YANGON (Reuters) – Myanmar police shot and injured four Rohingya Muslims on Sunday, after detaining two men accused of smuggling people out of a camp for displaced people in western Rakhine state, a witness and police told Reuters.
Some 20 police entered Ah Nauk Ye camp, about 15 km (9 miles) east of the state capital Sittwe on Sunday morning, apprehending the two men accused of owning a boat used in an attempt to smuggle 106 Rohingya out of the country on Friday.
The rickety vessel, which carried 25 children among its passengers, had been bound for Malaysia when authorities stopped it south of Yangon, detaining those on board. The incident, and similar recent boat departures, have raised fears of a fresh wave of dangerous voyages after a 2015 regional crackdown on people smugglers.
Maung Maung Aye, a 27-year-old Rohingya Muslim from the camp who witnessed the shooting, told Reuters four people were injured in the incident, with two of them in serious condition.
“People from the camp went out to look and police shot at people,” he told Reuters by phone.
Police said the Rohingya surrounded them with swords and threw stones at them, injuring some officers.
“I heard that Bengali from the camp tried to grab the arrested people back from the police and police had to fire warning shots. I heard some Bengali got injured. I don’t know the details,” said police inspector Than Htay from a nearby police station.
Many people in Myanmar call the Rohingya “Bengali,” implying they are interlopers from Bangladesh.
Maung Maung Aye disputed that version of events. He said the Rohingya did not attack the police or try to grab the arrested men. He said police fired at residents and not into the sky.
Myanmar government spokesman Zaw Htay did not answer calls seeking comment.
Tens of thousands of Rohingya have been confined to camps outside Sittwe since violence swept Rakhine in 2012. They are denied free movement, access to decent healthcare and education.
In August last year, Solidarites International, an international aid group, warned the conditions at Ah Nauk Ye, home to more than 4,000 Rohingya, were severe.
It said the “natural environment” at the camp was “unsuitable to human settlement” and warned of water shortages, poor access to livelihood opportunities and communal violence.
For years, the Rohingya have boarded boats organized by smugglers in the dry months between November and March, when the sea is calm. The perilous journey to Thailand or Malaysia, often undertaken in overcrowded vessels, has cost many lives.
The 106 Rohingya detained off Yangon on Friday were put on a navy ship destined for the Rakhine camps on Sunday.
More than 700,000 Rohingya fled a brutal army crackdown in the northern part of Rakhine last year, according to UN agencies. UN investigators have accused the Myanmar army of “genocidal intent” and ethnic cleansing.
Myanmar denies the allegations genocide, saying it was battling terrorists. Attacks by Rohingya insurgents preceded the army’s crackdown that began in late August 2017.