Rakhine conflict: beyond the blame game
IN a conflict zone, it is easy to blame unknown perpetrators. Victims who have suffered have their own stories to tell. Some narrate them directly from their nightmarish experience. All in all, for journalists, printed or broadcast, to obtain information describing the real situation in conflict zones is the most difficult. Eyewitness accounts on the ground are the most important primary source. Not all journalists can obtain accounts directly from these groups.
However, quite frequently, journalists depend on reliable sources. As in all conflicts, journalists need quick accounts of incidents that are as comprehensive as possible. Some have time to confirm and recheck their sources against others to ensure their information is accurate and as impartial as possible. Obviously, no first draft of history is perfect. But most of the time, when journalists get information, due to intense competition as well as social media, they tend to let go of their stories as soon as possible.
That has been the journalist’s dilemma in reporting on Rakhine State over the past couple of weeks because the developments there have many facets, depending on their sources. After the attacks on August 25, most of the reports focused on the strong international condemnation of the terrorist acts, and immediately the government labelled the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army as a terrorist group. What came next were seemingly endless reports about Myanmar security forces carrying out counter-terrorism attacks and clean-up operations and people fleeing their homes and crossing the border.
Several days after security forces retaliated against ARSA, to counter what it described as biased reporting, Nay Pyi Taw decided to allow two batches of local and foreign journalists to cover the conflict. But it was a bit too late because the narrative was concentrated on Myanmar’s security forces and the aftermath. Nobody questioned or focused on ARSA’S motives and intention anymore.
Those journalists visiting the conflict zone in Muangdaw got first-hand accounts from villagers and witnessed the reality on the ground. That much was clear. In an ideal situation, more journalists would have access to the conflict area but only if their safety could be guaranteed. A worse-case scenario would occur if an ill-intentioned element targeted the journalists.
State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has been under severe pressure from her fellow Nobel laureates and other world leaders, questioning her moral authority, but most Western leaders understand her dilemma in tackling such a sensitive issue. She wholeheartedly accepted the August 24 findings of the Kofi Annan Advisory Commission on Rakhine, even though some among the security forces and opposition parties, particularly the Union Solidarity and Development Party, did not share her view. She promised to set up a ministerial-level committee to monitor the progress of implementing those recommendations.
After the attack, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has instructed security forces to follow a strict code of conduct in carrying out security operations in the area. Most importantly, they must avoid “collateral damage” and harming innocent civilians in their attempt to restore stability.
However, at this juncture, there are issues that the media have neglected to report such as other affected ethnic communities, including the Mro, Daingnet and Kaman, and the various community projects that are operating inside the besieged area. Indonesia, Thailand and other countries have already provided humanitarian assistance.
At the moment, the government is providing aid to displaced persons without discrimination within its borders. A lot more aid is needed, especially for those who have fled their homes and crossed the border. The UN estimates there are at least 400,000 displaced people along the Bangladeshi border.
It is crucial that the media have access to the conflict zone to assess the situation independently. Misinformation about the situation could have serious repercussions and cause further delays in humanitarian assistance. The attack on August 25 would not be the last. Nay Pyi Taw should be prepared and learn from this experience, which has already affected the country’s reputation and international standing.