Impoverished Rakhine State shares a long border with Bangladesh. Source: Flickr
Three police officers were attacked with machetes in Myanmar’s impoverished Rakhine State on Saturday by assailants who were shot dead, the military claimed, saying that it was facing an Islamist insurgency.
The military said it had killed at least 29 people since attacks were launched a week ago on police outposts along the Bangladeshi border, according to state media. The international media is largely barred from the area and statements from the military are difficult to verify.
Bangladesh’s Foreign Office said it had arrested two Muslims from Rakhine State and handed them to Myanmar within a day. “Bangladesh authorities are in constant touch with their Myanmar counterparts and providing help as requested,” the Bangladesh government said.
The military is deeply involved in Myanmar’s domestic politics, controlling the ministries of defence, border and home affairs and the armed forces could be using the outbreak of violence to justify taking emergency powers in the state.
The authorities say the raids in the majority-Muslim region were carried out by an Islamist group led by a “Taliban-trained extremist” with west Asian funding.
Myanmar’s oppressed Muslim Rohingya minority has previously shown little inclination towards militancy despite suffering from apartheid-style subjugation.
The army said militants armed with machetes on Saturday attacked three police officers in Lake Ai village in Maungdaw, at the centre of the recent crisis.
“Security officers shot them dead as they ran away after the attack,” the military claimed, adding that the officers were not injured.
Large numbers of soldiers have been deployed to Maungdaw Township and state employees have been evacuated by helicopter. Other civilians are fleeing Maungdaw, many on foot.
The area where most residents are Rohingya has now been locked down.
There are fears of a return to the sectarian unrest of 2012 that left more than 100 dead and drove tens of thousands of Rohingya into filthy refugee camps, where they remain.
Rights activists say the army has been shooting unarmed Rohingya in the streets, but the Tatmadaw claims that troops had been defending themselves against attackers.
“I haven’t come [to work] for five days because I am frightened,” said Rohingya Mamood Raphee, who works at Maungdaw’s jetty. “I came here today even though I am afraid. We will have nothing to eat if I cannot get work.”
The President’s Office said a militant group called Aqa Mul Mujahidin “intended to promote extremist violent ideology among the majority Muslim population of the area”.