Myanmar woman widowed in Rakhine attack pleads for peace


Yoetayoke (Myanmar) (AFP)

A woman widowed in the latest deadly attack by ethnic Rakhine rebels called on the army and insurgents to lay down arms and talk, as violence rips through the troubled western Myanmar state.

Rakhine state is riven by ethnic and religious divisions, and was the epicentre of the bloody military crackdown against Rohingya Muslims in 2017, which pushed some 740,000 over the border into Bangladesh.

But the armed forces are now waging war against the Arakan Army (AA), which claims to represent the state's ethnic Rakhine Buddhists -- a population that also stands accused of aiding soldiers in their expulsion of the Rohingya.

There is widespread support for the rebels among ethnic Rakhine, who live in one of Myanmar's poorest states.

When Ma Oo Khin's family heard shooting during the attack on Saturday night that left nine officers dead, they fell cowering to the ground.

It was only afterwards the 42-year-old discovered her husband was one of the victims, his body already wrapped in plastic.

With pools of blood still visible in the dust of the ramshackle police compound, she urged both the security forces and the rebels to halt the violence and start talking.

"I want to ask both sides to negotiate with each other. I don't want to see anyone else die," she told AFP.

"The AA is asking for their people's autonomy, but the police are serving the country too."

The rebel group has expanded its ranks since its formation in 2009 and is now believed to have several thousand recruits.

A brazen attack against four police posts that killed 13 police officers in early January triggered a major military response.

Thousands of troops have been deployed using heavy artillery against AA positions in northern Rakhine.

The area is in strict lockdown and information is difficult to verify independently.

But several thousand people have been forced from their homes, while assassinations and bomb attacks seed insecurity across the state.

A verdict in the trial of a popular Rakhine politician for alleged treason that could prove to be a further flashpoint, is expected next week.

Aye Maung is accused of inciting Rakhine people in a speech last year to take arms and rise up against the country?s ethnic-Bamar (Burmese) majority.