A growing Buddhist insurgency against the Myanmar government in Rakhine state, from which hundreds of thousands of Rohingya were driven out in 2017, is raising fears of another mass displacement.
The Arakan Army, a rebel group seeking greater autonomy for the state’s Buddhist-majority population, killed 13 policemen and injured nine in attacks on police posts across Rakhine State on Sunday, the Myanmar government said.
The attack was on Myanmar’s independence day and observers say it has probably provoked a major military response. This turmoil restarted last month as the small insurgent group launched hit-and-run attacks on Myanmar troops.
In 2017, attacks by Rohingya rebels were used as a pretext to ethnically cleanse about 700,000 of the mostly Muslim ethnic minority from Rakhine.
The coastal Arakan Kingdom was separate from Burma until the 18th century.
Rakhine Buddhists are a separate ethnic group from Myanmar’s dominant Bamar, with a distinct dialect and culture.
The state was also historically home to the Rohingya ethnic group, which in the second half of the 20th century the Myanmar government characterised as recent interlopers from Bangladesh.
Many groups in Myanmar’s border states are fighting in the name of minority rights, the Arakan Army among them.
The current conflict has displaced about 4,500 people since last month, UN figures show.
The leader of Myanmar’s government, Aung San Suu Kyi, discussed the insurgent attacks with the head of the military on Monday, Reuters reported, with her administration calling on the army to crush the rebels.
The head of the UN in Myanmar, Knut Ostby, yesterday said he was “deeply concerned about the situation” and urged “all sides to ensure the protection of all civilians”.
A displaced Rohingya man living in a camp between Rakhine state and Bangladesh said he was scared that Rohingya could be caught in the crossfire.
“Rohingya people who remain in Myanmar are being threatened by Myanmar authorities,” who accuse them of being linked to the Arakan rebellion, Dil Mohammed told The National.
Fighting was continuing 20 kilometres from the camp, Mr Mohammed said, with a large number of Myanmar troops in the area.
While he was fearful that the Rohingya might become collateral victims of the trouble, he said the current conflict did not involve them directly.
“We will never link with the Buddhist Rakhine because our Rohingya communities have been expelled from our own land by both Rakhine people and the Myanmar army,” Mr Mohammed said.
Rohingya populations still living in Rakhine were particularly vulnerable, said an activist with the Free Rohingya Coalition. "If there is fighting near the Rohingya villages, the Rohingya will have to flee to Bangladesh to save their lives," Ro Nay San Lwin told The National.
The situation was “really worrying,” he said.