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Burma: Terrified civilian civilians flee fighting

Ⓒ AFP – Sam JAHAN – | Civilians flee fighting between security forces and Muslim rohingyas rebels on the border between Burma and Bangladesh), on 26 August 2017

Terrified civilians attempted Saturday to flee the remote villages of western Burma, where fighting between police and Muslim rohingyas rebels have killed dozens of people to take refuge in Bangladesh.

Since Friday, clashes between police and rohingyas rebels have killed at least 92 people, including 12 members of the security forces, according to the police.

The violence is taking place in the Rakhine State, shaken for several years by strong tensions between the Muslim minority of the Rohingyas and the Buddhists.

Some 2,000 Rohingya women and children were massed Saturday at the border with Bangladesh, but were not allowed to cross it, according to authorities.

On Saturday afternoon, the Burmese army opened fire on hundreds of these villagers, according to an AFP journalist and Bangladeshi border guards.

The AFP correspondent saw civilians running for shelter as the soldiers opened fire near the Ghumdhum border crossing.

It was not possible at first to know whether there had been any casualties.

Ⓒ AFP – Wai Moe – | Civilians flee fighting between security forces and Muslim rohingyas rebels on the border between Burma and Bangladesh), on 26 August 2017

“They shot civilians, mostly women and children, who were hidden in the hills near the border,” a local Bangladeshi border guard official, Manzurul Hassan, told AFP. “They fired suddenly at the mortar and the machine gun, targeting the civilians,” he added.

– Swimming –

The AFP reporter had earlier seen hundreds of civilians crossing the porous border Saturday at the beginning of the day, patrols being less severe due to heavy rains. Some have even swam by the Naf, a border river.

An emergency medical officer said that two rohingyas, injured in Burma, had also crossed the border and had been hospitalized in Bangladesh.

“One of them, aged 25, died a few hours after being admitted to the hospital,” he added on condition of anonymity.

Considered as foreigners in Burma, more than 90% Buddhist, the Rohingyas are stateless even though some have lived in this country for generations.

They have no access to the labor market, schools, hospitals and the rise of Buddhist nationalism in recent years has fueled hostility towards them.

But the arrivals of Rohingyas are not seen favorably by Bangladesh, a Muslim majority nation that has already welcomed tens of thousands of refugees from this minority.

– ‘Confused’ situation –

The fighting began on Friday when hundreds of men in the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) attacked more than 20 police stations in Rakhine State, unprecedented violence for months.

“The fighting continues in Myo Thu Gyi, near Maungdaw,” the big city of northern Rakhine state, a local police official told AFP on Saturday.

Ⓒ AFP – Wai Moe – | Civilians flee fighting between security forces and Muslim rohingyas rebels on the border between Burma and Bangladesh), on 26 August 2017

“There are sporadic attacks, the situation is confusing, and the headquarters of the administration in Maungdaw have also been fired,” the official said.

In Maungdaw, whose residents testified that they heard shots, the streets were empty Saturday, markets and shops remained closed, said an AFP photographer.

Previous major lethal attacks on police stations in the autumn of 2016 were followed by a tightening of military actions in the region, burning villages and a massive flight from Rohingyas to neighboring Bangladesh. They had given accounts of atrocities committed by the army.

An international commission headed by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Thursday made his findings on the situation in Rakhine State, calling on Burma to give more rights to the Rohingyas, failing which the minority risked “radicalizing” .

The situation is particularly difficult for the 120,000 Muslims living in displaced persons’ camps in Rakhine State, from where they can only go out on a dropper, on laissez-passer.

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