Since last month’s fatal attacks on police, dozens of people -- including soldiers and suspected attackers (among them two women) -- have been killed, or have died, in northern areas of the state predominantly occupied by Rohingya Muslims.
Aid delivery and access to information in the area near the Bangladesh border have been under a military lockdown since Oct. 9, with the ongoing military operation generating reports of widespread abuses against civilians.
The state-run Global News Light of Myanmar newspaper reported Monday that government troops and police were attacked Sunday by around 20 assailants armed with machetes and wooden clubs during an area clearance operation in Dargyizartaung village.
“The troops fired back [at] them and 19 aggressors [were] killed,” the report said.
It also said that another operation in the area resulted in six out of seven suspects being killed, while “troops also found the bodies of three attackers in the aftermath.”
According to the military, the fighting occurred after troops found 50 houses it said were “burnt by the armed attackers who had retreated on Saturday”.
While rights groups have been calling for “credible and independent” investigations into locals’ allegations that the military has been burning houses in the area, government officials have cast blame on armed groups -- and even villagers they claim are trying to evoke international sympathy.
Over the weekend, state- and army-run newspapers reported that eight people -- including one soldier, one officer and six suspected attackers -- were killed Saturday following ambushes, while a military officer was killed after armed men attacked three villages.
Many of the Rohingya living in Maungdaw and Yathay Taung townships -- where the attacks on police outposts left nine officers dead -- were relocated there following 2012 violence between the local Buddhist and Muslim communities in Rakhine -- one of the poorest regions in Myanmar.
The violence left around 57 Muslims and 31 Buddhists dead, some 100,000 people displaced in camps and more than 2,500 houses razed -- most of which belonged to Rohingya, described by the United Nations as among the most persecuted minority groups worldwide.
In a statement Sunday, rights group Human Rights Watch called on Myanmar authorities to promptly establish a UN-assisted investigation “as a first step toward ensuring justice and security for the victims” of the recent violence.
“Government-imposed restrictions on access to the area by journalists and human rights monitors continue to hinder impartial information gathering,” it underlined.
“The authorities need to allow the UN, the media, and rights monitors unfettered access into the area to determine what happened and what needs to be done,” said the group’s Asia director, Brad Adams, urging the government and military to immediately allow humanitarian access to vulnerable populations.