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Security is deteriorating in Myanmar's Rakhine state, where Rohingya live.   © Reuters
Politics

At least 70 dead in Myanmar after attacks on security forces

Death toll among Rohingya, military climbs as ethnic strife in Rakhine deepens

YANGON -- A series of predawn attacks Friday by suspected Rohingya militants in a restive area of Myanmar killed 11 army personnel and police officers, leaving a total of at least 70 dead on both sides, according to the government.

Bodies of what appeared to be Rohingya militants have been found at the sites of the raids on security installations in the northern part of Rakhine state, officials said.

The Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, an extremist group seeking freedom for its Muslim people, issued a statement via Twitter that seemed to hint at its involvement in the attacks, apparently in response to a buildup of security forces. 

"We had to eventually step up to defend the helpless people and ourselves," the statement read.

State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi, the Southeast Asian nation's de facto leader, condemned the attacks on security forces by "terrorists," calling the violence "a calculated attempt to undermine the efforts of those seeking to build peace and harmony in Rakhine State."

The first attack came at around 1 a.m., wrote Min Aung Hlaing, commander in chief of Myanmar's armed forces, in a Facebook post. Militants attacked 24 installations and blew up a bridge, killing one solider and 10 police officers, according to the general. Later, around 150 militants attempted to storm a military base in the area, the general said.

The resident coordinator of the United Nations in Myanmar condemned the attacks and called on all parties to refrain from violence.

Earlier this month, the government decided to increase its security presence in the region and expanded nighttime curfews following a spate of killings of people cooperating with government forces.

The latest attacks against government forces mark an escalation from a raid last October on a border security installation in northern Rakhine that killed nine security personnel. After that attack, soldiers and security forces launched "clearance operations" against militants in local villages. International critics accuse government forces of systematic violence against Rohingya during these operations.

Denied status as a recognized ethnic minority in Myanmar, most Rohingya eke out a stateless existence without civil rights or freedom of movement. They have often become victims of discrimination and violence.

The international community had hoped that pro-democracy leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner Suu Kyi would prove able to end the Rohingya's plight as head of the new civilian government. But she has avoided taking a forward role on the issue, seeking to ensure the cooperation of the armed forces, which have precedence under the constitution in matters of maintaining public safety. The Rohingya's exclusion from society has a strong undercurrent of support among Burman-majority voters.

Suu Kyi has rejected a U.N. fact-finding mission seeking to investigate claims of abuses against Rohingya, widening the gulf with the international community. 

An advisory commission headed by former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Thursday presented 88 recommendations to the Myanmar government on the Rohingya problem, including granting them citizenship and reorganizing border security forces.

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