Myanmar has reportedly declared new curfews in northern Rakhine state, where over a million of Rohingya Muslims live, as it has deployed hundreds of troops in the restive region to beef up its military presence.
According to the Southeast Asian country’s state media, the government on Saturday imposed a new wave of curfews to be in force “in necessary areas” as the military mounted its “clearance operations.”
“Some Muslim villages in Rathidaung dare not to go outside,” said a Rohingya Muslim villager, adding that his desperate community feared a repeat of last year’s brutal crackdown.
On Friday, it was revealed that the government had deployed some 500 troops to several towns, including Buthidaung and Maungdaw, near the border with Bangladesh a day earlier.
The government’s decision to increase its military presence in the region and declare curfews came a week after local residents claimed that they had found bodies of seven Buddhists in the vicinity of Maungdaw after they discovered a camp for Rohingya fighters.
The government blames the incident on “extremists,” accusing the fighters of killing informants in the Muslim community, arguing the military build-up is necessary to thwart the so-called threat posed by Rohingya fighters.
“Many battalions with hundreds of soldiers from central Myanmar were deployed to the Mayu mountain range,” said a military officer, speaking on condition of anonymity, on Saturday.
The United Nations on Friday, however, sounded alarm over reports of the military deployment in the region, calling the move “a cause for major concern.”
The UN has already accused the military of committing grave abuses against the Rohingya during its counterinsurgency campaign in the region.
The stepped-up measures raised fears of a fresh wave of violence against the Rohingya after last year’s crackdown that was launched in the wake of a deadly attack on the country’s border guards on October 9, 2016 which left nine policemen dead. The government blamed the Rohingya for the assault.
Some 75,000 people have fled from the Muslim-majority northern part of Rakhine to Bangladesh since Myanmar’s military launched the crackdown, according to a UN report.
Numerous accounts have already been provided by eyewitnesses of summary executions, rapes and arson attacks against Muslims since the crackdown began. The military has blocked access to Rakhine and banned journalists and aid workers from entering the zone.
Myanmar has long faced international criticism for its treatment of some 1.1 million Rohingya Muslims, who are denied citizenship and live in conditions rights groups have compared to those of the Blacks under the former apartheid regime in South Africa.