US says violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine state could lead to atrocities

US State Department cited reports of towns being burned and residents including Rohingya people being displaced

May 23, 2024
Rohingya refugees flee fighting in Myanmar’s Rakhine state amid junta-rebel clashes. — AFP/file

WASHINGTON: The United States said on Wednesday it was deeply troubled by increasing violence and intercommunal tension in Myanmar´s Rakhine state and said this raised the risk of atrocities being committed.


Clashes have rocked Rakhine since the Arakan Army (AA) attacked security forces in November, ending a ceasefire that had largely held since the 2021 military coup.

The US State Department cited reports of towns being burned and residents including Rohingya people being displaced.

The United Nations human rights chief issued a similar warning over the weekend, saying tensions were high between ethnic Rakhine and Rohingya and that Myanmar´s military junta was stoking these tensions.

“The military´s previous acts of genocide and other crimes against humanity targeting Rohingya, in addition to its history of stoking intercommunal tensions in Rakhine State and elsewhere across the country, underscore the grave dangers to civilians,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said in a statement.

“The current increased violence and intercommunal tensions also raise the risks of further atrocities occurring,” he added.

Miller called on the military regime and all armed actors to protect civilians and allow unhindered humanitarian access.

The AA is one of several armed ethnic minority groups in Myanmar´s border regions, many of which have battled the military since independence from Britain in 1948 over autonomy and control of lucrative resources.

The AA claims to be fighting for more autonomy for the state´s ethnic Rakhine population.

Clashes between the AA and the military in 2019 roiled the region and displaced around 200,000 people.

The military launched a crackdown on the Rohingya minority there in 2017 which is now the subject of a United Nations genocide court case.Rohingya activists accused a Myanmar ethnic armed group on Wednesday of displacing thousands of the persecuted minority in western Rakhine state, after the United States said it was troubled by increasing violence.

The AA says it is fighting for more autonomy for the ethnic Rakhine population in the state, which is also home to around 600,000 members of the persecuted Rohingya Muslim minority.

Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya fled Rakhine in 2017 during a crackdown by the military that is now the subject of a United Nations genocide court case.

A joint statement released by several Rohingya organisations based abroad said AA fighters forced Rohingya residents to leave the town of Buthidaung last week and then burned and looted their homes.

It said the Rohingya were then directed by the fighters into areas controlled by the AA.

The statement called for the AA to end “forced displacement and human rights violations” against the Rohingya.

The AA said it had seized Buthidaung last week, the latest victory it has claimed against the junta in Rakhine state.

It said it had warned residents of the town to leave and had subsequently been “assisting people in moving to safer areas” but did not give any details.

It accused the junta of destroying Buthidaung and of inciting “racial and religious violence” by recruiting “Bengali Muslims” to fight the AA.

Rohingya view the word “Bengali” as a slur that implies they are interlopers in Buddhist-majority Myanmar.

The Rohingya groups´ statement also accused the junta of conscripting “several thousand” Rohingya to fight and of using them as “cannon fodder”.

The junta has not responded to requests for comment on the latest clashes around Buthidaung. AFP has also contacted the AA for comment.