NSNEWS ONLOINE DESK: Rohingya Muslim have said they have “no other option” but to fight what they called Myanmar’s state-sponsored terrorism in order to defend their community.
On Sunday the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (Arsa) claimed responsibility for an ambush on Myanmar security forces that left several wounded in northern Rakhine state, the first attack in weeks in a region gutted by violence.
Rakhine was plunged into turmoil last August when a series of insurgent raids prompted a military backlash so brutal the United Nations says it likely amounts to ethnic cleansing of the Muslim Rohingya minority.
The army campaign sent some 650,000 Rohingya fleeing to Bangladesh, where refugees have given harrowing accounts of rape, murder and arson at the hands of security forces and vigilantes.
Since the August raids, which left at least a dozen dead, the shadowy, poorly armed Arsa has launched few if any attacks – until Friday morning, when the army reported that “about 10” Rohingya militants ambushed a car with handmade mines and gunfire, wounding two officers and their driver.
The militants claimed responsibility for the ambush in a rare post from an official Twitter account on Sunday. The statement did not provide any more details about the attack in the northern Maungdaw township.
“Arsa has … no other option but to combat ‘Burmese state-sponsored terrorism’ against the Rohingya population for the purpose of defending, salvaging and protecting the Rohingya community,” the group said in the statement signed by its leader, Ata Ullah.
A Myanmar government spokesman declined to comment, saying he had yet to read the statement. A military spokesman would not comment about the security situation in the north of Rakhine state.
The area is largely off limits to reporters. Authorities have previously said attacks by the insurgents would be met with force and they ruled out any negotiations with “terrorists”.
Arsa dismisses any links to Islamist militant groups and says it is fighting to end the oppression of the Rohingya people.
Rohingya have been denied citizenship, freedom of movement and access to services such as healthcare. The Myanmar government regards them as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
Serious communal violence between Rohingya and ethnic Rakhine Buddhists erupted in 2012 and sporadic unrest followed.
Arsa did not say where Ullah was but the government suspects the insurgents flee into Bangladesh then slip back into Myanmar to launch attacks.
Any increase in violence in Rakhine will deepen concerns about plans to begin repatriating refugees later this month. Bangladesh and Myanmar signed an agreement in November allowing for repatriations from 23 January.
But many aid groups and diplomats have expressed doubt that fearful Rohingya will agree to return to country where they face severe discrimination from other communities and the state.
The refugees complain that they have not been consulted about their repatriation.