Fresh clashes in Myanmar’s Rakhine state temple town - GulfToday

Fresh clashes in Myanmar’s Rakhine state temple town


Rohingya refugee children show their Myanmar language books at a refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. Reuters

YANGON: Fighting between the Myanmar army and ethnic Rakhine rebels has escalated in the western state’s temple-studded town of Mrauk U, sources confirmed on Wednesday, with reports of military jets streaking across the sky.

 Riven by complex ethnic and religious divides, Rakhine state was the epicentre of a brutal military campaign in 2017 that forced some 740,000 Rohingya Muslims over the border into Bangladesh.

 But the army is now locked in deadly battles with the Arakan Army (AA), a group that claims to represent the state’s ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and is vying for more autonomy.

 The AA has killed at least 22 police officers since fighting ramped up in January.

 The government says dozens of rebels have been killed.

 Thousands of troops have been deployed to try to quell the spreading unrest.

 Three weeks ago the fighting reached Mrauk U, the ancient capital of the Rakhine kingdom and a site popular with intrepid tourists for its array of temples and pagodas.

 Mrauk U resident Khin Than told AFP by phone the fighting started about 10pm Tuesday night and was worse than last time.

 “It’s getting serious. People are scared to leave their homes,” she said, describing the ground shaking under the roar of jets.

 AA spokesman Khine Thukha told AFP they re-entered Mrauk U on Tuesday night to retaliate against artillery bombardments.

 “The Burmese military is dropping bombs from jet fighters and helicopters,” he said.

 Military spokesman Colonel Win Zaw Oo confirmed clashes were taking place but did not release further details.

 The military has vowed to crush the rebel group, which formed exactly 10 years ago and enjoys widespread support from many ethnic Rakhine.

 The AA posted on its website Wednesday a message of congratulations for its 10th anniversary from an allied rebel group based on the other side of the country.

 Some 26,000 people have been forced from their homes due to the fighting across Rakhine and in neighbouring areas of Chin state while aid groups estimate some 95,000 people are affected by new restrictions on movement.

 There are also reports of indiscriminate attacks and use of landmines, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

 Much of Rakhine is under strict lockdown and information is difficult to verify independently.

The United Nations’ cultural agency said on Wednesday that it had awarded its annual press freedom prize to two Reuters reporters jailed in Myanmar over their reporting on the killings of Rohingya Muslims in the country.

 Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo have been behind bars since December 2017, detained on claims of violating state secrets.

 “They were arrested because they documented a taboo topic regarding crimes committed against Rohingyas,” said Wojciech Tochman, a Polish reporter who headed the jury for the UNESCO prize.

 The Guillermo Cano prize, named for a Colombian journalist gunned down in Bogota in 1986, will be awarded on May 2 at a ceremony in Ethiopia on the eve of World Press Freedom Day.

 Rights groups have denounced the jailing of the two Myanmar nationals as an attempt to muzzle criticism of the government’s treatment of the Rohingya minority.

 At the time of their arrest the reporters were probing the extrajudicial killing of 10 Rohingya men at Inn Din village in northern Rakhine state.

 They were convicted of possessing classified information regarding security operations in Rakhine, from where an estimated 740,000 Rohingya fled during an army-led crackdown the United Nations has described as “ethnic cleansing”.

 They were sentenced to seven years in prison. In February, lawyers lodged an appeal with Myanmar’s Supreme Court.

 “Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo symbolize their country’s emergence after decades of isolation,” beginning with landmark elections in 2015 which ended decades of military rule, said Tochman.

 Myanmar’s civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who was awarded a Nobel prize over her push for democracy, has refused to use her influence to secure a pardon for the reporters.


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