Rohingya refugees go about their day outside their temporary shelters along a road in Kutupalong, Bangladesh, on Saturday. (Reuters photo)
YANGON/DHAKA: Rohingya Muslim insurgents in Myanmar‘s Rakhine state declared a temporary ceasefire on Sunday and urged the government to reciprocate to allow for humanitarian assistance to reach vulnerable civilians trapped in the conflict zone.
The Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), on its Twitter account, declared a “temporary cessation of offensive military operations” for a one-month period starting Sunday “in order to enable humanitarian actors to assess and respond to the humanitarian crisis” there.
The group urged the government “to reciprocate this humanitarian pause by ceasing military offensive operations and participating in assisting the victims regardless of their ethnic or religious backgrounds.”
The Muslim militants claim to be fighting in defence of their fellow Rohingya, a stateless minority group that has faced systematic discrimination in the predominantly Buddhist country for decades.
The government does not recognise the Rohingya as one of the country‘s many ethnic groups, considering them to be illegal migrants from Bangladesh, even though many have lived in Myanmar for generations. It dismisses the ARSA as “extremist terrorists.”
The latest round of violence erupted on Aug 25 when the militants launched coordinated attacks on police posts and an army post in the northern part of the state. The military subsequently launched “clearance operations”.
In the latest fighting, the government claims to have killed 371 militants, while it says 30 civilians and 13 security officers have also died in the violence.
The insurgents‘ temporary ceasefire declaration comes at a time when the number of Rohingya who have fled across the border to Bangladesh in the latest exodus has swollen to around 290,000, according to the United Nations.
On Saturday, humanitarian agencies operating at two refugee camps in Cox‘s Bazar, southeastern Bangladesh, issued an urgent appeal for US$77 million to assist the new arrivals, saying the sudden influx has overwhelmed services that were in place to care for 34,000 Rohingya there who fled earlier violence in Rakhine.
According to the latest reports, 300,000 Rohingya could flee Myanmar due to the violence. Will these killings stop?
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According to Duniya Aslam Khan, a spokeswoman for the UN refugee agency UNHCR, the two camps are now “bursting at the seams.”
Robert Watkins, the UN resident coordinator in Bangladesh, said that with the inflow of people showing no signs of abating, “it is vital that agencies working in Cox‘s Bazar have the resources they need to provide emergency assistance to incredibly vulnerable people who have been forced to flee their homes and have arrived in Bangladesh with nothing.”
“To support the new arrivals, there is now an urgent need for 60,000 new shelters, as well as food, clean water and health services, including specialist mental health services and support for survivors of sexual violence,” he said.
The Myanmar government, which has denied mistreating the Rohingya, has announced it plans to establish up to seven temporary camps for displaced people and allow access to them by the International Committee of the Red Cross, which has been operating in both Rakhine and Cox‘s Bazar for several years.
On Wednesday, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres called for urgent action to address the “root causes” of the violence in Rakhine.
He proposed that the Myanmar government give the Royhingya “either nationality or, at least for now, a legal status that will allow them to have a normal life, including freedom of movement and access to labour markets, education and health services.”