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A nascent Rohingya militant group whose raids triggered a bloody crackdown by Burma’s army called Wednesday for international peacekeepers to protect the stateless Muslim minority.
Attacks on police border posts in northern Arakan State in October claimed by the group, which now calls itself the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ASRA), sparked a crackdown by security forces that sent tens of thousands fleeing to Bangladesh.
In a statement widely shared by Rohingya activists outside of Burma, the outfit said it had acted to “defend, salvage and protect [the] Rohingya community in Arakan.”
“We have the legitimate right under international law to defend ourselves in line with the principle of self-defence,” it said.
AFP was unable to verify where the statement came from.
The group, largely unknown until October’s attacks, denied any links to terrorism, saying it was fighting to further Rohingya rights — including citizenship — and retrieve their “ancestral lands.”
It also called for the international community to take “necessary measures, including sending peacekeeping forces into Arakan State.”
The statement was signed by “commander-in-chief” Ata Ullah, who has appeared in several videos demanding political rights for Rohingya.
The Burmese government has accused the group of being terrorists whose leaders were backed by Middle Eastern money and trained by the Taliban.
Conflict analysts at the International Crisis Group said the outfit was born from sectarian violence that ripped Arakan State apart in 2012 and drove tens of thousands of Rohingya into displacement camps.
The minority are rejected by Burma’s Buddhist majority as interlopers from Bangladesh and denied citizenship.
UN investigators believe security forces have killed hundreds of Rohingya in the wake of the October attacks in a campaign so brutal it may be construed as a crime against humanity.
Last week the UN Human Rights Council agreed to dispatch a fact-finding mission to ensure “full accountability for perpetrators and justice for victims.”
Burma’s civilian government, led by Aung San Suu Kyi, has dismissed the claims and said the probe would only “inflame” the conflict.
The Nobel laureate has faced a storm of criticism for not speaking out against the military, which ruled the country for 50 years and still controls the ministries of defence, border and home affairs.