Rakhine State is resource-rich but ravaged by poverty. Source: YouTube
Twelve people have allegedly died in the north of the troubled Rakhine State in western Myanmar in clashes between militants and troops, the state media has reported.
Four soldiers and one attacker were reportedly killed on Tuesday when hundreds of men armed with pistols and swords attacked troops in Pyaungpit village, Maungdaw Township, on the Bangladesh border.
The authorities also said they found seven dead with weapons after fighting broke out in nearby Taung Paing Nyar village.
Journalists are being denied access to the area and it is not clear who is behind the violence, but the Rohingya are being blamed for the attacks.
If true, it would mark a worrying new phase of the crisis in Rakhine State and could possibly be used by the military to justify taking emergency powers under the 2008 Constitution.
Journalists are not being allowed in the area.
“After the incident, troops found seven dead bodies,” said the government-owned Global New Light of Myanmar. “Swords and sticks were found with the bodies.”
Nine police officers were reportedly killed on Sunday in coordinated attacks on three border posts.
Most of the impoverished area’s residents are Rohingya, a stateless Muslim minority that Buddhist nationalists condemn as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, insisting that they be called “Bengals”, in denial of any heritage in Myanmar.
The Rohingya say they are descendants of Arab traders and have been in the region for centuries.
The unrest brings fears of a repeat of 2012 when sectarian violence ripped through the resource-rich state, killing more than 100 people and driving tens of thousands of Rohingya into squalid refugee camps, where they remain under heavy restrictions.
Four men accused of being involved in Sunday’s attacks were arrested. The official media, which answers to the military-controlled Ministry of Home Affairs, reported that two of whom were called Andra Mular Kein and Mawlawi Fordita Laung.
The UN has expressed “deep concern” and called on all sides to “exercise maximum restraint”.
“At this delicate juncture, the local communities at all levels must refuse to be provoked by these incidents and their leaders must work actively to prevent incitement of animosity or mutual hatred between Buddhist and Muslim communities,” announced the office of the secretary general on Myanmar, Vijay Nambiar.