Militant group claims 'legitimate right' to defend Rohingya
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Rohingya militants whose deadly attacks last year spurred the ruthless Myanmar army crackdown that drove 700,000 of the minority into Bangladesh said Saturday it acted to "defend" the Muslim group from persecution.
It is unclear whether the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) has any broad support after its role in sparking the humanitarian calamity that has befallen the Rohingya, one million of whom now languish in refugee camps across the border.
The militant group said it had "the legitimate right" to protect the Rohingya and ensure their "return to our ancestral land with safety and dignity" in a statement posted on Twitter.
Thousands of Rohingya in Myanmar are estimated to have been killed in the military response to ARSA's attacks on police posts last August.
Survivors entering Bangladesh's refugee camps carried harrowing accounts of rape, mass killings and arson overseen by the military and ethnic Rakhine villagers -- acts the international community have likened to ethnic cleansing.
The army maintains that their reaction was proportionate to the terrorist threat posed by ARSA, a stance reiterated on Tuesday by Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who blamed the group for the crisis and spoke in praise of the military.
Myanmar also alleges that ARSA massacred scores of Hindu villagers on the same day the military crackdown began, an accusation the militants have "categorically" denied.
But they have claimed responsibility for other attacks, including a January ambush which wounded two police officers and their driver.
Any uptick in violence will deepen concerns from refugees about the repatriation deal Myanmar and Bangladesh signed earlier this year.
Fewer than 200 Rohingya have returned to Myanmar while the vast majority refuse to return without assurances of their safety.
But Dhaka has insisted that the Rohingya will not remain in the camps for long.
Drug smuggling and human trafficking has plagued the southern Bangladeshi town of Cox's Bazar as its population has ballooned, with gangs preying on desperate refugees, selling young women into the sex trade and recruiting mules to move methamphetamine.
ARSA's statement Saturday urged refugees to refrain from "indulging and trading in drugs, human trafficking and violence".
Thousands of Rohingya refugees staged protests in Bangladesh Saturday to mark the anniversary of the military crackdown in Myanmar.
© 2018 AFP