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Myanmar Reports Fierce Fighting in Rakhine State

FILE - Myanmar police officers patrol along the fence bordering Bangladesh in Maungdaw, Rakhine state, Myanmar, Oct. 14, 2016. Myanmar's government says the latest fighting was triggered by an ambush on police Saturday.

Myanmar on Sunday reported heavy fighting in the western state of Rakhine, where government forces near the border with Bangladesh have been hunting insurgents linked to attacks that authorities say killed nine police last month.

A government statement said the latest fighting was triggered by an ambush on police Saturday by an estimated 60 attackers armed with guns and knives. The statement said one soldier and six attackers were killed. It said the government force later arrested more than 30 suspects.

The statement did not identify the attackers, and there have been no independent descriptions of the forces said to be attacking government troops. However, the government has aligned itself with Rakhine Buddhists since violence against minority Rohingya Muslims erupted in 2012.

Monitors and Western diplomats say fighting has spiked in recent weeks, and witnesses have since accused soldiers in the region of raping and killing ethnic Rohingya and burning their homes. Photos published since October 9 have shown burned houses and flattened villages, and have sparked renewed criticism of government tactics.

In a related development, the Myanmar Times (English language) newspaper last week stopped covering the Rakhine crisis, after one of its senior editors was fired over a story alleging that government troops gang-raped Rohingya women.

On Friday, the United Nations special representative on sexual violence in conflict zones called on the Myanmar government to investigate allegations of sexual assault in border areas of northern Rakhine state. There was no public government response to the call from Zainab Hawa Bangura, who said the government must support humanitarian aid to the area.

More than 100,000 Rohingya have been confined to squalid encampments in Rakhine since being forced from their homes in 2012. They are widely seen as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and most of the estimated 1 million Rohingya are denied citizenship in Myanmar despite, in many cases, having lived there for generations.