Rohingya flee for Bangladesh as fresh violence erupts in Myanmar

Displaced Rohingya people from Myanmar's northern Rakhine state are seen gathered at the border town of Ukhiya after Bangladeshi border guards stopped them from entering Bangladesh, on Aug 26, 2017.
Displaced Rohingya people from Myanmar's northern Rakhine state are seen gathered at the border town of Ukhiya after Bangladeshi border guards stopped them from entering Bangladesh, on Aug 26, 2017. PHOTO: AFP

YANGON (REUTERS) - About 1,000 Rohingya Muslims fleeing the escalating violence in Myanmar have been halted at the border with Bangladesh, Bangladeshi security officials said on Saturday (Aug 26), as fresh fighting erupted in Myanmar's north-western Rakhine state.

The death toll from attacks staged by Rohingya insurgents on Friday has climbed to 89, comprising 77 insurgents and 12 members of the security forces, Myanmar's army said.

The attacks marked a dramatic escalation of a conflict that has simmered since a similar offensive last October that prompted a big military sweep beset by allegations of serious human-rights abuses.

At least one fresh attack had taken place on Saturday, according to a Myanmar security source.

National leader Aung San Suu Kyi condemned Friday's early morning raids - in which Rohingya insurgents wielding guns, sticks and home-made bombs attacked 30 police stations and an army base - while the government evacuated staff and villagers to safety.

The treatment of approximately 1.1 million Muslim Rohingya has emerged as the biggest challenge for the Nobel Peace Prize laureate's 16-month-old administration.

Ms Suu Kyi has been accused of not speaking out for the persecuted minority and of defending the army's brutal counter-offensive after the October attacks.

In a sign that both sides were bracing themselves for more violence, about 1,000 Rohingya arrived at the Naf river separating Myanmar and Bangladesh and got stranded there, Mr Mohammad Ali Hossain, deputy commissioner of Cox's Bazar district near the Myanmar border, told Reuters.

"Many Rohingya people are trying to enter the country, but we have a zero-tolerance policy - no one will be allowed," said Mr Hossain.

There are hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh and 87,000 have arrived since October.

Observers worry that the latest attacks will spark an even more aggressive army response and trigger communal clashes between Muslims and Buddhist ethnic Rakhines.

The government said it had evacuated officials, teachers and hundreds of non-Rohingya villagers to army bases and main police stations. "Some will be evacuated by helicopter and some will be taken out by the security forces," a military source based in Rakhine told Reuters.

Military sources and residents told Reuters the fiercest fighting took place only a few kilometres off the major town of Maungdaw in the hamlets of Myo Thu Gyi and Nyaung Chaung.

The Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (Arsa), which instigated the October attacks, claimed responsibility for the offensive, presenting it as a defence against the Myanmar army.

Myanmar declared Arsa, previously known as Harakah al-Yaqin, a terrorist organisation in the wake of the attacks. President Htin Kyaw's office and Myanmar army chief Min Aung Hlaing also "discussed the issues of applying more security forces and using helicopters", the government said.