Myanmar police open fire at riot, killing 7 ethnic Rakhine



Myanmar police opened fire on a crowd of ethnic Rakhine Buddhists as they tried to seize a government office late Tuesday, in unrest that left seven dead and injured around a dozen more, police said.

Several thousand Buddhist protesters had gathered for a ceremony in Mrauk U, an ancient temple complex that has so far remained unscathed by the military's crackdown on the region's minority Rohingya Muslim community.

It was not immediately clear why the rally descended into violence.

A police spokesman told reporters seven people were killed and 13 injured in the violence, and over 20 police officers were wounded.

Mrauk U lies only a few dozen kilometers from the epicenter of violence that saw Rohingya driven in their hundreds of thousands into Bangladesh last August.

Rohingya Muslim refugees wait for food aid at Thankhali refugee camp in Bangladesh's Ukhia district, January 12, 2018.

The clashes came on the same day as a repatriation agreement was signed between Myanmar and Bangladesh to start the return of some 655,000 Rohingya refugees from squalid camps back over the border.

The agreement, finalized in Myanmar's capital Naypyidaw this week, sets a two-year deadline for the repatriation of the Rohingya.

It applies to approximately 750,000 Rohingya who fled to Bangladesh following two army crackdowns in Myanmar's northern Rakhine state in October 2016 and August last year.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has expressed concerns on the deal, as the UN refugee agency is not a party to the deal as is usually the case for such repatriation plans.

File photo of United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

"We believe it would be very important to have UNHCR fully involved in the operation to guarantee that the operation abides by international standards," Guterres told a press conference at UN headquarters on Tuesday.

Guterres said it was essential that the returns be voluntary and that the Rohingya are allowed to return to their original homes – not to camps.

UN member-states in December adopted a resolution condemning the violence in Rakhine state and requesting that Guterres appoint a special envoy for Myanmar.

The UN chief said he expects to make that appointment soon.