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Iran Press TV

Myanmar villagers flee fresh fighting in Rakhine state

Iran Press TV

Thu Feb 7, 2019 04:47PM

Scores of tribal villagers in western Myanmar have crossed into Bangladesh in recent days amid fierce fighting between the army and ethnic rebels in the restive Rakhine state.

They have entered Bangladesh through a remote border area in southeastern Bandarban district over the past few days, Bangladesh border guards and an activist said on Thursday.

Colonel Zahirul Haque Khan, a senior official from the Border Guards Bangladesh (BGB), confirmed that the group of 136 people was now living in shelters across the remote region.

Members of nearly 40 families said they had fled their homes fearing attack from military helicopters.

Brigadier General Sazedur Rahman, a regional BGB commander, said Bangladesh had beefed up security near the border to prevent more refugee arrivals.

Win Thein, a member of the non-governmental Bangladesh Human Rights Commission, said he had visited the refugees in their remote jungle camp.

They had crossed into Bangladesh on Sunday and Monday after fleeing two villages in the Chin state's rugged Paletwa township after they heard gunfire and saw helicopters nearby.

Some villagers, who are members of the Khumi, Cho and Rakhine ethnic groups, said they later witnessed Myanmar soldiers looting and setting fire to homes.

Win Thein said some of the refugee children were seriously ill and had no access to medical care. "There are no blankets at all and it is very cold."

Firas al-Khateeb, a spokesman for the United Nations refugee agency in Cox's Bazar, was trying to gather more information about the new arrivals.

"We'll coordinate with the government so we will be able to help them as soon as possible."

The Arakan Army, a rebel group calling for greater autonomy for Rakhine, conducted raids on police border posts on January 4, killing 13 people.

The clashes have added a new, complex dimension to troubles in Rakhine.

Rakhine has been the scene of communal violence since 2012. Many Muslims have been killed and hundreds of thousands have been forced to flee as a result of attacks by Buddhists. The refugees largely live in camps in dire conditions.

Now Myanmar's Buddhist rebels are in a conflict with the army they backed to drive out the Rohingya Muslims just 18 months ago.

Bangladesh has summoned Myanmar's ambassador to protest against the new influx of refugees.

Bangladesh has already been struggling to cope with more than 700,000 Rohingya refugees who have fled to Bangladesh since August 2017.

Back then, Myanmar's armed forces, backed by Buddhist extremist mobs, intensified a crackdown that had already been underway against the Muslim community in Rakhine.

Rohingya Muslims, who have lived in Myanmar for generations, are denied citizenship and branded illegal migrants from Bangladesh, which likewise denies them citizenship.

Their former communities in Myanmar have been razed. Reports say Buddhists have been shuttled and settled there in newly-built structures to repopulate the area.

The United Nations has already described the Rohingya as the most persecuted community in the world.

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