By Satuk Bugra Kutlugun
Rohingya advocacy groups worldwide are continuing to express serious concerns over what they claim is a continued military and police crackdown in western Myanmar, as authorities seek those responsible for the murder of nine police officers.
The nine died along with eight armed men in three separate attacks on police outposts on the Myanmar-Bangladesh border in western Rakhine State on Oct. 9.
The outposts are located in Maungdaw and Yathay Taung townships, two areas predominantly occupied by the country's stateless Rohingya Muslim population -- described by United Nations as one of the most persecuted minority groups in the world
Late Sunday, a statement from the groups headlined Save Rohingya from Annihilation claimed that military and police have since been indiscriminately killing Rohingya and torching and plundering their homes and villages, under the pretext of looking for the attackers.
"Two mass graves were found, and about 100 Rohingya civilians were extra-judicially killed that included old men, women and children," it said.
According to Myanmar media, however, since Oct. 9 no more than 33 people -- including four soldiers and 29 suspected attackers -- have been killed, including two women.
Monday's statement added that at least five Rohingya villages had also been set ablaze as the army sought those responsible.
"The grave situation has caused many Rohingya to flee their villages. An estimated 5000 Rohingya have been internally displaced causing great humanitarian disaster. Due to curfew order and blockade, there is an acute shortage of food, medicine, and other essentials. The situation is exponentially worsening," it underlined.
On Oct. 14, Myanmar’s government said that the initial raids on the police outposts were conducted by the Aqa Mul Mujahidin organization, which it described as being affiliated with the Rohingya Solidarity Organization (RSO), a shadowy extremist group that takes its name from the Rohingya.
It has blamed the attacks on non-Myanmar nationals, but has said they were aided by some members of the local community.
“The attacks in Maungdaw Township were systematically planned in advance over a long period of time, assisted by foreign funding and the support of members of foreign terrorist organizations,” said a president’s office statement.
Though most experts believe the RSO’s continued existence is a myth, the government has classified it as an extremist group and officials blame it for recent attacks on border areas.
While Muslim organizations in Myanmar condemned the original attacks, Sunday's statement said that they have since been used as an excuse to attack innocent Rohingya, and then claim that the Muslim community was burning down its own homes in an effort to gain international sympathy.
"Whilst these crimes against humanity have been manifestly committed by the joint armed forces with impunity, the authorities, as a part of an evil design, are spreading lies to the media that 'Bengalis' -- a racial slur in reference to the Rohingya people -- are burning down their own houses to leave the international community in a state of confusion," it said.
Local nationalists have long labelled Rohingya “Bengali” -- a term suggesting they are illegal immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh, and therefore have no right to Myanmar citizenship.
It called on the European Union, United Nations and other members of the international community to make an objective assessment of the situation and help the victims of human rights violations on humanitarian grounds.
"We also request the State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi to intervene into the matter and put an end to the military crackdowns on the civilian population,” it added.
On Oct. 3, Suu Kyi called on Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) member states for support in solving the “complex situation” in Rakhine, home to around 1.2 million Rohingya.
Since her party's victory in the Nov. 8 election, Suu Kyi has been placed under tremendous international pressure to solve problems faced by Rohingya but has had to play a careful balancing act for fear of upsetting the country's nationalists, many of whom have accused Muslims of trying to eradicate the country's Buddhist traditions.
Suu Kyi has, however, enforced the notion that the root of many of the impoverished region's problems are economic, and is encouraging investment in the area, which in turn the National League for Democracy hopes will lead to reconciliation between the Buddhist and Muslim communities.
Monday's statement was signed by Rohingya organizations from the United Kingdom, Denmark, Japan, Australia, Germany, Switzerland, Norway, Finland, Italy, Sweden, the Netherlands, Malaysia, and the Rohingya Arakanese Refugee Committee.