists have persisted more than four years after the 2012 violence tore through Rakhine State, displacing more than 100,000 people.
Noting the sensitive nature of the latest conflict in the state, Information Minister U Pe Myint said officials had called the October 9 press conference in an attempt to disseminate accurate information about the situation and quash any rumours, which have in the past triggered inter-religious strife.
Officials at the press conference did not say what the assailants’ affiliation might be, but some police have linked the Rohingya Solidarity Organisation to the coordinated attack.
A 2014 report by the Brussels-based International Crisis Group, citing regional security experts’ consensus, described the RSO as largely defunct, but added that “there appear to be efforts under way in the wake of the 2012 violence to rehabilitate the group as an armed organisation”.
“Even if the RSO is not a credible military threat, the group’s very existence could be used as an easy justification for increased discrimination against Muslims in Rakhine State,” it said.
An armed border guard secures a camp in Maungdaw.