Over 6,000 flee as violence escalates in Rakhine

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Latest attack by Rohingya insurgents in Myanmar 'widespread' and 'coordinated'

YANGON/COX'S BAZAR, BANGLADESH Myanmar's government said it has evacuated at least 4,000 non-Muslim villagers amid ongoing clashes in north-western Rakhine state, as thousands more Rohingya Muslims sought to flee across the border to Bangladesh yesterday.

The death toll from the violence that erupted on Friday with coordinated attacks by Rohingya insurgents has climbed to 98, including some 80 insurgents and 12 members of the security forces, the government said.

Bracing for more violence, thousands of Rohingya - mostly women and children - were trying to cross the Naf River separating Myanmar and Bangladesh and the land border.

Reuters reporters at the border could hear gunfire from the Myanmar side yesterday, which triggered a rush of Rohingya towards the no man's land between the countries.

Around 2,000 people have been able to cross into Bangladesh since Friday, according to estimates by Rohingya refugees living in the makeshift camps in Bangladesh.

But Bangladesh detained and forcibly returned 90 Rohingya migrants to Myanmar, police said yesterday, reported AFP.

The villagers were caught about 4km inside Bangladeshi territory en route to a refugee camp in Kutupalong, where thousands of Rohingya already live in squalid conditions, said local police chief Abul Khaer.

The violence marked a dramatic escalation of a conflict that has simmered since last October.

While the chaos and lack of access made detailed assessments difficult, experts said the latest attacks were so widespread that they appeared to be more akin to a movement, rather than an insurgent offensive.

One army source said the military was also struggling to differentiate.

"All the villagers become insurgents, what they're doing is like a revolution," said the source in Rakhine.

"They don't care if they die or not. We can't tell who of them are insurgents."

The treatment of approximately 1.1 million Muslim Rohingya in Buddhist-majority Myanmar has emerged as the biggest challenge for national leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Ms Suu Kyi has condemned the raids in which insurgents wielding guns, sticks and homemade bombs assaulted 30 police stations and an army base.

At the no man's land near Bangladesh, border guards said they were providing water and food to the Rohingya, but none would be let in.

"Please save us," 61-year-old Amir Hossain said, as infants cried nearby. "We want to stay here or else we'll get killed." - WIRE SERVICES