The death toll in northern Rakhine State has risen to more than 40 as security forces and unidentified insurgents continue to clash in the aftermath of a brazen October 9 assault on border security posts in Maungdaw and Rathedaung townships.

A contingent of government officials, including Rakhine State Chief Minister U Nyi Pu and the state border and security affairs minister, yesterday visited the site of a skirmish on October 12, about 1 mile (1.6 kilometres) from the Myanmar Border Police’s headquarters in Kyikan Pyin village, where one of the attacks took place early this week.

According to a security officer who spoke on condition of anonymity, there was a brief exchange of gunfire between security personnel and unidentified assailants during yesterday’s site visit but no casualties were reported. The security officer added that nearly 40 houses in Pyone Pyke village, Maungdaw township, were burned by militants yesterday.

The ministers’ team had travelled to Maungdaw town on October 12 and met with both Buddhist and Muslim communities, promising residents that the government was working to protect civilians while also taking strong action against militants still at large in the area.

U Min Aung, head of the Rakhine State Information Department, said he could not confirm the reported attack nor the Pyone Pyke village burnings because he had not received any communication from the field in those areas.

U Khin Aung, who leads the education department for Maungdaw township, said he had heard some explosions yesterday in the morning but had not received word of any casualties.

According to state media, a total of 43 people had been killed as of October 12, including 13 security personnel. The Global New Light of Myanmar and military mouthpiece Myawady identified the other 30 fatalities as “violent armed men” who either died during the initial border raids or engaged in hostilities with security personnel in the manhunt that has followed.

The military-owned Myawady news outlet reported yesterday that armed assailants, presumably tied to the raids, targeted the staff quarters of a border post in Kyikanpyin village on October 12, engaged in a firefight with Tatmadaw troops and then withdrew, setting fire to 25 houses in Warpaik village in their retreat.

In the wee hours of October 9, attacks by unknown armed assailants killed nine border guard police officers at three outposts in Maungdaw and neighbouring Rathedaung townships.

State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi addressed the subsequent turmoil on October 12, pledging that her government would act in accordance with the rule of law as it seeks to quell the unrest and bring perpetrators of the coordinated assault to justice.

She declined to accuse any specific individuals or organisations of involvement and would not speculate on motive, saying the government needed more information before going public with an explanation.

“As long as we are not clear what is what, we won’t accuse anyone,” she said during a press conference at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Nay Pyi Taw.

“When there is solid evidence, we will indict if we think it should be done.”

A Myanmar Times reporter witnessed several helicopter gunships landing one after another at Sittwe Airport yesterday afternoon, with a military official saying they were returning from Maungdaw township to refuel. A Tatmadaw officer disputed that assertion, however, saying it was not possible to know where the helicopters had come from.

U Min Aung told The Myanmar Times the gunships so far had not been used to launch airstrikes on suspected militants and instead were providing logistical support by transporting security personnel and provisions to the conflict zone, as well as evacuating teachers from Maungdaw to Buthidaung township.

More than 400 schools in Maungdaw and Buthidaung townships were closed this week in the wake of the violence.

“The Tatmadaw picked up most of the stranded teachers today and the government is cooperating with them to ensure the safety of all people who are stuck [in the conflict area],” said U Min Aung.

The Organization for Islamic Cooperation (OIC), meanwhile, became the latest of several groups to call on security forces to exercise restraint as they continue to comb villages and the wilderness in search of the attackers.

“The OIC has received disturbing reports of extra-judicial killings of Rohingya Muslims, burning of houses and arbitrary arrests by security forces in Maungdaw township and other villages in northern Rakhine State,” read a statement yesterday from the grouping of 57 Muslim nations.

“The situation has caused many Rohingya to flee their villages and the subsequent blockade in the region has also left many in the area facing acute shortages of food, water and essentials.”

A majority of the population in northern Rakhine State self-identify as Rohingya Muslims, but the largely stateless group are a minority elsewhere in the state.

Violence between Rakhine Buddhists and Muslims in 2012 forced more than 100,000 people, mostly Rohingya, into displacement camps, where they remain and are subject to restrictions on movement, education and employment.

Link: http://www.mmtimes.com/index.php/national-news/23099-death-toll-tops-40-in-rakhine-border-raid-aftermath-as-skirmishes-continue.html