Four dead as Myanmar hunts culprits behind mysterious border raids

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Yangon (AFP)

Myanmar's army Monday hunted the attackers who staged deadly raids on border posts, searching homes in Rakhine state for stolen weapons, as police said four people were killed in one clash.

The operations in the western state were focused in and around Maungdaw, a town near the Bangladesh border that was among the targets of Sunday's mysterious attacks which left nine police officers dead.

The vast majority of its residents are Rohingya, a stateless Muslim minority reviled as foreign illegal immigrants by many among Myanmar's Buddhist majority.

The unrest has stoked fears of a repeat of 2012, when sectarian violence which ripped through Rakhine left more than 100 people dead and displaced tens of thousands.

The state remains on edge and bitterly divided along religious lines.

"Fighting took place today (Monday) along the border near Maungdaw as the military tracked the culprits," a senior police source in the capital Naypyidaw told AFP on condition of anonymity.

"Some people attacked and the military had to open fire. About four attackers were killed."

Niether the toll, nor the identity of the dead, could be immediately verified in the remote area with poor communications.

But people in Maungdaw said troops went house-to-house on Monday searching for dozens of weapons -- and more than 10,000 rounds of ammunition -- stolen during the raids a day earlier.

Eight of the attackers also died in the surprise raids on the border posts, which authorities said were carried out by mobs armed with knives and homemade slingshot-style weapons.

Two others were captured alive, while another police source in Naypyidaw said a policeman who went missing after the attacks had been found. He gave no more details.

Authorities have dramatically tightened security in response, extending a curfew to between 7pm and 6am, while state media reported the military had started airlifting troops to the area.

Officials have given few clues about the reason for the attacks or who was behind them, with some pointing to a Rohingya militant group that has not been heard of for two decades.

National police chief Zaw Win suggested the raids may have been in response to a major, recent drugs bust, state media reported on Monday, while other officials have privately blamed Bengali groups from across the border.

In Bangladesh, border guards said they had increased patrols and stopped crossings through the Teknaf land port after the attacks.

"We've increased our patrols and vigilance along the Myanmar border over the last two days," the head of the guards, Lieutenant-Colonel Abu Zar Al Zahid, told AFP.

"We want to make sure that no Myanmar miscreants or its nationals can intrude into our country."