COX'S BAZAR (Bangladesh) • Nearly 400 people have died in fighting that has rocked Myanmar's north- west for a week, new official data shows, making it probably the deadliest bout of violence to engulf the country's Rohingya Muslim minority in decades.
Around 27,400 Rohingya have crossed into Bangladesh from Myanmar, United Nations sources said, a week after Rohingya insurgents attacked police posts and an army base in Rakhine state, prompting clashes and a military counter- offensive.
The army says it is conducting clearance operations against "extremist terrorists" and security forces have been told to protect civilians. But Rohingya fleeing to Bangladesh say a campaign of arson and killings aims to force them out.
The treatment of Myanmar's roughly 1.1 million Rohingya is the biggest challenge facing national leader Aung San Suu Kyi, accused by some critics of not speaking out for a minority that has long complained of persecution.
The clashes and army crackdown have killed about 370 Rohingya insurgents, but also 13 members of the security forces, two government officials and 14 civilians, the Myanmar military said on Thursday.
The US on Thursday told Myanmar that its security forces must refrain from attacking civilians and aid workers in its response to attacks by Rohingya militants.
US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said in a statement: "As (Myanmar) security forces act to prevent further violence, they have a responsibility to adhere to international humanitarian law, which includes refraining from attacking innocent civilians and humanitarian workers, and ensuring assistance reaches those in need."
The fighting is a dramatic escalation of a conflict that has simmered since October last year, when similar but much smaller Rohingya attacks on security posts prompted a brutal military response dogged by allegations of rights abuses.
Myanmar evacuated more than 11,700 "ethnic residents" from the area affected by fighting, the army said, referring to the non-Muslim population of northern Rakhine.
More than 150 Rohingya insurgents staged fresh attacks on security forces on Thursday near villages occupied by Hindus, the state-run Global New Light of Myanmar said, adding that about 700 members of such families had been evacuated. "Four of the terrorists were arrested, including one 13-year-old boy," it said, adding that security forces had arrested two more men near a Maungdaw police outpost on suspicion of involvement in the attacks.
About 20,000 more fleeing Rohingya are stuck in no-man's-land at the border, the UN sources said, as aid workers in Bangladesh struggle to alleviate their suffering.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE