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Rohingya activists say thousands displaced by Myanmar armed group

Rohingya activists accused a Myanmar ethnic armed group on Wednesday of displacing thousands of the persecuted minority in western Rakhine state, after the United States said it was troubled by increasing violence.

Clashes have rocked Rakhine since the Arakan Army (AA) attacked junta forces in November, ending a ceasefire that had largely held since a military coup in 2021.

The AA says it is fighting for more autonomy for the ethnic Rakhine population in the state, which is also home to around 600,000 members of the persecuted Rohingya Muslim minority.

Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya fled Rakhine in 2017 during a crackdown by the military that is now the subject of a United Nations genocide court case.

A joint statement released by several Rohingya organisations based abroad said AA fighters forced Rohingya residents to leave the town of Buthidaung last week and then burned and looted their homes.

It said the Rohingya were then directed by the fighters into areas controlled by the AA. The statement called for the AA to end “forced displacement and human rights violations” against the Rohingya.

The AA said it had seized Buthidaung last week, the latest victory it has claimed against the junta in Rakhine state.

It said it had warned residents of the town to leave and had subsequently been “assisting people in moving to safer areas” but did not give any details. It accused the junta of destroying Buthidaung and of inciting “racial and religious violence” by recruiting “Bengali Muslims” to fight the AA.

Rohingya view the word “Bengali” as a slur that implies they are interlopers in Buddhist-majority Myanmar.

The Rohingya groups’ statement also accused the junta of conscripting “several thousand” Rohingya to fight and of using them as “cannon fodder”. The junta has not responded to requests for comment on the latest clashes around Buthidaung.

AFP has also contacted the AA for comment.  The latest clashes have killed hundreds and displaced at least 300,000 people across Rakhine since they began in November, according to the United Nations. Internet and phone networks are all but cut across swaths of the state, making communication difficult.

– ‘Stoking tensions’ –

The US State Department cited on Tuesday reports of towns being burned and residents including Rohingya people being displaced. The UN human rights chief issued a similar warning at the weekend, saying that tensions were high between ethnic Rakhine and Rohingya and were being stoked by Myanmar’s military junta.

“The military’s previous acts of genocide and other crimes against humanity targeting Rohingya, in addition to its history of stoking intercommunal tensions in Rakhine… underscore the grave dangers to civilians,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said in a statement.

“The current increased violence and intercommunal tensions also raise the risks of further atrocities occurring,” he added. Miller called on the junta and all armed groups to protect civilians and allow unhindered humanitarian access.

The AA is one of several armed ethnic minority groups in Myanmar’s border regions, many of which have battled the military since independence from Britain in 1948 over autonomy and control of lucrative resources. Clashes between the AA and the military in 2019 displaced around 200,000 people. -RSS