Several hundred Buddhist nationalists, including monks, rallied in Myanmar’s largest city to urge stronger action against insurgents from the Muslim Rohingya minority for attacks on police last week.
The attacks in Rakhine state in western Myanmar have spiraled into chaotic violence, with more than 100 dead and villages torched.
At least 18,000 Rohingya have fled the violence and crossed into Bangladesh in less than a week, with hundreds stranded in a no man’s land at the countries’ border, the International Organization for Migration said.
The army, responding to last Thursday’s attacks, launched what it called clearance operations against the insurgents, but advocates for the Rohingya say they are attacking and burning Rohingya villages, shooting civilians and causing others to flee.
The government blames Rohingya insurgents and their sympathisers for the continuing violence. Government figures put the death toll since last week at a minimum of 103, including 12 members of security forces, 77 people described as insurgents and 14 civilians. There were reports of additional deaths on Wednesday.
Rohingya advocates fear the death toll for civilians is much higher.
Most of Myanmar’s estimated 1 million Rohingya live in northern Rakhine state. They face severe persecution in the Buddhist-majority country, which refuses to recognise them as a legitimate native ethnic minority, leaving them without citizenship and basic rights.
Longstanding tension between the Rohingya Muslims and ethnic Rakhine Buddhists erupted in bloody rioting in 2012.
That set off a surge of anti-Muslim feeling throughout the country.
Wirathu, a Buddhist monk and leader of the anti-Muslim movement who is known for virulent sermons, told yesterday’s protesters in Yangon that only the military can control the situation in northern Rakhine.
He criticised the civilian government of Aung San Suu Kyi for not responding quickly to the army’s call Tuesday for a meeting of the National Security and Defense Council, which could declare a state of emergency in Rakhine and give the military absolute authority to enforce it. The military holds a majority on the council, which was created by the 2008 military-drafted constitution.
“Only the military’s commander in chief can protect the lives and the properties of the people,” Wirathu said. “The military is the only one that can give a lesson to tame the Bengali terrorists.”
Myanmar nationalists use the term Bengali for Rohingya because of a belief they migrated illegally from Bangladesh, even though many families have been in Myanmar for generations.
Wirathu also denounced international aid groups that the government has accused, without evidence, of giving assistance to the Rohingya insurgents. The allegations have circulated widely on social media.
The Information Ministry yesterday said that 45 homemade bombs were detonated and seven villages, one security post and two neighbourhoods in the township of Maungdaw were burned down on Sunday and Monday.
Maungdaw, in the northern part of Rakhine state, is a centre of the violence, though villages over a much wider area were also hit.
Sanjukta Sahany, a spokeswoman for the International Organization for Migration in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, on the border with Myanmar, said the Rohingya crisis was not just an issue between Myanmar and Bangladesh but of international concern.
At the United Nations, the Security Council got an emergency, closed-door update Wednesday on Myanmar, at Britain’s request. The council didn’t issue any statement as a whole, but British Ambassador Matthew Rycroft said members condemned the violence and called on all the parties involved to de-escalate tensions.
The UN refugee organisation on Tuesday urged Bangladesh to continue to allow Rohingya fleeing violence to seek safety.
It said it was ready to help Bangladesh with assistance for the refugees.
Ali Hossain, Cox’s Bazar district’s top government official, told The Associated Press that its resources were under huge stress after some 87,000 Rohingya entered Bangladesh since October last year and another 18,000 since last Friday.
Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina asked the United States on Wednesday to pressure Myanmar so its government would stop pushing Rohingya toward Bangladesh, her spokesman said.
Hasina made the request during talks with Alice Wells, US acting assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asia, said Ihsanul Karim, Hasina’s press secretary.
The insurgent raids last Thursday were deadlier than an attack by the militants on three border posts last October that killed nine policemen and set off months of brutal counterinsurgency operations against Rohingya communities.
Human rights groups accused the army of carrying out massive abuses, including killing, rape and burning down more than 1,000 homes and other buildings.