A top United Nations official is warning that the ongoing violence in Myanmar’s west is in danger of “getting out of hand”, and is asking the country’s leaders to be more assertive in resolving historic problems faced by the area’s Muslim and Buddhist communities.
In an exclusive interview earlier this week, the UN secretary-general’s special advisor on Myanmar, Vijay Nambiar, told Anadolu Agency that deadly Oct. 9 attacks on police stations in Rakhine State were condemnable, but laid bare “a deep-seated malaise in the place itself”.
He outlined a rising desperation felt by Rohingya Muslims in the area, saying that the government hadn’t done enough to address the “anxiety and insecurity” they felt.
“For almost three years, there hasn’t been any major outbreak of violence in Rakhine, even though the 2012 events were a pointer,” Nambiar said, referring to inter-communal violence in Rakhine in which more than 100 people — mostly Muslims — died and over 100,000 were displaced.
“We had been bringing this to the notice of the government and telling them that unless some action was taken to address some of the root causes, it was likely that this would erupt once again.”
Since Oct. 9, Myanmar has said that at least 94 people — 17 police and soldiers and 77 alleged “attackers” (including six who reportedly died during interrogation) — have been killed and some 600 suspects have been detained for alleged involvement in attacks on police stations and during a subsequent military crackdown.
The government said Monday that the arrests were continuing, and a further “Muslim man” had been shot dead “as he attacked police”.
Rohingya advocacy groups, however, claim around 400 Rohingya — described by the UN as among the most persecuted groups worldwide — were killed in the military operations in an area which has been closed to aid agencies and independent journalists.
Nambiar said that the operations had seen houses burnt, villages kept under lockdown, while at least 21,000 Rohingya are reported to have fled across the border into neighboring Bangladesh.
Rohingya have been fleeing Myanmar for decades, with a new wave of migrations occurring since mid-2012 after communal violence broke out in Rakhine between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya.
The violence left more than 100 people dead, over 100,000 (primarily Rohingya) displaced in camps and more than 2,500 houses razed — most of which belonged to Rohingya.