The Myanmar government has rebuffed a temporary ceasefire called by Rohingya miltants fighting in Rakhine state. Some evidence has surfaced that the government has planted landmines which have killed fleeing civilians.
Myanmar government spokesman Zaw Htay tweeted late on Sunday that the government has "no policy to negotiate with terrorists," rejecting a 30-day unilateral ceasefire by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) amid a massive escalation in violence that has forced hundreds of thousands of Rohingya civilians to flee to the border with neighboring Bangladesh.
His comments reaffirmed the country's position that the militant group, which says it is fighting for the rights of "persecuted" Rohingya Muslims in southern Rakhine state (previously known as Arakan state), is a terrorist organization that wants to create an Islamic republic in the region.
ARSA announced on Saturday a provisional truce in the bloody conflict, which over the past year has seen some 520 combatants and more than 2,000 civilians killed, according to independent estimates.
"The Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) hereby declares a temporary cessation of offensive military operations," the group said in a statement on its Twitter account on Saturday.
The one-month ceasefire will last until October 9, ARSA said. The group called on the Myanmar government to "reciprocate this humanitarian pause" in fighting and requested that aid be delivered to those displaced in Bangladesh and within Rakhine state.
ARSA, which has been active since last year, initially launched small assaults against the military. But in August it carried out coordinated attacks on police posts and an army base, leading to the swift and substantial response from the military that caused the mass civilian exodus.
United Nations workers on the Bangladesh side of the border say about 294,000 Rohingya civilians have arrived over the past two weeks, while tens of thousands more are on the move within Rakhine without adequate food or shelter. As well as Rohingya, some 27,000 ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Hindus have also fled violence in the north of Rakhine state.
Bangladesh, meanwhile, is struggling to cope with the new influx, as it already hosts some 400,000 Rohingya from previous crises.
Also on Sunday, the Myanmar government faced accusations it had planted landmines close to the Bangladesh border that have killed and injured several Rohingya civilians in recent days.
"All indications point to the Myanmar security forces deliberately targeting locations that Rohingya refugees use as crossing points," Tirana Hassan, Amnesty international's Crisis Response Director, said in a statement.
"This is a cruel and callous way of adding to the misery of people fleeing a systematic campaign of persecution," she said.
The military has insisted that no mines were laid recently, but admitted that many still remain from a 1990s campaign to prevent border trespassing.
While the government of Myanmar - also known as Burma - says its security forces are carrying out clearance operations against ARSA throughout Rakhine state, human rights groups say the army and a group of Buddhist vigilantes have mounted an arson campaign to drive out the Rohingya from the region. Thousands of homes have been burned down and dozens of villages destroyed in recent weeks.
One of the most ethnically diverse countries on the planet, Myanmar has sought to integrate most of its minorities during its transition from military rule to democracy over the past five years. But its leaders have faced repeated criticism for failing to recognize the stateless Muslim Rohingya community, labelling them "Bengalis" or illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
Myanmar's de-facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who won a Nobel peace prize for championing democracy, has been accused of failing to speak out for the Rohingya - a minority that has long complained of persecution - in an attempt to appease the Buddhist majority.
On Sunday, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) demanded that Myanmar accept international monitors to carry out a "thorough and independent investigation" of the conflict.
At a meeting in Astana, Kazakhstan, the 57-member bloc hit out at what it said were "systematic brutal acts" against the Rohingya people.
mm/jm (AFP, AP, Reuters)