Myanmar asks Muslims to help hunt rebels

Myanmar urged Muslims to cooperate in the search for insurgents, whose attacks on security posts and an army crackdown have led to violence engulfing the Rohingya community.

Rohingya refugees from Rakhine state in Myanmar walk along a path near Teknaf in Bangladesh on September 3, 2017.

Myanmar urged Muslims in the troubled northwest to cooperate in the search for insurgents, whose coordinated attacks on security posts and an army crackdown have led to one of the deadliest bouts of violence to engulf the Rohingya community in decades.

Aid agencies estimate about 73,000 Rohingya have fled into neighboring Bangladesh from Myanmar since violence erupted last week, Vivian Tan, regional spokeswoman for UN refugee agency UNHCR, said today.

Hundreds more refugees today walked through rice paddies from the Naf river separating the two countries into Bangladesh, straining scarce resources of aid groups and local communities already helping tens of thousands.

The clashes and military counteroffensive have killed nearly 400 people in the past week.

The treatment of Buddhist-majority Myanmar’s roughly 1.1 million Muslim Rohingya is the biggest challenge facing leader Aung San Suu Kyi, accused by Western critics of not speaking out for the minority that has long complained of persecution.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday that violence against Muslims amounted to genocide.

It marks a dramatic escalation of a conflict that has simmered since October, when a smaller Rohingya attack on security posts prompted a military response dogged by allegations of rights abuses.

“Islamic villagers in northern Maungtaw have been urged over loudspeakers to cooperate when security forces search for Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army extremist terrorists, and not to pose a threat or brandish weapons when security forces enter their villages,” the state-run Global New Light of Myanmar said today. ARSA has been declared a terrorist organization by the government. The group claimed responsibility for coordinated attacks on security posts last week.

The army wrote in a Facebook post today that Rohingya insurgents had set fires to monasteries, images of Buddha as well as schools and houses in northern Rakhine.

More than 200 buildings, including houses and shops, were destroyed across several villages, the army said.

While Myanmar officials blamed ARSA for the burning of the homes, Rohingya fleeing to Bangladesh and human rights watchers say a campaign of arson and killings by the army is aimed at trying to force the minority group out.

Over 11,700 “ethnic residents” had been evacuated from northern Rakhine, the government has said, referring to non-Muslims.

In Bangladesh, authorities said at least 53 bodies of Rohingya had either been found floating in the Naf river or washed up on the beach in the past week, as tens of thousands continue to try to flee the violence.

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