Almost 400 people have died in clashes between security forces and Rohingya Muslims in Burma, the country’s military commander has said.
The numbers, posted on the military’s official Facebook page, are a sharp increase in the previously reported toll of just over 100. The statement said all but 29 of the 399 dead were insurgents, whom it described as terrorists.
The statement said there had been 90 armed clashes including an initial 30 attacks by insurgents on 25 August, making the combat more extensive than previously announced.
Advocates for the Rohingya, an oppressed Muslim minority in overwhelmingly Buddhist Burma, say hundreds of Rohingya civilians have been killed by security forces.
According to the UN, some 38,000 have fled into neighboring Bangladesh.
It comes after Chris Lewa, director of the Arakan Project pressure group, told ABC: “So far reports—I think quite credible—mention about 130 people including women and children killed.
“That happened on Sunday when suddenly security forces cordoned [off] the whole area, together with Rakhine villagers. It seems like this has been a major massacre in Rathedaung.”
The latest violence follows an attack by Rohingya insurgents on police posts in the remote region, prompting a huge military crackdown.
The insurgent group that claimed responsibility for last week’s attacks, the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, said it acted to protect Rohingya communities
Burma’s leader, Aung San Suu Kyi has said the “terrorist” attacks were “a calculated attempt to undermine the efforts of those seeking to build peace and harmony in Rakhine state”.
The Burmese government has repeatedly denied claims the Rohingya are facing genocide. It previously brushed away evidence of human rights violations as fake news and “propaganda”.
Bangladeshi border guards have tried to keep out the fleeing Rohingya, but thousands could be seen on Friday making their way across muddy rice fields.
Young people helped carry the elderly, some on makeshift stretchers, and children carried newborns
e Rohingya is one of Myanmar’s many ethnic minorities and say they are descendants of Arab traders and other groups who have been in the region for generations.
But Myanmar’s government denies them citizenship and sees them as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh – a common attitude among much Burmese.
The predominantly Buddhist country has a long history of communal mistrust, which was allowed to simmer, and was at times exploited, under decades of military rule.
About one million Muslim Rohingya are estimated to live in western Rakhine state, where they are a sizable minority. An outbreak of communal violence there in 2012 saw more than 100,000 people displaced, and tens of thousands of Rohingya remain in decrepit camps where travel is restricted.
Hundreds of thousands of undocumented Rohingya already live in Bangladesh, having fled there over many decades
Where is Aung San Suu Kyi?
Since a dramatic Rohingya exodus from Myanmar in 2015, the political party of Nobel Peace Prize winner and democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi has taken power in a historic election, the first to be openly contested in 25 years.
But little has changed for the Rohingya and Ms Suu Kyi’s failure to condemn the current violence is an outrage, say some observers.
“I’m not saying there are no difficulties,” she told Singapore’s Channel NewsAsia in December. “But it helps if people recognise the difficulty and are more focused on resolving these difficulties rather than exaggerating them so that everything seems worse than it really is.”
Her failure to defend the Rohingya is extremely disappointing, said Tun Khin, who for years had supported her democracy activism.
The question of whether she has much leverage over the military – which still wields great power and controls the most powerful ministries – is a separate one, he said.
“The point is that Aung San Suu Kyi is covering up this crime perpetrated by the military.”