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Thousands of Rohingya feared trapped in fighting in western Myanmar


FILE - In this image from a video, Rohingya refugees walk at the Balukhali refugee camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, Feb. 2, 2021. Tens of thousands of Rohingya are believed to be trapped in fighting in western Myanmar as the Arakan Army battles the junta.
FILE - In this image from a video, Rohingya refugees walk at the Balukhali refugee camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, Feb. 2, 2021. Tens of thousands of Rohingya are believed to be trapped in fighting in western Myanmar as the Arakan Army battles the junta.

Tens of thousands of Muslim minority Rohingya are feared to be caught in fighting in western Myanmar, as a powerful armed ethnic group bears down on junta positions in a coastal town on the country's border with Bangladesh.

The Arakan Army, which is fighting for autonomy for Myanmar's Rakhine region, said late on Sunday that residents of Maungdaw town, inhabited primarily by the Rohingya, should leave by 9 p.m. ahead of a planned offensive on the settlement.

The Arakan Army's attack on Maungdaw is the latest in a months-long rebel onslaught against the Myanmar junta, which took power in a February 2021 coup, and now finds itself in an increasingly weakened position across large parts of the country.

"We are going to attack the remaining posts" of the junta, the Arakan Army said in a statement, asking residents to stay clear of military positions in Maungdaw for their own safety.

A junta spokesman did not respond to a call seeking comment.

Around 70,000 Rohingya who are in Maungdaw are trapped as the fighting draws closer, said Aung Kyaw Moe, the deputy human rights minister in Myanmar's shadow National Unity Government.

"They have nowhere to run to," he told Reuters.

Thousands of Rohingya fled toward neighboring Bangladesh last month, seeking safety from the escalating conflict, although the neighboring country is reluctant to accept more refugees.

Their movement was triggered by battles in and around the town of Buthidaung, about 25 km to the east of Maungdaw, that was captured by the Arakan Army after intense fighting during which the rebel group was accused of targeting the Rohingya community.

The Arakan Army denies the allegations.

Rohingya have faced persecution in Buddhist-majority Myanmar for decades. Nearly a million of them live in refugee camps in Bangladesh's border district of Cox's Bazar after fleeing a military-led crackdown in Rakhine in 2017.

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    Reuters

    Reuters is a news agency founded in 1851 and owned by the Thomson Reuters Corporation based in Toronto, Canada. One of the world's largest wire services, it provides financial news as well as international coverage in over 16 languages to more than 1000 newspapers and 750 broadcasters around the globe.

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