Rakhine con­flict: be­yond the blame game

The Myanmar Times - Weekend - - News - THE MYAN­MAR TIMES news­room@mm­times.com

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.

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