YANGON • Myanmar troops opened fire on hundreds of fleeing Rohingya villagers with mortar shells and machine guns yesterday, said an Agence France-Presse reporter at the scene and Bangladesh border guards.
The firing occurred at Ghumdhum border post, where the villagers have been stranded since Friday after fresh violence broke out in Myanmar's northern Rakhine state.
"They have fired on civilians, mostly women and children, hiding in the hills near the (border) zero line," Border Guard Bangladesh station chief Manzurul Hassan told AFP. "They fired machine guns and mortar shells suddenly, targeting the civilians."
It was not immediately clear if there were any injuries.
Thousands of Rohingya Muslims fleeing violence in Myanmar are trying to cross the border with Bangladesh, Bangladeshi security officials said yesterday. Denied entry by the authorities, many were left without shelter in no-man's land on the border, or forced to return to villages, trapping them between militants and security forces.
The death toll from widespread attacks staged by Rohingya insurgents on Friday has climbed to 96, including nearly 80 insurgents and 12 members of the security forces, the government said, prompting it to evacuate staff and villagers from some areas.
The attacks marked a dramatic escalation of a conflict that has simmered since last October, when a similar offensive prompted a major military sweep beset by allegations of serious human rights abuses.
The treatment of approximately 1.1 million Muslim Rohingya in mainly Buddhist Myanmar has emerged as the biggest challenge for national leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Late on Friday, she condemned the morning raids in which insurgents wielding guns, sticks and homemade bombs assaulted 30 police stations and an army base.
The government said there had been several large clashes involving hundreds of Rohingya across north-western Rakhine yesterday. The fiercest fighting took place on the outskirts of the major town of Maungdaw, near the Alodaw Pyae Buddhist monastery.
Maungdaw resident Nay Myo Lin, 27, told Reuters by telephone that security forces opened fire on scores of what appeared to be Muslim men with guns near the monastery.
The government said in a statement: "Extremist Bengali terrorists are attacking using man-made mines... swords, sticks, guns. They also killed Islamic religious people of their own faith who were village administrators."
The Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, which instigated the October attacks, has claimed responsibility for the offensive, presenting it as a defence against the Myanmar army.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS