30,000 displaced by violence in northern Rakhine State: UN
UP to 30,000 people have been displaced by renewed violence in northern Rakhine State, the UN said on November 18. Half of the displacement occurred over the course of the previous week, when dozens of people died in clashes with the military.
Since attacks on three border guard posts in the early hours of October 9, troops have poured into a strip of land along the Bangladesh border, an area which is largely home to the stateless Muslim minority who self-identify as Rohingya.
The army last week said troops have killed nearly 70 people as they hunt the attackers, although human rights organisations say the number could be much higher.
Violence escalated over the weekend of November 12, with state media reporting troops had killed more than 30 people in two days of fighting after the army responded to ambushes by bringing in helicopter gunships.
The UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said 15,000 people were believed to have fled their homes over the space of 48 hours.
“Up to 30,000 people are now estimated to be displaced and thousands more affected by the October 9 armed attacks and subsequent security operations across the north of Rakhine State,” said a spokesperson for the UNOCHA.
Seeking to escape the surge of violence, 125 Muslim Rohingya reportedly attempted to flee to Bangladesh, but were prevented from entering the neighbouring country by the Bangladesh coast guard on November 18.
Bangladesh authorities patrolling the Naf River, which separates Bangladesh’s southeastern border from western Myanmar, pushed back a group of Rohingya trying to enter the country, local coast guard official Nafiur Rahman told AFP.
“There were 125 Myanmar nationals in seven wooden boats. They included 61 women and 36 children. We resisted them from entering our water territory,” Mr Rahman told AFP.
He added that all of the passengers were Rohingya who tried to enter Bangladesh amid the uptick of violent clashes in Rakhine State.
Another coast guard officer said he saw two bodies floating in the Naf River during a patrol.
Myanmar’s state media has denied that Bangladesh had pushed anyone back, with The Global New Light of Myanmar reporting, “An inquiry into news reports by Reuters that nearly 200 people fleeing Myanmar had been arrested and repulsed yesterday by Bangladesh border guards has been found to be false.”
It cited a newly created News Information Committee of the State Counsellor’s Office, which was set up to disseminate information on the latest developments in Rakhine State as violence has escalated in the wake of the border guard post attacks last month.
The English-language state media report from November 19 said a member of the Myanmar Border Guard Force had asked Lieutenant Colonel Abu Zar Al Zahid, commander of the No 2 Border Guard Bangladesh, about the alleged pushback. “He had also heard the same reports, but stated such events never happened,” the report said.
Authorities have heavily restricted access to the area, making it difficult to independently verify government reports or accusations of army abuse.
Activists have accused troops of killing civilians, raping women and torching homes – allegations the government has vehemently denied.
A delegation of UN officials and foreign diplomats were permitted a brief trip to the area on November 4 in an effort to get aid deliveries reinstated. State media hailed the visit as proof no abuses had been carried out.
The UN’s special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, has criticised the government’s handling of the crisis, and urged a transparent investigation into accusations of rape and murder by the security forces.
“State Counsellor [Daw] Aung San Suu Kyi has recently stated that the government is responding to the situation based on the rule of law. Yet I am unaware of any efforts on the part of the government to look into the allegations of human rights violations,” Ms Lee said in a November 18 statement.
“The security forces must not be given carte blanche to step up their operations under the smokescreen of having allowed access to an international delegation. Urgent action is needed to bring resolution to the situation.” – AFP, additional reporting by
The Myanmar Times