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Myanmar rebel group accused of persecuting Rohingya

The Arakan army is accused of persecuting Rhogingya in parts of the Rakhine state as the armed group has won control of large swathes of land in the region from the military junta. 

The Arakan Army, has won control of large parts of Rakhine State in Myanmar over the past few months, most recently the northern section where many Rohingya still live. In recent days, rights groups have accused the rebels of expelling the minority from their homes and destroying their property, in many cases by arson. The Arakan Army has rejected these allegations.

Formed roughly 15 years ago, the Arakan Army claims to be 40,000 people strong and has fought Myanmar’s military for years. It has grown to be among the most powerful of the various ethnic rebel armies that are allied by the joint desire to oust the junta — which staged a coup in 2021 and is now facing the biggest challenge to its rule from rebel and pro-democracy forces.

Reports of the Arakan Army mistreating the Rohingya have stirred fears of renewed atrocities, even as the junta appears increasingly weak.

“Arakan Army soldiers told us to move to a safer place, as there is intense fighting in our town and there was a risk for us. Before we could decide whether to move or not, the house caught fire,” said Aung Htay, 42, a Rohingya resident of Buthidaung, one of the biggest towns to be largely destroyed by fire. Speaking in a telephone interview to the New York Times, he said he did not know what caused the fires in the town, which broke out after dark.

The United Nations also said the fires were burning after the Myanmar military had retreated from locations, and that tens of thousands of Rakhine and Rohingya people across the state had been displaced by the conflict. Some have gone to neighboring Bangladesh, where roughly a million Rohingya had already fled in previous years in fear for their lives, settling in refugee camps there.

The allegations against the Arakan Army are unfolding against the backdrop of reports that Rohingya have been conscripted into Myanmar’s military and joined troops in raiding Rakhine villages. Human Rights Watch believes that more than a thousand Rohingya men have been forcibly recruited since February.

Alarmed by the renewed sectarian tensions, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Türk, has warned of an “acute risk of further atrocities.”

In a joint statement, Rohingya activists urged the Arakan Army leadership not to fall into the military’s trap of playing divide and conquer by trying to pit the two communities against each other. “Only the military regime will benefit from this,” groups including the European Rohingya Council and Burmese Rohingya Organization UK said in the statement

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