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Alleged military abuse after militant attack in Myanmar poses test for Suu Kyi

SITTWE, Myanmar — A humanitarian crisis in Myanmar has worsened in recent days amid heightened security after a militant attack and has focused international attention on the new government of Aung San Suu Kyi.

Myanmar troops launched a wide-ranging search in a troubled area of Rakhine State after an Oct. 9 attack killed nine police officers and left scorched homes and displaced residents in their wake.

Representatives of the United Nations and diplomats visited the area last week, with US Ambassador Scot Marciel calling for a ‘‘thorough investigation’’ into alleged abuse and the restoration of humanitarian access, the State Department said.


Residents described a landscape of fear in which members of the Rohingya Muslim ethnic group have allegedly been barred from going to mosques or to work.

Human Rights Watch has reported that satellite data shows villages that have been burned, and Reuters and the Myanmar Times have chronicled the alleged rape of Muslim women by soldiers. ‘‘We can’t go anywhere as we’re not allowed to,’’ said Min Hlaing, a Muslim businessman in a restricted area near Maungdaw.

He said food prices had risen as a result of roadblocks and claimed that four community leaders had not been seen in days after being picked up by security forces.

The crisis marks the first major test of Suu Kyi’s new democratically elected administration, which took over March 31 after decades of military rule. Analysts say she must find a way to work with Myanmar’s military, which still controls the country’s security forces.

Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, has been accused of not doing enough to address the Rohingya crisis despite her long commitment to freedom in Myanmar.

In an interview with The Washington Post in New Delhi on Oct. 18, Suu Kyi said border security posts must be strengthened, rule of law followed, and a development plan created for the area.


‘‘So many things have to be done simultaneously. It’s not an easy job,’’ she said. ‘‘But we are, of course, determined to contain the situation and to make sure that we restore peace and harmony as soon as possible.’’

Suu Kyi’s government has said that the men who attacked police posts Oct. 9 were Rohingya Muslims from a little-known group called the Movement of Faith, who appeared on video demanding that rights be returned to their community.

There are about 1 million Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar who are essentially stateless, and many in the Buddhist-majority country consider them illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

More than 120,000 Rohingya remain confined to dirty camps in the area after violent clashes with their Buddhist neighbors in 2012. About 1,500 Buddhists are confined in other camps.

Rohingyas said they do not believe that there is a militant group operating in the state.

‘‘This is a rumor. This is not true. This is the deliberate assassination from the government,’’ said Mohamed Amin, 21, a Rohingya who lives in the heavily guarded Muslim neighborhood in Sittwe.

More than 16,000 people from both faiths have been displaced by the search that followed the Oct. 9 assault on police posts, and 100,000 are without their regular food assistance, according to Pierre Peron, of the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

Health services have been suspended, and weeks have passed without access to mobile health clinics and emergency referrals.


Suu Kyi blamed the health care deficiencies on the security situation.