AFP | Published — Sunday 10 September 2017
COX’S BAZAR, Bangladesh: Rohingya militants, whose August raids in Myanmar’s Rakhine State sparked an army crackdown that has seen nearly 300,000 of the Muslim minority flee to Bangladesh, on Sunday declared a unilateral cease-fire to allow aid to reach increasingly desperate people displaced by violence.
The United Nations said that 294,000 bedraggled and exhausted Rohingya refugees have now arrived in Bangladesh since August 25, while tens of thousands more are believed to be on the move inside Rakhine, after more than a fortnight without shelter, food and water. Three Rohingya are reported to have been killed by a mine near the border.
A further 27,000 ethnic Rakhine Buddhists as well as Hindus have also fled violence that has unfurled across the northern part of the state.
“The Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) hereby declares a temporary cessation of offensive military operations,” it said in an official Twitter statement.
The group urged “all humanitarian actors” to resume aid delivery to “all victims of humanitarian crisis irrespective of ethnic or religious background” during the one-month cease-fire period which runs until October 9.
It called on Myanmar to “reciprocate this humanitarian pause” in fighting.
There was no immediate response from Myanmar’s military, but on Saturday authorities said they would set up three relief camps in Rohingya-majority areas.
Rohingya refugees allege that army operations against the ARSA resulted in mass killings and the burning of hundreds of villages, sending them across the border. International aid programs in Rakhine have been severely curtailed, as the fighting tore through parts of the state.
India has called for an immediate end to the violence, urging the situation “be handled with restraint and maturity,” according to a foreign ministry statement late Saturday.
Thousands of Rohingya are arriving in Bangladesh each day joining already overcrowded camps of Rohingya who have fled Myanmar over decades of troubles. The UN refugee agency UNHCR gave the latest figure of 294,000 for the new arrivals.
The UN has appealed for urgent donations of $77 million.
Bangladesh already hosts around 400,000 Rohingya from previous crises.
The Red Cross in Bangladesh welcomed the cease-fire pledge as aid agencies struggle to meet the needs of an “overwhelming crisis,” battling monsoon rains to deliver relief to people who have fled with few belongings.
“How can you handle such a big influx of people? They want shelter, they want a safe place,” Misada Said, Prevention and Communication Coordinator, ICRC Bangladesh delegation, told AFP.
Better-known locally as Harakah Al-Yaqin (Faith Movement), ARSA launched coordinated raids using hundreds of militants on August 25 on around 30 police posts and state offices in northern Rakhine state.
The kickback by security forces prompted the Rohingya exodus.
Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh say ethnic Rakhine Buddhists joined security forces in the indiscriminate killing of villagers.
In an area split by claim and counterclaim, Rakhine villagers accuse militants of murdering their civilians while the government says fleeing Rohingya set fire to their own homes to forment fear and anti-state anger.
At a makeshift camp near Shamlapur, in Bangladesh, Rohingya refugees doubted a cease-fire would allow their return any time soon.
“They (Myanmar army) are saying ‘go away or we’ll burn all of you’. How can we believe a cease-fire will have any effect?” said Hafez Ahmed, 60, told AFP.
But Hashem Ullah, a 33-year-old farmer from a village west of Maungdaw, said he would return if he could.
“I have nothing back there. No house, no village.”
“(But) I would go back, if I got compensation, and they accept us as Rohingya. How can we live like this here?” he said, gesturing to the swampy earth where refugees were clearing trees for shelter.
ARSA, which has as yet shown little interest in the rhetoric of global jihad, says it is fighting to defend the Rohingya from persecution in Myanmar.
But Myanmar labels them “extremist Bengali terrorists” intent on carving out an Islamic enclave in northern Rakhine for the Rohingya.
According to statements and photos released by Myanmar’s army, the militants use primitive weapons, including gunpowder rifles, homemade guns and bombs as well as clubs and swords.
Myanmar’s army says it has killed nearly 400 militants so far, while some Rohingya refugees have complained they were forced to fight by ARSA.
The first ARSA attacks in October last year were less ambitious, but the subsequent military response by a security force notorious for its scorched earth response to insurgency sent 90,000 Rohingya fleeing across the border.
That means over a third of the estimated 1.1 million Rohingya in Rakhine state have fled in less than a year.
Myanmar does not want its Rohingya population.
The government does not recognize them among its official ethnic minority groups and they are instead pejoratively labelled ‘Bengalis’ — illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.