18 Nov 2016

Violence in Myanmar as Rohingya flee military

7:42 pm on 18 November 2016

Hundreds of Rohingya Muslims are fleeing a military crackdown in western Myanmar to Bangladesh, trying to escape an upsurge of violence that has brought the total number of dead confirmed by the army to more than 130.

Local craft tie up to concrete steps with men also in the calm but dirty water

Local fishers and ferrymen at Sittwe Port, the capital of Rakhine State in Myanmar Photo: ( RNZ / Graeme Acton )

Some of the Rohingya were gunned down as they tried to cross the river that separates Myanmar from Bangladesh, in some of the worst violence in Myanmar since hundreds were killed in communal clashes in the western Myanmar state of Rakhine, in 2012.

It has exposed the lack of oversight of the military in seven months of Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi's administration.

Soldiers poured into the area along Myanmar's frontier with Bangladesh responding to coordinated attacks on three border posts last month that killed nine police officers.

They have locked down the district, where the vast majority of residents are Rohingya, shutting out aid workers and independent observers, and conducted sweeps of villages.

Rohingya migrants in a boat drifting in Thai waters off the southern island of Koh Lipe in the Andaman sea on May 14, 2015.

Four Rohingya migrants in a boat drifting in Thai waters off the southern island of Koh Lipe in May 2015 Photo: AFP

Aid workers, camp residents and authorities in Bangladesh estimated at least 500 Rohingya had fled Myanmar to Bangladesh since the October attacks.

Bangladeshi border guards this week reportedly prevented a large group of Rohingya, who were trying to cross the river Naaf, from entering the country .

The stateless Rohingya are seen by many Myanmar Buddhists as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

Colonel Htain Lin, the border affairs minister of the Rakhine state government, has refused to comment on the worsening situation.

Up to 69 members of what Myanmar's government described as a Rohingya militant group, and 17 members of the security forces have been killed in the upsurge of violence in the last seven days.

A mother tips water over a toddler who stands naked on a dirt path

A mother washes her child at a stand pipe in a camp for the displaced Photo: ( RNZ / Graeme Acton )

This has brought the tally of killed suspected Rohingya Muslim attackers to 102 since 9 October, while the security forces' toll stands at 32, according to Myanmar government figures.

Human rights advocates have accused security forces of summary executions, rape and setting fire to homes in the recent violence.

Human Rights Watch has welcomed news that non-state media would be allowed access to the region. The organisation's Asia director, Brad Adams, described it as "a step towards getting at the truth of what happened".

Dusty earth street with pedestrians and makeshift shops

A camp for displaced Rohingya people in Myanmar Photo: ( RNZ / Graeme Acton )

Mr Adams said the army's assessment of the destruction of villages in the region was flawed, and there was "an urgent need for free access for impartial investigations by human rights organisations and the media".

The Tatmadaw (the Myanmar Army) continues to reject accusations of widespread burning of villages, blaming the "violent attackers" for razing houses.

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