According to the Washington Post, clashes between the Myanmar military and its ethnic minority allies have left at least 62 people dead.
Myanmar troops used anti-aircraft guns to fire into villages, while “those fleeing described seeing military helicopters carrying bodies, soldiers shooting in the air, and villages torched.” The Post described fighting in northern Rakhine state, where dozens of villages were razed by gunfire and the use of firebombs.
A statement issued Thursday by the armed forces’ spokesman said in response to an attack by some Arakan Army-aligned insurgents that “people and ethnic armed organizations are in full control of nearly all the villages and deep inside jungles.”
Reports from the region suggest the death toll could be much higher, with officials calling it the worst violence in years. U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Myanmar, Panos Moumtzis, told journalists on a visit to the region that more than 100,000 people have been displaced by fighting over the past three months.
The violence in Rakhine State came as the army executed its new reforms under President Thein Sein, by amending the country’s constitution, empowering the civilian government and opening up access to international journalists and NGOs.
Although the country has made progress in human rights protection in recent years, the State Department’s 2018 Human Rights Report, released in March, cited “policies that had led to unnecessary hardships for its most vulnerable populations, including ethnic minorities” and described the military’s abusive treatment of minorities as “widespread.”
Some people are still fleeing the conflict, and an estimated 15,000 are stranded on roads between Myanmar and Bangladesh.
The United Nations has sought to register an estimated 75,000 people, a figure that it also estimated in February 2017, when massive government action displaced those in camps that have been providing aid to internally displaced people in the past.