A closer look at the latest burst of conflict in a troubled region of the country.
Once again, more violence has erupted in Rahkine State, Myanmar starting from October 9.
This particular burst of conflict developed when a militant group of Rohingya men, armed with machetes, stormed police stations, ransacking and killing nine police officers and wounding another five. In response, police and military sought out and attacked Rohingya groups, targeting and killing many innocent civilians.
According to eyewitness reports, Myanmar soldiers allegedly shot several unarmed Rohingya on the morning of October 10. The assaults, perpetrated by the Myanmar Army, appear to be retaliatory attacks after a series of police stations were raided in Rakhine State’s Muangdaw Township.
Starting on October 9, the militant group allegedly named “Aqa Mul Mujahidin,” orchestrated the attack and were seen fleeing the bloody scene taking large amounts of weapons and ammunition.
Following the attacks, videos surfaced showing a group of armed militants aggressively calling for war.
“The fighting can start now, today,” a Rohingya man uttered looking directly into the camera. “The Myanmar Army tried to search for us by helicopter yesterday. They searched for us by helicopters in every part of Rakhine. We do not care about helicopters.”
These impassioned words were recorded on one of two videos showing armed Rohingya inciting violence. The video shows a group of men wielding assault rifles and handguns. The men can also be heard speaking the Rohingya language calling for others to partake in an armed conflict in Rakhine.
The video was determined to have been recorded on October 9, where state media reported that the Myanmar Army was using helicopters to move soldiers inside the vicinity where the attacks on police were taking place.
Correspondingly, police enforced an all night curfew in Muangdaw Township in addition to disallowing people from gathering in groups of five or more.
Fortify Rights, a nongovernmental organization, confirmed that dozens of Myanmar Army soldiers started spreading throughout the towns of Myothugyi village and Maungdaw Township in the early morning hours of October 10, just before violence broke out.
One witness spoke to Fortify Rights explaining that he saw soldiers fatally shoot an unarmed and elderly local Rohingya man named Nagu.
“I was watching from the window. The military man was talking on the phone. After that, he shot him. I saw them shoot him in the bottom of the face and head.”
He continued recalling the scene noting that soldiers killed another man named Noor Allam, shortly after witnessing the first killing.
“We could hear some noises, bullets, and when the army left, we saw the body, and I helped bring the body inside the home. There was blood on his chest. I took a photo of the body myself.”
More reports started surfacing that at least another three extrajudicial killings had systematically taken place in Myothugyi village on the same day. Another male witness recounted the scene saying, “They took three men…and killed them. “They did not arrest the people, they just killed them.”
More than one million Rohingya reside in northern Rakhine State where they are denied citizenship, are stateless, and lack even basic rights within the country. The Myanmar Government has harshly persecuted and restricted Rohingya’s freedom to move in hopes of maintaining complete dominance and control over the Muslim minority group.
Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) has newly completed a report showing that severe persecution contributes to a cycle of poverty and despair among Rohingya minority groups. Widney Brown, author of the report and PHR’s director of programs says, “This report illuminates how authorities conduct raids, extort money, and single out Rohingyas for rights violations that are feeding a vicious cycle of poverty and persecution.”
The report shows how authorities have gone great lengths to maintain supremacy over the Rohingya by placing strategically scattered checkpoints throughout locations where Rohingya often commute. PHR was able to distinguish a network of 86 security checkpoints, used ultimately to humiliate, extort, and remind Rohingya of their “inferior” status.
Additionally, PHR interviewed 170 people in Myanmar and Bangladesh, finding an abundance of cases of systematic extortion, forced evictions, arbitrary detentions, and major restrictions on movement.
“They can hardly leave their own homes or travel to the doctor without the fear of having to pay bribes that could bankrupt them. It’s a system of repression that must end for there to be a just future in Myanmar,” says Brown.
Rohingya have been subject to an increase in assaults and indiscriminate killings within Rakhine State over recent months. Now more than ever, locals and outside observers fear that a potential military offensive might develop to tragically worsen matters. Based on recent events, along with a long history of state-sanctioned violence against the Muslim minority group, it is possible that the situation may escalate, leading to much larger waves of violence.
More organizations critical of the escalating conflict have now openly spoken out against further clashes in the region.
On October 13, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) voiced concern regarding the violence occurring in Rakhine State. The following day, the Amman Commission (Advisory Commission on Rakhine State) also expressed its alarm over this particular crisis, noting in a statement: “The Chairman and members of the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State strongly deplore the violent attacks perpetrated in northern Rakhine State. The Commission extends its condolences and sympathies to the families of those who were killed or injured.”
Thousands have now fled the area attempting to escape the escalating violence. While most have fled on foot, many teachers, residents, and workers have been airlifted out of the region.
As of October 13, the death toll has reportedly risen to at least 54 people killed by security forces, with upwards of 100 wounded. The Myanmar Army has additionally burned over 500 homes to the ground displacing thousands.
History suggests that this new spark of violence will likely lead to greater restrictions on freedom of movement for the minority population. As this marginalized group already face an abundance of restraints and rights abuses, it’s highly probable that more events of violence will occur in response to tightening and stricter control.
Mathew Smith, chief executive officer at Fortify Rights, said in a statement that he urged authorities to maintain respect for human rights following the attack on the three police stations: “The army has a responsibility to protect civilians regardless of religion or ethnicity. The authorities can diffuse this situation by upholding law and order while also protecting the rights of Rohingya.”
Caleb Quinley is a journalist and photographer based in Bangkok, Thailand.