YANGON (AFP) – At least 12 people including five police officers were killed Friday in Myanmar’s restive Rakhine state as Rohingya militants launched pre-dawn raids on border posts, according to the office of State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi.
It is the worst outbreak of violence for months in the coastal state bisected by religious hatred and follows a milestone report by a commission led by former UN chief Kofi Annan urging immediate action to heal the divide.
More than 20 police posts came under attack by an estimated 150 militants in the early hours of Friday, prompting soldiers to fight back, the statement issued by the State Counsellor’s office said.
“Currently, five police officers have been killed and… according to initial information, we have seven bodies of the extremist Bengali terrorists,” it added, using a government description for the Rohingya militants who emerged as a force last year.
“Many police posts and stations were attacked,” it said, in at least one case using homemade mines.
Confirming the unrest, a police officer in Buthidaung town, close to the worst violence, said border guard posts remained surrounded by militants as day broke in a fluid and dangerous flare up of violence.
“The situation is complicated… the military is arriving,” the officer told AFP on condition of anonymity, adding some of the attackers were armed with guns.
The northern wedge of Rakhine closest to Bangladesh has been in lockdown since October 2016 deadly attacks by militants on border posts sparked a military response that left scores dead and forced tens of thousands to flee.
The UN believes those security “clearances” may have amounted to ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya, a mainly Muslim minority living in Buddhist Myanmar.
The army and Suu Kyi’s civilian government vehemently deny allegations of widespread abuses including rape and murder.
After a period of slackening violence, tensions have boiled over in recent weeks with the military moving hundreds of troops into remote village areas.
Annan was appointed by Suu Kyi to head a year-long commission tasked with healing divisions between the Rohingya and local Buddhists.
His report urged Myanmar to scrap restrictions on movement and citizenship for its roughly million-strong Rohingya minority, the majority of whom are stateless.
Friday’s “attacks coincidedly came after release of the final report by advisory commission on Rakhine State led by Dr Kofi Annan,” Suu Kyi’s office said.
Myanmar security forces have conducted sporadic operations to flush out suspected militants throughout this year, often resulting in casualties among Rohingya villagers.
They have spoken of their fear at being trapped between the security forces and the militants, who are accused of conducting a shadowy assassination campaign against perceived collaborators with the state.
It was not immediately clear if Friday’s outbreak of violence was led by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), which claims to lead an insurgency based in the remote May Yu mountain range in northern Rakhine.
Recent tensions have been further tweaked after several Buddhists were found dead, prompting some ethnic Rakhine villagers to flee.