Police buried as military tightens control in Rakhine
Rakhine leaders urge the government to take strong action against assailants who attacked security posts on October 9, while Muslim advocacy organisations call for restraint.
A CONTINGENT of Union cabinet officials were joined by Myanmar’s chief of police and the Rakhine State chief minister for a meeting yesterday with Rakhine elders and local political parties in Sittwe as the northern part of their state continues to reel from a deadly assault on border security posts this week.
The ministers for information, immigration, security and border affairs, and the State Counsellor’s Office were dispatched to the Rakhine State capital to discuss the recent violence, which saw three security posts attacked by unknown assailants, killing nine police officers.
Rakhine community leaders urged the government to take strong action against the armed attackers – who raided outposts in Maungdaw and Rathedaung townships – by cooperating with the Tatmadaw and police force.
U Than Shwe, an elder from a Rakhine community organisation, said the deadly effectiveness of the raids was the result of lax security in the region, which borders Bangladesh. With many of the assailants still at large – and having seized a sizeable cache of weapons and ammunition – he said communities in Rakhine State were anxious, fearing that additional attacks could be in the offing.
“The case is not a normal case. Ordinary people’s concerns relate to the assorted stolen arms. It is very dangerous. The government should take severe action,” said U Than Shwe.
U San Shwe, chair of the Sittwe chapter of the Union Solidarity and Development Party, similarly urged a swift investigation and response to the raids.
But with troop reinforcements being helicoptered in to an increasingly militarised region, Fortify Rights, a Bangkok-based human rights advocacy group, has urged restraint.
“Swift action should involve respect for human rights and protection for civilians,” Matthew Smith, the group’s founder, told The Myanmar Times yesterday. “Too often we’ve seen the police and army commit violent abuses against Rohingya in the context of security operations in northern Rakhine.”
Unlike most of Rakhine State, a majority of Maungdaw township’s population are self-identifying Rohingya Muslims. Tensions between that largely stateless community and Rakhine Buddhists have persisted more than four years after inter-religious violence tore through Rakhine State in 2012, displacing more than 100,000 people.
Noting the sensitive nature of the latest conflict in the state, Minister for Information U Pe Myint said at an October 9 press conference in Nay Pyi Taw that the event had been called in an attempt to disseminate accurate information about the situation and quash any rumours, which have in the past triggered strife between Buddhists and Muslims.
U Pe Myint yesterday implored Rakhine residents of both Buddhist and Muslim faiths to remain calm, assuring the public that the civilian government was working in cooperation with security forces in order to avoid any “unnecessary conflict” between the two communities.
“This is a good opportunity for us in a bad situation – that we can consider a review of state development and security in future. We need people’s support to manage the state,” said U Nyi Pu, the Rakhine State chief minister.
U Min Aung, head of the Rakhine State Information Department, told The Myanmar Times yesterday that the state government was not receiving information about the situation on the ground in Maungdaw, but added that the state minister for security and border affairs was there helping to oversee security forces’ response to the attack.
With the Tatmadaw deploying additional troops to the region via helicopter, he said stability was returning.
U Hla Myint, an administrative officer for Maungdaw township, said the situation there yesterday was beginning to normalise, pointing to the reopening of tea shops that had closed in the violence’s aftermath as an indicator.
“It is just police left at [Maungdaw] town for security and all military troops are away tracking [the militants] now. We did not hear any fighting today,” he said.
Still, an extended curfew announced following the attack remains in place – from 7pm to 6am – and more than 400 schools were closed for a second day yesterday.
According to state media, the October 9 attacks began at about 1am on a Kyikan Pyin village guard post. A second strike targeted the Kotankauk outpost in neighbouring Rathedaung township, and the last assailants withdrew from the Ngakhuya outpost at about 5:45am.
Eight attackers were killed as security forces repelled them, and state media yesterday said four more “violent armed attackers” were killed on October 10 as police and soldiers combed Myothagyi village in Maungdaw township. A township police officer, however, told The Myanmar Times yesterday that seven suspected militants had been killed in the manhunt that has followed the coordinated October 9 assault.
State media said two militants were also captured alive during the raids and Agence France-Presse published photographs yesterday purportedly showing one of those men being interrogated by police. The news wire said the photos were taken on October 9 in Sittwe.
U Zaw Htay, deputy director general of the President’s Office, said the government would soon declare who perpetrated the attack, once it has definitively determined those involved.
Officials have said drug trafficking might be a possible motivation for the assault, noting that authorities seized more than 6 million yaba pills in Maungdaw last month.
U Kyaw Min, chair of the Democracy and Human Rights Party, which predominantly courts Muslim constituencies, told The Myanmar Times that the party condemned this week’s attacks.
“We want peace. We denounce every attack and want to say to Muslim people, ‘Don’t be involved in any attacks,’” he said. – Additional reporting by Andrew D Kaspar
‘It is just police left at [Maungdaw] town ... All military troops are away tracking [militants] now.’
U Hla Myint Maungdaw administrative officer
Police prepare flag-draped coffins bearing the bodies of nine border guards during a funeral ceremony in Maungdaw township, Rakhine State, on October 11.
A suspected attacker in recent border raids is photographed at a police station in Sittwe, Rakhine State, on October 9.