A total of 98 people were killed as a result of the purported coordinated attacks by the so-called insurgents, who claim to defend the Rohingya Muslims, Myanmar’s government said in a statement on Sunday, adding that the latest toll included at least 12 members of security forces.
Renewed violence erupted last week after dozens of police and border outposts in the state of Rakhine came under attack allegedly by a group claiming to be the defenders of the minority against the government clampdown in the area, where over a million Rohingya are mainly based.
The Rohingya have no militant faction to fight for them but police in Myanmar and Bangladesh keep blaming a number of attacks on the Muslims.
Rakhine has been the scene of communal violence since 2012. Many of the Muslims have been killed while tens of thousands have been forced to flee as a result of attacks by Buddhists. The refugees largely live in camps in dire conditions.
Considered by the UN as the “most persecuted minority group in the world,” the Rohingya have been under a military siege in Rakhine since October 2016, when the government used a deadly militant attack on border guards back then as a pretext to enforce the siege. There have been numerous eyewitness accounts of summary executions, rapes, and arson attacks by security forces against the Muslims since the crackdown began.
Myanmar’s government denies full citizenship to Rohingya Muslims, branding them illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. Dhaka, in turn, perceives the desperate refugees as Myanmarese and harshly pushes them back. The Rohingya, however, track their ancestors many generations back in Myanmar.
The UN has time and again criticized Myanmar’s handling of the incidents, saying it fears that the action could amount to ethnic cleansing. Myanmar’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi keeps rejecting UN accounts as she seems incapable of reigning in the military and violent Buddhist mobs.
The new round of violence came after a report commissioned by Myanmar’s government concluded that immediate measures had to be taken to end the suffering of the country’s Muslim population.
Myanmar’s government said it had evacuated at least 4,000 non-Muslim villagers amid current clashes in Rakhine, claiming that they may be hurt in purported attacks by the Rohingya.
According to estimates by Rohingya refugees living in squalid camps in Bangladesh, some 2,000 Muslims have already crossed the border into Bangladesh during the past two days. However, reports say Bangladeshi border guards forcibly returned some 90 Rohingya Muslims to Myanmar just hours after soldiers opened fire on people fleeing the country.
Currently, some 400,000 immigrant Rohingya Muslims live in Bangladesh.
In reaction to the plight of the Rohingya, Pope Francis has denounced persecution of the Muslims, praying they receive “full rights.”