Thousands of Rohingya feared trapped in fighting in western Myanmar


Reuters file photo: Fire smokes are seen over a village in Rakhine, Myanmar

Tens of thousands of Muslim minority Rohingya are feared to be caught in fighting in western Myanmar, as a powerful armed ethnic group bears down on junta positions in a coastal town on the border with Bangladesh, which is reluctant to accept them.

The Arakan Army (AA), which is fighting for autonomy for Myanmar's Rakhine region, said late on Sunday that residents of Maungdaw town, inhabited primarily by the Rohingya, should leave by 9 p.m. (1430 GMT) ahead of a planned offensive on the settlement.

The AA's attack on Maungdaw is the latest in a months-long rebel onslaught against the Myanmar junta, which took power in a February 2021 coup, and now finds itself in an increasingly weakened position across large parts of the country.

"Due to concerns for the safety of the residents of Maungdaw, the United League of Arakan/Arakan Army urgently advises all residents to evacuate Maungdaw immediately," the AA said in a statement.

A junta and AA spokesmen did not respond to a call and messages seeking comment.

Around 70,000 Rohingya who are currently in Maungdaw are trapped as the fighting draws closer, said Aung Kyaw Moe, the deputy human rights minister in Myanmar's shadow National Unity Government.

"They have nowhere to run to," he told Reuters.


Many Rohingya in and around Maungdaw have not fled from the area despite the AA's warning, according to two Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh who were able to contact people on the other side of the border on Monday.

"My friend said the junta soldiers are taking positions inside the town," said Myo, a Rohingya refugee who only gave one name.

"The residents haven't left the town yet. Everyone is scared," he said, adding that there were no safe routes out of Maungdaw. "Everywhere is blocked."

Bangladesh authorities said on Monday that they were unaware of any new movement of Rohingya towards the country's borders, and reiterated they would not allow any more members of the community to cross over.

"We are already overburdened," a senior Bangladesh foreign ministry official said, asking not to be named because they are not authorised to speak to media.

Thousands of Rohingya fled towards neighbouring Bangladesh last month, seeking safety from the escalating conflict.

Their move was triggered by battles in and around the town of Buthidaung, around 25 km (15 miles) away to the east of Maungdaw, that was captured by the AA after intense fighting during which the ethnic army was accused of targeting the minority group.

The AA denies the allegations.

In a May report, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said that both the junta and AA had failed to take adequate precautions to protect Rohingya civilians during recent fighting, based on incidents it had verified.

"Their tactics have also made it impossible for Rohingya to flee to find refuge during the fighting," it said.

Rohingya have faced persecution in Buddhist-majority Myanmar for decades. Nearly a million of them live in refugee camps in Bangladesh's border district of Cox's Bazar after fleeing a military-led crackdown in Rakhine in 2017.

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