At least nine officers and eight attackers were killed in an ambush on three police outposts in Rakhine State along Myanmar’s border with Bangladesh on Sunday. Authorities say the attackers belong to the Rohingya community, a persecuted Muslim minority in Myanmar.
The night-time assault in Kyiganbyin village, Maungdaw Township has added to existing tensions. Rakhine is home to almost 1.1 million Rohingyas, a Muslim community living in Myanmar for generations. The region has taken the brunt of sectarian clashes between Buddhists and Rohingyas over the past few years. The Rohingyas still remains stateless as they have long been viewed as illegal immigrants from neighbouring Bangladesh.
"According to our force members who are working on this case, those who attacked and raided were shouting that they were Rohingyas," national police chief Zaw Win said at a press conference in Myanmar's capital, Naypyitaw.
Restrictions on Muslims in N Rakhine St are not only for "population control." Ample evidence shows they are intended to be destructive.
— Matthew Smith (@matthewfsmith) October 10, 2016
Without elaborating on the attackers' motivations, Zaw Win said the assault began at 1:30am on Sunday when some 90 armed men stormed a police force office in Kyiganbyin.
The attackers seized 51 weapons and more than 10,000 rounds of ammunition in the initial attack, he said.
Although the attack was coordinated with lethal effect, the weapons used were rudimentary. Police said the attackers were mainly armed with knives and "ginkali," a type of homemade slingshot that fires iron bolts.
Myanmar sends troops
Myanmar stepped up security in the Muslim-majority region on Monday, as authorities hunt for the attackers.
State media said the military – known as the Tatmadaw – moved troops into the area by helicopter. Photographs on social media showed trucks of infantry purportedly being deployed in the area. No detailed information has been released about the operation.
"The Tatmadaw, the police force and the Ministry of Border Affairs are working together to ensure security and restore law and order," said Min Aung, a minister in the Rakhine State government. Aung declined to disclose the size of the force sent to the area.
Authorities in Maungdaw Township on Sunday announced the extension of an existing order banning gatherings of five or more people and imposed a 7pm to 6am curfew.
Matthew Smith, founder of the campaign group Fortify Rights, said restrictions on the Muslim population already in place made northern Rakhine State "a police state, an apartheid state."
— Fortify Rights (@FortifyRights) October 10, 2016
"Human rights violations in the context of counterinsurgency in northern Rakhine State are not new," Smith said.
"The authorities routinely accuse average Rohingya of involvement with armed extremists."
Authorities also routinely dismiss accusations of rights abuses.
Sunday was the bloodiest day in the state since 2012 when more than 100 people were killed in clashes between Rohingya and Rakhine Buddhists.
The plight of the Rohingya
Most members of the Rohingya minority have been denied citizenship and are subjected to severe restrictions on their movement, family size, religious freedom and access to jobs.
The Muslim Rohingya are largely confined to camps and face restrictions which rights groups have likened to apartheid.